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Divine Manifestations of Yin: Goddesses and Female Saints





Women have always played an important role in Taoism—as teachers who have influenced the development of Taoist teachings and as goddesses, the principal embodiments of feminine yin energy and the necessary counterparts to masculine yang energy. The significance of goddesses is most apparent in the divine mother figures, special protectors of women and childbirth. Their worship, however, was not limited to women; in fact, they had an equally strong male following. These mother figures were especially associated with the Tao itself, which was often described as an empty, receptive womb that made possible the birth of the world and the transformation of energy into matter.

The most important divine embodiment of feminine energy, the Queen Mother of the West, was worshiped in China before the rise of religious Taoism. In the Northern and Southern dynasties, it was believed that she had appeared to different emperors to legitimize or deny the legitimacy of their rule. She eventually came to be seen as the head of a complex pantheon of different goddesses—the feminine equivalent of such supreme figures as the Three Purities or the Jade Emperor.

Mortal women have also had a deep impact on Taoism, both as patrons and teachers. Not only emperors but also women from the imperial family could be ordained as Taoist priests. Many other women served as the religious instructors of high-level officials and scholars. Several movements within Taoism are attributed to female founders. Both Taoism and Buddhism offered female followers the possibility of becoming nuns, an accepted option for a woman who did not wish to become a wife and mother. Although Taoism inherited many social biases against women, it allowed them to play a vital role. The influence of women on the growth of religious Taoism is undeniable.




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