The Starry River of the Sky opens on The Day of Five Poisons, one of the most dangerous days in ancient China. The day was observed on the fifth day of the fifth month and marked the beginning of summer when villagers were most vulnerable to poisonous animals, insects, and disease.
Right after Rendi arrives in the Village of Clear Sky, we see Master Chao paint Peiyi's forehead with wang, a symbol of power, to protect her from this unlucky day. Master Chao uses wine mixed with realgar or arsenic. Realgar/arsenic is a poison and the villagers believed you needed poison to fight poison.
The five poisonous animals were the snake, the scorpion, the centipede, the spider, and the toad. If you lived amongst these poisonous animals in the summer, you too might want to wear protection like all Chinese children did on this day. The adults took their protection in a more potent way by drinking the wine with a touch of poison in it. You get a sense of how much these animals were feared when you see how easy it was to trick Rendi's kidnappers into believing that the Noxious Toad was after them.
It was not just Chinese children in ancient China that wore the character for power or wang on their foreheads. Tigers were believed to be the most powerful creatures of the animal kingdom, and in paintings and drawings of tigers, the black marks on their foreheads often formed the character, wang.
Another common protection from the Five Poisons were charms that were hung about your neck or nailed to the your house. If you search online for images of "Five Poison Charms," you can see how many of the circular charms show a tiger chasing a snake, a scorpion, a centipede, a spider, a toad, or all five. Yes, tigers were also very dangerous to villagers in Ancient China, but maybe like the arsenic that fought poison with poison, the tiger pit dangerous animal against dangerous animal.
Your Own Five Poison Charm
Create your own Five Poison Charm by drawing a tiger chasing a snake, a scorpion, a centipede, a spider, or a toad (or all five) in the circle template found HERE. (Don't worry about your animals looking perfect. Remember that charms were about symbolism. Your tiger need only resemble a tiger to work!) Cut out your charm when you are finished, cut a hole in the middle of it, thread the hole with string or yarn, and hang it on a doorknob or around your neck for protection.