Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ceremonial Vs Functional Taoism Today (科仪道士与术士)

Many enthusiastic friends sent me literature on Taoist magic compiled by westerners but I only flipped over a few pages and set them aside because those are literary ‘literature research’ on Taoist rituals in every sense. In fact, many of those materials are fragmented and obsolete today unfortunately. Perhaps it is worthwhile to write something about Taoist rituals in general just to demystify the bizarre topic of Taoism.

A western friend came to me and said that he went to China to learn about Taoist magic. So I asked him:

“What did they teach you?”

He answered:

“Oh. They taught me to chant, meditate, carrying out rituals etc…”

Then I said:

“Then you are only a Taoist by tourism!”

Basically in all streams of Taoist schools, there are two types of Taoists: the ceremonial and functional.

A ceremonial Taoist is a Taoist who performs predefined ceremonial rituals on ceremonial dramas on specific occasions: festivals, blessings, funerals, blessing of statues/temples etc. Ceremonial Taoists normally work in a group and the ceremonial rituals are complex. A ritual may take somewhere between 1 day to 9 days now days; it used to be much longer in old time. Traditionally, ceremonial Taoists had royal patronage hence explaining the need for complex and expensive rituals… You just have to act something to satisfy the emperor or lose your head in those days.

Ceremonial Taoists today perhaps only limited to blessing ceremonies and funeral services; in a smaller scale and declining state even in the stronghold of Taoism, Taiwan.

On the other hand, I would define a functional Taoist as a ‘sorcerer’ because unlike a ceremonial Taoist, a sorcerer works with functional rituals to compel spirits to work on his/her desires. An artisan or Feng Shui master would follow the Luban (鲁班) sect, a hunter would follow the Meishan (梅山) sect and a raft worker or fisherman would practise Paijiao (排教) etc.

Many functional Taoist sects have various specialities. For example: A Maoshan (茅山) sorcerer would be best with his/her ghost magic, a Luban sorcerer would be very good in magic concerning buildings and Meishan ones would be good in dealing with hunting magic.

Functional Taoist rituals are mainly short and simple. Many times only the sorcerer alone is required to perform the ritual. And it is best that the sorcerer alone who performs the magic as some of those rituals involve cursing someone in a community.

Since ceremonies normally bring more cash to a Taoist, functional Taoists also involve in ceremonial magic rituals. Likewise, ceremonial Taoists practise functional magic rituals to serve their community in normal days.

Perhaps I can safely say that most of Taoists we can find out there openly belong to ceremonial type as functional Taoists are practically extinct except in rural and isolated place in China and Vietnam.

Coming back to Taoist literature, I have yet to find a good description of Taoist magic in the West at this time.

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