Daoism and Cct

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

What has been the shaman’s role in Daoism?

Remnants of ancient shamanism continue to color much Daoist religious thought and practice. In pre-Daoist times, shamans were tribal leaders possessed of extraordinary powers. Reports from around the third century B.C.E. describe how these fang shi or “masters of prescriptions” worked their magic. They could tap natural energies, exercise control over life and death, and assume the form of various powerful creatures. Shamanic specialists included many women as well as men. With the dawn of empire and agricultural economy, shamans became part of the governmental structure. Their duties included: drawing spiritual powers to themselves as they entered into trance, exorcism, explaining omens and dreams, influencing the weather for favorable harvest, curing the sick, and divining heavenly portents at the behest of the emperor.

A transformed shamanism lives on in various Daoist practices that are generally divided among the Black Hat priests, Red Turban masters, and spirit mediums. Daoist ritual specialists still fend off evil spirits and perform a vestige of the ancient ceremonies symbolizing the shaman’s journey to the upper and lower worlds. That spiritual journey of ascent and descent remains perhaps the most distinctive survival of shamanistic lore. It appears in various traditions in surprising forms, including, for example, Muhammad’s famous Night Journey and Ascension. Daoist ritual symbolism of the journey occurs in the master’s “pacing the clouds” as he prepares the sacred space for the great religious observances.


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