Daoism and Cct

Signs and Symbols

What signs or symbols distinguish Daoist ritual specialists?

Daoist “priests” or “masters” make extensive use of symbolic vestments in ritual settings. Apparently in imitation of the garments emperors once wore for religious rituals, Daoist specialists today wear three types of vestments in various colors, depending on sectarian affiliation. For the most sacred occasions a high priest wears a square red silk poncho-like vestment called the “garment of descent” that symbolizes Earth. For regular major rituals the celebrants might wear a red or yellow silk over-garment called the “Dao Gown” with the character for “tai ji” or the Eight Trigrams on the front and back. Other common decorative motifs include images of the Eight Immortals, often depicted on the hems of broad, flowing sleeves. Abstract cloud designs often stand for Yin while cranes and male versions of the mythical creature called the qi lin (sometimes associated with the unicorn, but very different from the European unicorn) represent Yang. For penitential rites the assistants might wear the “sea-blue” vestment whose darker color accords with a darker ritual purpose. Under these garments specialists wear a square silk apron. Officiants also wear distinctive headgear, including a black skullcap under a metal five-pointed crown (recalling the five elements) bestowed in the ordination ceremony. Ritual shoes like those once worn in the imperial court bear cloud symbolism that suggests the ability to walk the very heavens as the priest delivers the prayers of the people to the deities.


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