Daoism and Cct

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

What are some of the main varieties of Daoist officials or specialists?

Since about the fourth century C.E., religious specialists called dao shi, “masters of the Dao,” have led Daoist communities at prayer. These leaders can be celibate monks (there are also nuns called dao gu) who live almost exclusively in monastic communities. Monastic priests—mostly members of the Complete Realization school—occasionally perform public rituals, but, not unlike cloistered monks in some other traditions, their principal focus is on their more private spiritual pursuits. Some ritual specialists are married family men who live near a monastery. These so-called “lay masters” (shi gong) make up the majority of Daoist ritual specialists. Individuals generally specialize in certain types of ritual, such as exorcism and faith-healing.

Among the non-monastic, those ritualists whose functions most closely resemble those of priests in various other traditions are called the Black Hats. Many of them belong to the Celestial Masters school, perhaps the oldest of all Daoist organizations. In addition to the Black Hats—the “official” and intricately trained priests—there are the Red Turbans known as fa shi, specialists in the occult. Black Hats, so called because of their small mandarin cap with a gold knob on top, are authorized to perform both the greater festivals and the more ordinary ceremonies to which the Red Turbans are restricted. (The two groups are alternatively known as Blackheads and Redheads.) Specialists of earlier times called “libationers” in the Celestial Masters school had the triple duty of religious instruction, local administration, and ritual leadership, not unlike the typical parish pastor in many Christian denominations.


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