Mystical Taoism bears its lineage to Tian Shi Dao (Celestial Master School of Taoism) though it was not widely known until the rise of Mao Shan Sect. Mao Shan Sect has its origin from Shang Qing Dao (Supreme Clarity) whose founder was Tao Hong Jing (officially known). However, Shang Qing Dao first leader was Lady Wei Hua Cun (an aristocrat from Jin Dynasty, she was also a practitioner of Celestial Master School and her parent is a high ranking priest in Celestial Master School) who after her death 30 years later, the Taoist’s scriptures were revealed to Yang Xi by immortals which were then compiled by Tao Hong Jing.
Shang Qing Dao concepts and practices are mainly extraction from Celestial Master School and that of Ge Hong’s works (a minor official of Jin Dynasty who was a prolific writer in Taoism, Alchemy, Longevity techniques and other literacy works). Originally, Shang Qing Dao practices various meditation techniques which include visualization of deities and breathing control of ‘Qi’ within the body and some forms of physical exercise. Primarily, Shang Qing Dao practices to unite with the ‘One’ in Tao, and to attain immortality and longevity. Reciting scriptures were also an important part of the practices in Shang Qing Dao.
However, during the rise of Yuan Dynasty, Shang Qing Dao re-named its movement to be known as Mao Shan Sect of Taoism. Mao Shan Sect re-incorporate the use of rituals, talismans and incantations previously used in Celestial Master School which were previously not practice in Shang Qing School. The practice of rituals, talismans and incantations in Mao Shan Sect are used to invoke deities and spirits for journey to other realms of existence, curing illness, for protection, solving mystery and etc.
Mystical Taoism comprises of several components to make up the mysticism. Firstly, the cognitive component that practices conviction in uniting with the ‘One’; secondly, the emotional component which invoke experiences of mysticism; thirdly, the perceptive component that discerns the existence of the ‘One’ though it need not be rational; and lastly, the behavioral component encompasses actions leading to induce mystical experiences. Notably, these components are observed to exist during Taoist’s priests performing rituals and Taoist’s mediums in trances.
Mystical Taoism is widely practice in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and other parts of South East Asia, particularly with existence of Chinese such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. Taoist’s priests are often seen performing rituals for the dead, such as sending their souls on a journey to other realm of existence, uniting their spirits with their ancestors, burial or cremation ceremony and etc. Likewise, Taoist’s priests and mediums through incantation and trance respectively are used to invoke deities and gods during Taoism festivals. Such festivals include birth and enlightenment dates of respective deities and gods. Avid devotees can be seen gathering in temples to pay respect to deities and gods, some may be seeking ‘illness’ treatment, and advices while others requesting blessings through priests and mediums who ‘portray’ as respective deities and gods.
Mystical Taoism is in fact, mystery. Many people may regard such practices as superstitious or mere beliefs but if there are millions of devotees adhering to such mystical Taoist’s practices it becomes questionable. Mystical cannot be proven and if it can be proven then it is no longer mysticism.