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Religion Library: Taoism

Sacred Space

Written by: Julia Hardy

The sacred spaces created by Taoist priests for rituals are not the only sacred spaces in Taoism.  There are also geographical locations imbued with sacred energy.  The most notable of these are the five sacred mountains of Taoism, which are located in the north (Hengshan in Shanxi province), south (also called Hengshan, but this Heng is a different word, in Hunan), east (Taishan in Shandong), west (Huashan in Shaanxi), and center (Songshan in Henan).  Other mountains are considered sacred as well, some more notable than the five, such as Mao Shan and Longhu Shan, headquarters for Shangqing and Zhengyi Taoism respectively, or Zhongnan Shan, where the founder of Quanzhen Taoism had a hermitage and had contact with divine beings.  Other mountains, like Kunlun, are believed to be the dwelling places of immortals. 

Caves and grottoes are also thought to be sacred.  There are countless caves and grottoes within the mountains of China, and among them are many that are occupied by hermits and Taoist adepts.

The central altar for Taoist ritual is also called a cave, but it is understood that at the same time it is a mountain.  At this altar, the Taoshi goes within/rises to the peak as he undertakes a mystical journey on behalf of all.  The ritual brings the participants back to the state of the cosmos before time, space, and matter had been differentiated.


Study Questions:
1.    Why are sacred space and sacred time inseparable?
2.    Why is a sense of direction (north, south, east, west) important in performing the Way of the Celestial Masters ritual?
3.    Why do certain geographical locations and natural formations function as sacred sites?


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