Origin of the Title " High Priest"
" High Priest" is the name of the servant for the performance of Daoist rituals. Together with the Chief Cantor ( 都講 Dujiang ) and the Inspector of Fasts ( 監齋 Jianzhai ), the High Priest is one of the " three Ritual Masters" ( 法師 Fashi ) who conduct rituals of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao ) together. The term "High Priest" already existed in ancient times, and originally referred to an erudite person. The rituals of early Daoism were fairly simple, and there was no title of High Priest. The Regulations and Penalties for the Use of Lanterns and Candles in the Pervasive Mysterious Offerings ( 洞玄靈寶齋說光燭戒罰燈祝願儀 Dongxuan Lingbao Zhaishuo Guangzhu Jiefa Deng Zhuyuan Yi ) compiled by Lu Xiujing (406-477), an eminent Daoist priest of the Southern dynasty, called the High Priest a "ritual master". Only after the Tang and Five dynasties did the title of High Priest begin to be used widely in Daoist rituals, and it is still used today.
Position and Functions
The Regulations and Penalties for the Use of Lanterns and Candles in the Pervasive Mysterious Offerings says that the ritual master (i.e., the High Priest) "is virtuous inward and solemn outward. His movements and behaviour all accord with the rituals. The Three Worlds ( 三界 sanjie ) take him as an example, and ghosts and spirits respect him. He reports and prays, communicates with the Perfect Men and summons spirits, clears doubts and explains the abstruse, and corresponds with virtuous persons". In addition, the Preaching of the Commandments for Assigning Tasks During the Great Fasts of the Golden Register ( 金籙大齋補職說戒儀 Jinlu Dazhai Buzhi Shuojie Yi ) of the Tang and Five Dynasties says that "the high priest is virtuous inward and solemn outward. Both Heaven and Humans are attracted to him, and both ghosts and spirits respect him. Pacing on light, he flies to the stars to preach virtue with dignity. His kindness spreads through the Three Worlds, and his manners surpass all the officials". The High Priest should be able to Pace the Big Dipper ( 步罡踏斗 Bugang Tadou ), connect humans and spirits, preach teachings in place of spirits, and save men and ghosts. Among all the servants at the Daoist altar of offerings, the High Priest occupies the leading position. This position is generally filled by eminent Daoist priests of noble character and high prestige.