Taoist Pantheon of Deities
The term Taoist gods and deities can be applied to any god in the pantheon of a Taoist school. It serves to designate therefore as many gods discovered by these schools as others born outside them and adopted by them.
🤔 Do you wonder how many taoist gods are there ? In this article we will see most of the Taoist gods recognized to date and the most important ones.
1) Taoist Gods and Goddesses
Some deities reflect the metaphysical or cosmogonic speculations of specific schools. Since Taoism is not a unified system, they do not necessarily have a wide diffusion in the whole of Chinese religion.
Even adopted by most people, they may be interpreted differently by the ordinary devotee and the followers of the school. Thus, while everyone knows the Jade Emperor, the majority revere him as a form of an older god, the God of Heaven; few are aware of his exact place and mystical significance in a Taoist pantheon.
Here a taoist deities list that which will help us to see more clearly in this large pantheon:
A. The Three Pure Ones
The Three Pure or Sanqing are three gods representing, in the main Taoist schools, the three supreme principles. Their names and the details of their identity may vary according to the schools.
👆 They are at the top of the pantheon and occupy the three highest skies. According to Taoist conceptions, all is breath (Qi energy), and the purest breaths rise the highest.
1) The Jade Pure One - "Lord of Primordial Beginning"
It is the giant Pangu identified with the essence of the undifferentiated universe. After ordering the original chaos, he unites by light with the Holy Woman and gives birth to an avatar of himself, the Pure Superior. He dwells in the highest heaven, the 36th.
At regular intervals the heavens diverge and he gives his teaching to the great gods who have come to honor him. In the temples he is at the center of the triad, and holds in his hand the pearl that symbolizes the original chaos. His birthday is celebrated on the first day of the first lunar month.
2) The Supreme Pur One - "Lord of the Numinous Treasure"
Avatar of the Venerable One of Origin, he is endowed with the gift of ubiquity and appears simultaneously in different forms to help and guide those who request it.
He dwells in the 35th heaven. In the temples, he is on the left, holding a ruyi, a lucky jade scepter used by the courtiers. His birthday is the 15th of the fifth month.
3) The Grand Pure One - "Lord of the Tao and its Virtue"
🧙🏻♂️ It is about Lao Zi, whose divine title is Taishang laojun or Xuanyuan Huangdi, in particular venerated by the Tang emperors who had the same surname as him, Li.
Incarnation of the Tao, he is the head of the lineage of immortals and spiritual master of many legendary and mythological characters through his successive avatars, including the historical Laozi. He lives in the 34th heaven.
In the temples he is on the right and holds a fan of feathers. His hair is white, as described in his legend. His birthday, especially important for the Taoist schools who consider him their patriarch, is on the 15th of the 2nd month.
B. The Four Heavenly Ministers
They are four deities from the pantheon of the main Taoist schools. Positioned directly under the Three Pure Ones or the Emperor of Jade, they represent the four domains of the universe.
Their identity and the distribution of their powers have varied with the schools and the times. The Jade Emperor was one of them until the Song; he was then promoted as an emanation of the Three Pure Ones and positioned before them.
In the Quanzhen Taoism of popular China (Taoism school), he regained his place in the group and consequently occupies two functions: emanation of the Three Pure Ones and first of the Four Heavenly Ministers.
The Four Heavenly Ministers (or Siyu) are :
1) The Jade Emperor:
He represents the gods he rules. It is celebrated on the 9th of the 1st lunar month.
2) Zi Wei Emperor, Emperor of the North Celestial Pole:
He has his seat in the star Ras Algethi in the center of the Chinese zodiac, called "throne". He represents the sky and presides over the world of the stars ⭐. His birthday is the 27th of the 10th month.
3) Ushenshangong Dadi, The Great Emperor of Polaris:
He represents the four asterisms closest to the North Celestial Pole, located to the left of Ras Algethi. He is the axis of the universe and presides over human events, wars, and calamities. It is celebrated on the 2nd of the 2nd month.
4) Houtu, Queen of the Earth:
This goddess bears the name of an ancient deity of the earth forming a couple with the god of heaven. She could have been represented in male form, but Empress Wu Zetian fixed her female form definitively.
She had a temple built for her on the Mount Song (The Five Great Mountains). She governs the fluctuations of Yin and Yang ☯, births and nature. She is celebrated on the 18th of the 3rd month.
C. The Three Officials
The Three Governors of Heaven, Earth and Water (Sanguandadi) are three Taoist gods of the Five-Bushel Rice School founded under the Eastern Han by Zhang Daoling.
The rites of Heaven, Earth and Water were originally a royal privilege according to the Liji. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, these three gods were merged with three other deities, each ruling one third of the year, known as shangyuan, zhongyuan, and xiayuan (upper, middle, and lower third).
1) The Heavenly Official (Tianguan):
A celestial mandarin of the first degree, governs the first third of the year and supervises the celestial deities.
He is identified with the stellar deity Zi wei (see in The Four Heavenyl Ministers above), personification of the Chinese zodiac. His birthday is the 15th of the first lunar month, which has become the Festival of Lanterns.
2) The Earth Official (Diguan):
A celestial mandarin of the 2nd degree, governs the second third of the year and supervises the terrestrial gods, including those of the five sacred mountains.
He is identified with the emperor Shun, who is said to have retired to hunt in the mountains at the end of his days and to have divided the earth into twelve sectors for human occupation 🌏. It is celebrated on the 15th of the 7th month, day of the Ghosts Festival in China.
3) The Water Official (Shuiguan):
He governs the last third of the year and supervises the deities of the seas and rivers. He is usually identified with the legendary ruler Yu the Great, who fought against floods 🌊. His birthday is the 15th of the 10th month.
D. Taoist Deities of Antiquity
🇨🇳 The Taoist schools included in their pantheons characters from Chinese mythology, some of Central Asian or Indo-European origin, whose cult was exotic, marginal, or long since abandoned.
Pangu, Xiwangmu, Huangdi and others thus found a place in the religion of the imperial period through Taoist schools.
The Yellow Emperor
The Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) is according to the Historical Memoirs of Sima Qian (2nd century BC) one of the Five Emperors, mythical rulers of Chinese antiquity, and reigned from 2697 to 2598 BC.
He is recognized as the father of Chinese civilization. Rarely mentioned in the classics, he owes his place in Taoism to the specifically influential Huanglao current of political philosophy at the beginning of the Western Han, for whom he represented the perfect sovereign.
Pangu is a character from Chinese mythology presented as the first to come out of the original chaos, separator of heaven and earth, and whose giant body became at his death the world and the men who live in it.
E. Stellar Deities, Gods of Medicine and Nature
🔭 Astrological, medical, or fengshui knowledge was mainly transmitted in master-disciple groups. The gods of the constellations, mountains and seas, and the healing deities are therefore almost always linked to Taoist schools.
Wenchangdijun, "Emperor Wenchang" from the name of the constellation he embodies, is a Chinese god who has the power to facilitate success in exams.
Zhenwudadi "Emperor Zhenwu" is a stellar Taoist god who governs the northern sky.
The Emperor who preserves life is a Chinese healing god with a strong Taoist coloration, revered specifically on the coasts of Fujian as well as in Taiwan.
He is one of the Five Emperors who since the Han are each associated with an orient according to the theory of the five elements, and one of the forms of Zhenwudadi.
F. The Most Popular Taoist Gods
Below is a list of the deities most often recognized as Taoist and belonging to the official pantheon as it was standardized at different times. Some deities are more or less legendary characters of a regional popular cult who have finally found a place in the Taoist pantheon.
The Queen Mother of the West (Xiwang Mu)
Responsible for the paradise of the West and the Fisher of Immortality. Those promoted to Immortality have the honor of being able to appear before her and be offered a Fishery of Immortality.
Primordial Sovereign of the Clouds of Dawn (Bixia Yuanjun)
The cult of this goddess is very popular throughout China, where she is the protector of women and children: it is indeed she who gives children and generally presides over childbirth 👶🏻.
The Emperor of the Eastern Peak (Donghua Dijun)
Ancient deity residing in the Eastern Peak (mount Taishan), he is responsible for the Underworld.
The Emperor of Jade (Yuhuang Dadi)
He is in charge of the destiny of men and the counting of merits. It is up to him to diminish or lengthen individual life and even to promote a mortal to the rank of immortals.
G. The Eight Immortals and Divinized Masters
A cult is given to certain masters, mythical founders like Laozi (Lao tzu). In the Taoist pantheon, Laozi deified is named "Venerable Superior", he is confused with one of the Three Pure Ones, personification of the three forms of energy.
He is not strictly speaking an Immortal, he is one of the deities, just like the Jade Emperor, master of the destiny of men and immortals. It is he who counts the accumulated merits of a mortal and authorizes him to become Immortal.
In fact, Taoist history shows that the Emperor, frequently having power over religious communities, decreed that such and such a supposedly real or legendary character was entitled to this promotion and gave an honorary title. The Taoist Immortals are men or women who by their merits managed to escape their mortal condition to get closer to the gods.
2) Divinities Not Exclusively Taoist
The Taoist schools provide the entire Chinese religion with its ritual specialists, the daoshi "masters". The great popular deities that are not exclusively Buddhist are therefore integrated into their pantheons, where they can be interpreted specifically for the school.
It is natural for the most popular gods to have several interpretations. A goddess like Mazu, for example, is presented as Taoist by the schools of this current, which claim that she attained the state of divinity after several years of study of the Tao, but also adopted by popular Buddhism, for whom she would have studied the sutras and would even be a reincarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
The latter, in the form of Guan Yin, was adopted by Taoist schools, as was Yanluowang, who was also of Buddhist origin.
"MaZu", literally mother and ancestor, is a Chinese goddess whose cult, perhaps originating from FuJian, extends mainly along the south-eastern coasts of China as well as in Macao, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The maritime relations between the regions bordering the China Sea and the Chinese immigration in Southeast Asia explain why we find temples dedicated to her in many Asian countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Japan and even in the Chinese districts of Los Angeles and San Francisco 🏯.
Yanluowang is a Chinese god of Buddhist origin, guardian and judge of hell. Particularly present in the imagination thanks to iconography and folk tales, he has no temple of his own, like all the deities of too fierce appearance.
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