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The Most Important Taoist Deities You Should Know

The folk religion Taoism is one of China’s five religions and includes powerful deities that they venerate and treat with the utmost respect.

From the Chinese Taoism philosophy that is attributed to philosopher Laozi, the Taoism religion originated from the rural areas of China before becoming an official religion during the Tang Dynasty. The Taoism religion is centered on nature, and Taoists believe that by understanding the natural law of the world, they can gain eternal life.

But they also believe that there is no omnipotent being beyond the cosmos who is responsible for creating and controlling the universe. Rather the “tao” is believed to be the source of everything and the flow of the universe and is responsible for guiding every single living being as they go through life.

This pantheon of Taoism deities carries god-like power and is celebrated and respected by some as religious figures. Here are some of them:



Photo from Asia Society

Laozi or Lao Tsu, the philosopher that was believed to have founded Taoism, was eventually revered as one of the supreme deities when the philosophy became a religion. In later mature Taoist tradition, he was then seen as the personification of the Tao. The ancient Chinese were affected by the teachings of Laozi that they decided to treat him like a supreme being. 


The Three Pure Ones

“Three Pure Ones” or “The Three Purities” are some of the most important deities in Taoism and are considered to be the highest amongst the rest in the pantheon. These three powerful deities are Yu-ch’ing (Jade Pure), Shang-ch’ing (Upper Pure) and T’ai-ch’ing (Great Pure), which represent three aspects of the divinity that exists in all living things. Highly revered, they are believed to be teachers of mankind rather than rulers of it.

Yu-ch’ing is known as the central deity of the Three Purities, and is believed to have already manifested since the beginning of time. Shang-ch’ing is considered an attendant of Yu-ch’ing and has been given the task to reveal Taoist scriptures to lesser gods and humans. And T’ai-ch’ing is believed to have taken numerous forms including the philosopher Laozi and is known for being an active participant in the human realm. 


The Jade Emperor

Photo from The Jade Turtle Records

Yu-huang, most commonly known as the Jade Emperor, plays a very significant role as one of the powerful gods in Chinese mythology and folktales, and a deity in Taoist religion. Legend has it that Yu-ch’ing himself picked Yu-huang to be his successor as the supreme beginning of Heaven and Earth, both living and the dead. Known for his responsibility for distributing justice, he punishes all those people who have done wrong in their lives. 

According to legend, he was the son of an emperor named Ch’ing-te and his wife Pao Yueh-kuang. But after inheriting the throne, he abdicated a few years later and retired as a hermit, spending his time dispensing medicine and knowledge of the Taoist texts.

He is also said to play a special role for Chinese New Year. Just before Chinese New Year, the Jade Emperor sends the Kitchen God, Zao Jun, to each household to check people’s deeds from the previous year and if good or evil has been done. The Jade Emperor then rewards or punishes each household accordingly.
During the Chinese New Year Festival, some worship the Jade Emperor and Zao Jun by lighting incense and presenting food offerings. 


The Eight Immortals

Photo from China Daily

In Taoism, it is believed that there are “Eight Immortals” or “Ba Xian” who carry the power of giving life and vanquishing evil. Said to live with Yu-ch’ing in the heavens or among the group of five islands in the Bohai Sea, this group of legendary deity heroes is known for helping and protecting mankind, and a number of them seem to have had actual historical existences having been born in the Tang Dynasty or Song Dynasty.

Whether regarded as historical, semi-historical, or legendary characters, the Eight Immortals represent the ability to transform into different creatures and objects, to heal, to predict the future, and a lot more. The Immortals are comprised of Cao Guojiu, Han Xiangzi, He Xiangu, Lan Caihe, Li Tieguai, Lü Dongbin, Zhang Guolao, and Zhongli Quan. Each of them draws their power from their own special objects.

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