Daoist stories of how the world came to be are full of mythic features similar to those of other cosmogonies. They tell how order overcame chaos, how the heavens and Earth came to be separated, and how the innumerable deities—thirty-six thousand, according to one reckoning— fit into the grand picture. What is unique and most interesting about Daoist myth is that the gods do not necessarily take an active role in cosmic affairs. They do not intervene in the unfolding cosmos, nor even nudge the process along, for that matter. Instead they allow the fundamental laws of creation itself to operate unimpeded. Indeed the gods themselves come into being as part of this whole unfolding set in motion by an impersonal power called Heaven.
Daoist deity (no further identification available), bronze with gilding, sixteenth century (Ming Dynasty). (The Saint Louis Art Museum.)