Zhen Wu, the Northern heaven god,
the spirit of the big dipper is worshiped in Wu Dang Taoism.
Taoism, the indigenous religion of China, has its origins in Shamanism. Its ornate tribal knowledge and magical wisdom was practiced to ensure immortality. Shamanism was practiced in the Qin and Western Han dynasties (221-207B.C. and 206 B.C.-24 A.D.). During the reign of Emperor Shun Di, of the Eastern Han Dynasty (126-144 CE), Zhang Ling (Zhang Daoling) founded the Five Pecks of Rice Sect in Heming Mountain. Every member was to pay five pecks of rice in annual membership fees. Zhang was later venerated by his followers as the Celestial Master, so his group was also known as the Sect of the Celestial Master.
Lao Zi, the founding philosopher of Taoism, is its chief deity and is honored as Lord of the Most High by Taoists, who believe the existence of the Tao is all-embracing and everlasting, and gives birth to and governs any and every thing including the sky and the earth. They hold that they can attain longevity and become one with the Tao through special meditation practices.
The highest deities of Taoism are the Three Pure Gods (Yuan Shi, Ling Bao and Dao De) but its pantheon includes many groups of popular deities which are broadly worshipped such as: Heavenly Deities, Earthly Immortals and Human Spirits.
The basic canon of Taoism is the Tao Te Ching, also known as the Five-Thousand-Character Scripture by Lao Zi. The daily liturgies include the Jade Emperor Scripture and the Lasting Tranquility Scripture. The Taoist texts and historical accounts now in existence are the Taoist Canon as edited in the Zhen Tong Reign of the Ming Dynasty (1436-1449 CE), the Wan Li Supplement to the Taoist Canon edited under the auspices of Ming Dynasty Emperor Wan Li (1573-1620 CE) and the main texts of the Taoists Canon.
Among all the sects of Taoism in its 1,800-year history in China, two were most widespread and influential: the Tai Ping School founded by Zhang Jiao; and the Five Pecks of Rice Sect continued by Zhang Ling's grandson Zhang Lu at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty. During the Eastern Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties (317-589), Taoism underwent considerable reform and as a result many new scriptures were added. Its doctrines were extended and its codes of rites and conduct were enriched. Ge Hong (283-343) assembled the Taoist books on alchemy then in existence and wrote his book the Inner Chapters of Baopu Zi, expounding the ways of attaining immortality. Kou Qienzi (365-448), a Taoist of Mt. Songshan in Henan Province, reformed the old Celestial Master's Sect and initiated some new codes of rites and chants for his sect, which was known as the Northern Celestial Master's Sect. In the south Lu Xiujing (406-477), a Taoist of Mt. Lushan in Jiangxi Province, assembled a systematic collection of canonical texts of the three Dong (classes) and compiled the traditional code of Taoist rites and conduct. Afterward his sect and the other sects in the south came to be known as the Southern Sect of the Celstial Master. During the Tang and Song dynasties (618-907 and 960-1271), these two sects and the sects of Shangqing, Lingbao and Jingming gradually merged and at last in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) they became identical with Zhen Yi Sect. During the Yuan Dynastyand the preceding Jin Dynasty, a few new Taoists sects appeared and developed in the Yellow River area. The most important of these was the Quan Zhen Sect, founded in 1167, by Wang Chongyang in Ninghai (now Mouping) County, Shandong Province. Wang's disiple Qiu Changchun was held in high regard by the Yuan Dynasty Emperor Genghis Kahn. The sect consequently enjoyed great popularity such that it developed into a major Taoist sect comparable to Zhen Yi in the south. The two have continued in existence down to the present.
The Zhen Yi Sect emphasizes devotional activities and spends much effort on charms, prayers and festivals. The Quan Zhen Sect emphasizes individudal meditation and has more formal ordination procedures and strict regulation for an austere monastic life for its monks; who do not marry as do those from the other sect.
In April 1957, the Taoist Association was formed and set up headquarters in The White Cloud Temple in Beijing. Taoists believe they will attain freedom and happiness through their religious practice.