The most ancient of the Eight Immortals is Taiguai Li – Iron Crutch Li – who is known as the patron of the injured and diseased. For forty years Immortal Li studied with Laozi, often going for long periods without food or sleep, in order to devote himself single-pointedly to meditation practice.
Taiguai Li, like all of the Immortals, is frequently shown carrying a calabash - a gourd bottle. Spiraling up from the gourd is a misty cloud, which contains Immortal Li’s hun (ethereal soul), and/or a spherical object representing the Philosopher’s Stone – that which allows an alchemist to turn base metal into gold. At night, Taiguai Li could make himself small enough so that he could sleep inside his gourd. Iron Cruth Li’s specific emblem is his iron crutch. He is sometimes shown riding on a qilin – a mythical hoofed creature cloaked in flames.
Iron Crutch Li is the most gnarly-looking of the Eight Immortals. Why is this? As the story goes, Taiguai Li initially had a very beautiful body. One day, when he was preparing to engage in spirit-travel outside of his body, he instructed his apprentice to stand watch over his body, in which would remain his Po (corporeal soul), while his hun (ethereal soul) traveled. The instruction was to guard his body for seven days, after which – if for some reason he didn’t return – it could be cremated.
On the sixth day, the apprentice received a message saying that his mother was sick, and urging him to return home to care for her. Because of this, the apprentice cremated Iron Crutch Li’s beautiful body, a day earlier than per the original instructions.
The following day, when Taiguai Li – in his hun – did indeed return, his previous body was no longer there! As an alternative, he inhabited the body of a recently-deceased beggar, who had been a cripple and had died of starvation. This is why Iron Crutch Li now carries an iron crutch, and has the loathsome appearance of a lame beggar.