Daoism and Cct

History and Sources

How did Lao Zi become deified?

There seem to have been a number of stages in that process. First, the legendary figure began as a teacher and writer, whose image eventually blended with that of the Yellow Emperor when Lao Zi came to be identified as a confidant of royalty. Traditional accounts, such as the life story summarized above, transformed him into a cultural hero whose mother had conceived him virginally. By the mid-second century C.E., Lao Zi had become the deity who delivered to Zhang Dao Ling the revelation of a new religious faith, giving rise to the Celestial Masters school. But his image was still not complete. Next, perhaps also around the second or third century C.E., Lao Zi seems to have been identified as a creator god who also enters the world to rescue humanity from tribulation. Lao Zi was now capable of incarnating himself, almost like a Buddhist Bodhisattva. Not long thereafter he joined the triad of the Three Pure Ones, and finally Lao Zi emerged as the chief divine person. We have here one of the more interesting examples of apotheosis, or deification, in the history of religion.


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