Daoism and Cct

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Are there Daoist hierarchical structures?

Since there are many different sects and schools, there are no official and universally acknowledged hierarchical structures that unite all Daoists. But there are de facto hierarchies both religious, within individual Daoist organizations, and social, based on a broader kind of class consciousness. For example, in the Celestial Masters school, the living Heavenly Master functions as a sort of archbishop, overseeing the running of the school’s temples in the region. Within the administration of the school, ranks are named after those of the imperial bureaucracy, such as libationer, recorder, and director of ceremonies. The Celestial Masters school has retained much of its ancient hierarchical structure today. In addition, each of the various monastic orders is internally structured according to authority and leadership roles, with the equivalent of an abbot at the head.

Hierarchical structures have also been very much a part of the several short-lived attempts to create theocratic states, but their claims to authority were naturally limited. Within their everyday lives, most Daoists would likely be aware only of the functional hierarchy inherent in the more elaborate ritual celebrations. There, a high priest presides, while subordinate priests perform much of the ceremonial action and musical accompaniment. Other non-ordained assistants busy themselves with the overall mechanics of the ritual, keeping the action moving by making sure necessary supplies are plentiful and other practical matters are in order.


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