Those who die an untimely death are considered orphan souls. They have vital energies that have not been exhausted, and they are trapped between worlds, unable to become human again and unable to become ancestors. They must be fed and comforted by the entire community to prevent them from causing trouble among the living. Yet it is from among the orphan souls that a fourth type of divine being can emerge. These rare humans may have acted heroically prior to death and were morally pure. After an untimely death, they are discovered to be able to act on behalf of the living. Thereafter, a lengthy process of deification begins during which a local deity may increase in power sufficient to become a deity for all.
A good example of the latter is Mazu, goddess of the sea. At first the object of a small cult at a temple where her mummified body was kept, in the 12th century she became the patron saint of sailors for the eastern coastal region. She continued to be promoted throughout the centuries, and is now extremely popular among Chinese immigrant communities who traveled across the ocean to their new homes. These popular gods are not technically part of the Taoist pantheon, and would not attend formal Taoist rituals. However, these are the deities to whom the people will turn for personal help or guidance.
1. What are the two prominent uses of the word “tao”?
2. How does time shape Taoist deities?
3. What Taoist deities are still important today?
4. How does death influence the role of a Taoist deity?