Daoism and Cct

Signs and Symbols

What are some clues to understanding Daoist and CCT iconography?

By far the majority of Daoist and CCT images of sacred figures are portrayed with identifiably human bodies. They rarely have multiple heads or limbs, but they do have various features. Deities are more often than not somber, sometimes of downright forbidding countenance, and typically depicted in such a way that the viewer is not likely to think of them as ordinary human beings. Bright red or yellow skin, flaring nostrils, riveted gaze, and the occasional menacing gesture discourage a too casual approach. Exceptions are some of the CCT deities who appear as gently smiling “family members,” kindly aunts or grandparents, for example. But even they often have unusual skin tones, suggesting that these are not mere mortals. Some deities are recognizable, at least by association, because of the groupings in which they appear. Most important in this respect is the triad formation, generally depicting a main central figure flanked by two slightly smaller figures. Depending on the temple, these may depict any of several of the triadic variations mentioned above. Many temples install subordinate deities and semidivine powers on side altars or in small rooms of their own along the inner perimeter of the main courtyard.

Each deity has his or her distinguishing characteristics, but one generally finds fewer clear iconographic clues here than in Hindu or Buddhist art. For example, several deities may sport the same skin tones and facial expression and even carry very similar symbols. It is therefore sometimes impossible to discern individual identities of the characters without knowing in advance to whom a given temple is dedicated.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App