Talismans, Registers, and Magic Skills
Magical Skills ( 法術 Fashu ) play a very important role in the religious activities of Daoism. Magical Skills refer to a sort of operational system for invoking spirits or ghosts or for producing supernatural changes. They are called Daoist Arts, Daoist Skills, or Secret Skills ( 秘法 Mifa ) to indicate their mystery and secrecy. Sometimes they are called Great Magical Skills to indicate their exceptional uniqueness. Conducting Magical Skills is a chief religious behavior of Daoism, so that it plays an important role in Daoism.
Theoretically, Magical Skills are the demonstration of Dao whereas Dao is their foundation. Such an idea is expressed as follows: " Dao is the noumenon and Magical Skills are the phenomena", which means that Dao is the implicit underpinning of Magical Skills, and Magical Skills are functions and influences of Dao. The first volume of the "Great Collection of Daoist Skills" says that Magical Skills are the usage of Dao. Dao is immaterial while Magical Skills are capable of being touched; Dao is subtle and invisible while Magical Skills are demonstrable. So Magical Skills are not only an operational system to control spirits and ghosts or external things in mysterious ways, but also closely connected with the reverent belief in Dao. Moreover, Magical Skills depend on the personal cultivation and virtues of the master who conducts a certain magic art.
Dao can save man by Magical Skills
The function of magical arts lies in the idea that they are capable of controlling external things, or spirits and ghosts. So it is thought that man can free himself from natural or social forces with their magical power. Especially when man encounters disasters or gets in trouble, man hopes to rely on them to dispel disasters or ghosts, or even to solve their problems thoroughly. Daoists think that Dao is the pure and perfect noumenon of emptiness, and that magic arts are esoteric means of transformations and changes. Dao is immaterial, but it can save man with its magic skills. Man is intelligent and he can mingle himself with Dao. Since man can learn Dao, he can control change naturally. Magic arts, which are quite influential among the common people, meet the need of the people who attribute disasters or illnesses to supernatural forces, and puzzle and fear about the mysterious forces. Therefore Magical Skills are one of the chief means for the Daoists to provide their religious services. In ancient times, ordinary people got to know Daoism through magic arts, and revered Daoists because of the legends concerning their powerful magical skill. Some of the Magical Skills were encouraged by the rulers, who used to establish cults by divinization ( 神道設教 Shendao Shejiao ), as a means to control society in times of chaos when people were frightened by disasters.
Daoist magic arts, with their immense complexity, have formed an enormous system
They began in history and have been developing and changing. Generally speaking, with Dao regarded as essential, the elementary means of Daoist Magical Skills are talismans, Incantations ( 符, 咒 Fu, Zhou ), finger gestures ( 掐訣 Qiajue ), and Big Dipper pacing ( 踏罡步斗 Tagang Budou ), together with such magical instruments as swords, stone seals, magical water, and some medicines. There are several classes of magic arts, including praying for happiness and blessings, offering sacrifices to exorcise evils, summoning and invoking spirits for dispelling ghosts ( 考召 Kaozhao ), curing diseases, raising dead souls from suffering, destroying the Darkness ( 破幽 Poyou ), and doing divination and divinatory calculation ( 術數 Shushu ). Ritual Masters, on usual occasions, apply one or two skills, but on rare occasions will apply quite a few of them, follow certain procedures, and set up an altar. So the ceremony for carrying out some special Magical Skills is called "conducting of rituals".