Taoism, more accurately pronounced "Daoism," is one of the major religious traditions in Chinese culture. It has existed since ancient times, and later continued to flourish in Taiwan even when religion was suppressed in communist China. It is largely a philosophy about how the universe works, but most Taoists also worship a wide range of deities.
Taoism teaches that the universe is created and guided by an impersonal force called the Tao, which is not considered to be a being. However, Taoists do believe in many deities who exist within the universe, serving specific roles within a "heavenly bureaucracy" that mirrors the earthly administration of ancient China. Taoists believe that if they make offerings to the gods at temples using incense, the gods will help them and protect them from misfortune.
The Jade Emperor
The highest-ranking god in Taoists beliefs is the Jade Emperor, known as Yuhuang Dadi or Tiangong in Mandarin Chinese. He represents the whole of the heavens, and because of his vastness he is rarely depicted by a statue in temples, instead being represented simply by a name and burning incense. Temples devoted to him are relatively few, due to the belief in ancient times that only the Emperor of China had the privilege of sacrificing to him directly.
Below the Jade Emperor, there are countless gods all playing their own roles in the administration of the universe. The Emperors of the Three Offices oversee heaven, earth and humankind. The Gods of Wealth are in charge of money, and the City God is the guardian of all cities. There are also gods for various trades, such as Mazu, a patron saint of fishermen who is one of the most popular deities on the island of Taiwan, where she is known as the Heavenly Holy Mother.
In Taoist culture different aspects of the natural world are believed to be represented by various low-ranking gods, such as the Sun God, the Moon Goddess, the River God and the Tree God. One of the most widely worshiped is Tudigong, the Earth God, who is considered the patron saint of the community, and takes many different forms in different places.
Gods of Yin
Most of the Taoist deities were once real people who became gods after their deaths because of their good deeds or great achievements. However, there are others who are worshipped in fear after they became lonely spirits through untimely or unnatural deaths. These spirits, who become gods once a temple is built for them, include Baixing Gong, Dazhong Ye and Gu Niang. They are known as "Yin Gods," in reference to the dark side of the Taoist yin-yang, a symbol of duality in nature.
Because Taoism is not a strict theistic religion like Christianity or Islam, many Taoists have no problem worshipping deities or saints from other faiths. In Chinese culture, public temples sometimes worship Confucian saints, Buddha and Buddhist Bodhisattvas alongside the traditional Taoist gods. In Taiwan one of the most popular deities is the Bodhisattva Guanyin, a figure from Buddhism whom some believers consider to be connected to the Taoist goddess Mazu.
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