What is Wuism?

Cornish Daoism
4 min readJun 11, 2018

Wuism is an alternative name for a branch of Chinese folk religion known as Chinese Shamanism which was part of the background from which the modern religion of Daoism was born and which today is a blend of indigenous spiritual practices, Buddhism, Daoism & Confucianism.

The term Wu, first seen on Shang dynasty oracle bone transcriptions, refers to a sorcerer, wizard or shaman and is somewhat analogous to the term Tongji which refers to a spirit medium or oracle. However it is important to point out that a Wu is someone who gains control of spiritual forces for their own devices whereas a Tongji is someone who is involuntarily chosen by a spirit to be used as a vehicle for communication, as we see in the example of the State Oracle of Tibet who is believed to be chosen for possession by a local deity known as a Dharma Protector or a Mundane Deity.

The practitioners of this tradition are divided into three categories. Huòwūshí performed the role of community priests in a similar manner in which an Anglican Priest might undertake various spiritual duties in his parish. Nánwū were male shamans who inherited their positions by birth and occupied jobs in the aristocracy that involved being trained in secret esoteric knowledge and finally nǚwū were female shamans who dealt with more common exoteric knowledge such as herbal healing practices and utilizing whatever contact they could naturally make with the spirit world without having the specialized training of the Nánwū in a manner similar to the hedge witch of Pagan traditions. Some of these practices were adopted by the later Shangqing sect of Daoism who engaged in astral travel, internal alchemy & tantric practices, often in a solitary way that did not rely on any temple hierarchy.

Early Wuists of the Shang Dynasty (1600 -1046 BC) venerated several different spirits with sacrificial rituals. These included Shangdi, the highest creator God, elemental nature spirits (possibly slightly analogous to the mundane deities in Bon Shamanism & Tibetan Buddhism) and a variety of ancestral figures who became deified in a manner similar to the way in which the Catholic Church creates its saints. The practitioners of Wuism used a form of divination to determine whether the deities approved of their actions and would also perform various rituals to interact with the angry kuei spirits & the friendly shen spirits that were believed to permeate the natural world.

Wuism may also formed the precursor for the Confucian concept of honoring the family. The practice of ancestor worship was central to the idea that the family was the the nucleus of society and this concept later grew into the wider idea that an individual family ought to be ethically and morally functional in order to create a structurally sound wider society. This veneration was expressed in part by extending respect to relatives who had passed on and engaging in practices to comfort them from the Earthly plane. It was commonly believed that a person possessed two different souls, called hun (cloud soul) & po (white soul) which departed from each other at death, with the hun spirit ascending to heaven and the po descending into the Earth to reside in an ancestral tablet that would be kept in a household altar. Some Daoist practitioners argue that there are multiple numbers of hun & po souls and one might speculate that this idea recurs in the practice of soul retrieval and other practices that relate to the assistance of the dead that is common in pagan traditions.

Chinese shamans may also the first to develop the practices that would go on to be incorporated into Daoist longevity practices that included internal alchemist practices such as Qi Gong , Chi breathing exercises, sexual tantric practices , diets that were determined by the shamans understanding of the natural world, physical exercises, and meditation techniques that would be employed by later Buddhists & Daoists.

In conclusion we will examine one shamanic Qi Gong technique that can be practiced in it’s simplest form anywhere. This Qi Gong practice is known as Cosmic Orbit Qigong. Chinese shamans believed that the workings of the cosmos were reflected in every lower level of the cosmos including the Earth and the human body which were held to be microcosms of the wider reality that we inhabit. The purpose of this exercise is to cultivate & circulate Chi which Daoists & shamans believe is the essential primordial life force that animates everything and which circulates naturally in nature. They believed however that human beings would often develop blockages and would attempt to alleviate problem this through Cosmic Orbit Qi Gong and other similar practices.

In order to practice this technique one should begin by either sitting comfortably or by sitting in the classic lotus/half lotus seated meditation position. Begin breathing deeply and slowly, focusing on your breath and returning your concentration to breathing whenever a thought arises to disturb you. After a while the mind will settle a little and you should begin to visualize a golden ball of light filling up the lower part of your stomach which gets bigger and brighter with each breath. When you are satisfied with this you should begin to visualize this energy moving from the bottom of your stomach and up your spine to the top of your head and then down the front of your body back to your lower stomach. It is commonly believed in Chinese shamanic circles that this practice restores the natural circulation of energy that happens to a baby in the womb. This in an extremely simplified version of the practice but it will suffice as an introduction until you are able to research the technique in more depth yourself.



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