TAOIST SHAMANIC PRACTICE
An overview of Taoist Shamanism
by Kris Deva North
My interest in Taoist Shamanic practice began with that 1998 interview
with Master Mantak Chia at the Tao Garden:
"A group of Aryans was shipwrecked on the China shore thousands of years ago. They did not
die, nor have children, and became known as the Shining Ones. They taught shamanic practices,
including the protective circle, calling the elements, ecstatic journeying and flight, power
animals and tutelary deities or guides.
"With the rise of Buddhism shamans were persecuted, like witches in the west. They continued
their practices in secret, without the use of drums, rattles, robes or other articles of the
craft to identify themselves. The saying goes ‘you cannot tell a sage by his clothes.’ They
were also known as magicians, wizards and sorcerers.
"Magic is like religion. It can be of great benefit, or cause great harm. In Taoist magic as
in the Tao, there is no judgement - we are all responsible for ourselves. As long as you do
not harm another being, you are free to do what you want."
My studies and research over the years since show that some of the old shamanic arts
flourish today under the shield of Chinese Medicine, most practitioners unaware of the magical
From its shamanic roots, Taoism rose to become the official religion of the Imperial Dynasties.
It is the foundation of most Chinese art, of the Traditional Chinese Medicines we know today as
acupuncture and herbalism, of Chinese Astrology and Divination, of Tai Chi Chuan "the Supreme
Ultimate" combining meditation and martial art, and of the esoteric sexual practices taught to
the Emperors by their female advisers to form the basis of Taoist Alchemy: the quest for immortality.
Outside of the Imperial Court Taoism evolved as the folk religion, the Old Ways common to
many First Nations, a way of mystery and secrecy, with rites, rituals, and initiations. A
notice stating ‘There is an altar in this house’ was a sign of a safe haven for the travelling
Taoist during the Buddhist persecutions. The tradition has been maintained to this day to show
the location of a Taoist household or temple.
Barefoot healers, pre-Taoist shamans, wearing red headbands, wandered naked and were subject
to fits, a characteristic particularly of the Siberian but also known among shamans of other
The shaman, as ‘mediator with spirit’ is chosen by spirit and called by humans when healing
practices such as herbs, massage, acupuncture or allopathy have failed. If the sickness prevails,
Shaman finds out from Spirit what healing the soul needs for the body to be whole again. Everything
is a gift and a blessing, for everything is Love, and gratitude and thanks must be given even for
hurt and pain. Then harmony can be restored between soul and body.
Practitioners of shamanism can be susceptible to suffering afflictions of spirit in this earthly
dimension. I personally know two people, one an acknowledged practitioner and the other a young
boy recognised by his teachers as having shamanic power, who have an extremely difficult time
living in the "normal" world themselves but through their spirit-connection are able to help
others. This of course is where modern-day Taoist practitioners have the advantage of the Healing
Tao system to protect themselves from depletion and contamination.
Families and priests, sources of the great Schools of Taoism with their ideological and
geographical differences, practiced Shamanic Taoism as local cults. The simple philosophy, or
Tao Chia, expounded by Lao Tsu in the Tao Te Ching c600 BCE had become Tao Chiao, religious dogma,
by 2nd Century of the new millennium. The ‘Do-It-Yourself’ principles of Taoism were competing
with Confucianism’s reassuringly strict codes of behaviour for all situations. After another
thousand years the Complete Clarity school sought to return to the untrammelled simplicity of
the original practice.
Interesting comparisons between Taoist and other shamanic practices:
Worship by Smoke: the Native American "peace-pipe" equates to the Taoist practice of burning
incense, with the smoke rising as a prayer to Heaven. The Taoist has the additional feature of
the ash falling as a prayer to Earth. The Taoist also uses the ash to establish other "altars"
such as when the student leaves to start their own practice; they take a pinch of the accumulated
ash from the mother-altar.
Purification by Sweat: here is a common thread running around the world among First Nations in
the cool-to-temperate latitudes. Native Americans with their Sweatlodge, North Europeans with
Sauna and the Taoist Hot Tub Immersion all share the sweat-detox practice, social as well as
ritual in nature.
Symbolic Sacrifice: common to all traditions with varying relationships between symbolism and
reality, from the killing of the Corn God at the end of the harvest in North America and Europe,
to the ritual breaking of bones until death in the Siberian tradition, to the burying of slaves
at the temple corner among the ancient Hawaiians, crucifixion and ascension for Christians etc etc.
The suffix name -ti for the Emperor implies a meat sacrifice reflecting the killing of the old one
when his son reached puberty. The shamanic blood-sacrifice traditions of ancient China were modified
in religious Taoism: the scriptures were written on parchment, which is made from lambskin, a lamb
being killed only once but thereafter each time the priest reads the scriptures he evokes the spirit
of the sacrifice.
Ecstatic Flight: Whereas the early Taoist practice culminated in ecstasy, the shamanic practice
began thus, using it to launch into the celestial or lower realms. Other traditions perceive the
Taoist practice as more familiar with the Heavenly path than the lower worlds. True, Taoists begin
with the celestial realm then use its light to illuminate the dark places below.
Bone Spirits: all traditions practise "changing the bones", the cellular crystalline structures
capable of transmitting and receiving energy-waves: the first radios were crystal-sets. Mantak
Chia teaches bone-changing through the Advanced Iron Shirt practice. In Hawaiians cooked off the
flesh and preserved the thigh-bones (the location of the bones of the last king who died 100+
years ago is still kept secret.)
Initiation: common to all traditions and the Taoist are as testing as most. Overcoming obstacles
the Initiate gains knowledge of her or himself and learns secrets of the craft. Through Initiation
the Shaman learns the power of Spirit, using it to understand the illusion of fear and physical
limitations of discomfort and fatigue. After the Ordeal of Initiation the Shaman is reborn to take
his place in the Community and returns to the Outer World
The Shaman is the Healer in the community and, particularly in the Taoist tradition, is known
only to the community, unknown in the Outer World. This secrecy stems from the days of persecution.
As Healing Warrior, the Shaman mediates with, or combats, Spirit, by taking into her or himself the
energies, to heal and to seal.
Taoist Medicine Wheel - Tao of the Shaman 1
Step 5 of the Nine-Step Training in the Taoist Arts is an initiation into Taoist Shamanic Practice.