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  • Writer's picture Даосская Ассоциация России

Demons in Daoism: Unveiling the Intricacies of Cosmic Beings

Cheng Bohan


In Daoism, a rich tapestry of spiritual beliefs and practices, we encounter a concept that may be unfamiliar to those outside this tradition: demons. However, the notion of demons in Daoism differs markedly from what is depicted in Western religions and folklore. In this article, we will explore the multifaceted world of Daoist demons, shedding light on their unique characteristics and roles within this ancient Chinese philosophy.


In Western religions, demons are often portrayed as malevolent entities diametrically opposed to gods and angels. In Daoism, though, the concept of demons is more nuanced. Here, demons are not irredeemably evil beings; they are cosmic entities with their own complexities.

One intriguing aspect of Daoist demonology is the existence of the "Five Demon Emperors." These beings are believed to have been born from the very fabric of the cosmos itself, and they hold a unique perspective—they consider themselves on par with gods and goddesses.

The Daoist text 《玉清隐书》 describes them as such: "Five Demon Emperors, born with the skies, they think their positions are equivalent to the Gods and Goddesses." (五帝魔王...与天同生。....又自矜与诸天上帝齐其圣功。)These cosmic beings do not fit the typical image of demons; instead, they resemble emperors. In paintings, they are depicted wearing imperial crowns, wielding swords, and even carrying the "Huban" (笏板). They have their own soldiers, generals, maids, squires, horses, and carriages—a level of opulence that sets them apart from conventional demons.


In the netherworld, there is a place called Feng Du Mountain (酆都山,北都罗酆). This mountain is home to the most cruel and vicious ghosts, monsters, and demons. Within this mountain, there are 6 palaces known as the "6 Demon Palaces" (六洞鬼宫). These palaces are ruled by 6 powerful demons referred to as the "6 Skies Demon Lords" (六天魔王), and they command 360,000 ghost soldiers. One day, they initiated an insurgency and ventured into the human world, causing havoc by killing and spreading plagues.

Yuan Shi Prime (元始天尊) heard the news and dispatched the Five Xuan Elders of the North, along with their soldiers, to quell the insurgency. After eliminating all the demons in the human realm, the Five Xuan Elders of the North sent another 6 Demon Lords to guard the "6 Demon Palaces."

From this story, we learn that there are two types of demons: those who rebel and spiral out of control, and those who are under control and have taken refuge in the three treasures of Daoism.



One of the remarkable aspects of these Five Demon Emperors is their shapeshifting abilities. They can transform into various appearances, including children, old men, and even creatures with the heads of humans and the bodies of birds. At times, they can manifest as pure light, defying conventional physical forms. Their ability to change their appearance at will adds an additional layer of mystique to their character.

Each of the Five Demon Emperors possesses unique characteristics and attributes:


Green Sky Demon Emperor Ba Yuan Chou Bo (青天魔王 巴元丑伯): His energy can cause mental instability and madness in humans.



Red Sky Demon Emperor Fu Tian Dan Shi (赤天魔王 负天担石): He is incredibly strong and has the power to incite anger and fury.


White Sky Demon Emperor Fan Shan Liu Mu (白天魔王 反山六目): This emperor boasts six eyes and the ability to flip mountains, leading people into the depths of desire.



Black Sky Demon Emperor Jian Chou Lang Fu (黑天魔王 监丑朗馥): With a penchant for warfare and bloodshed, he revels in destruction.


Yellow Sky Demon Emperor Heng Tian Dan Li (黄天魔王 横天担力): Often seen seated in a carriage, he and his troops traverse the skies while singing songs that tempt and spread calamity.

These Five Demon Emperors are not malevolent for malevolence's sake. They use their powers to test Daoists in their practice of the Dao. The trials they present are formidable, and any misstep could lead to dire consequences.

Daoists who successfully navigate these challenges are granted the "Demon Emperor's Vouch (魔王保举)," a significant endorsement that facilitates their journey toward immortality. This vouch serves as a recommendation to the Gods and Goddesses, ensuring the Daoists' progress on their spiritual path.


Intriguingly, the Demon Emperors are also known as the "Source of Ten Thousand Gods (万神之宗)." They are instrumental in the divine hierarchy, and their tests have led many Gods and Goddesses to ascend to their positions. It's worth noting that Daoism's pantheon is not static; it evolves as entities pass these tests and assume new roles.

At the pinnacle of the hierarchy, we find the "Nine Skies Great Demon Emperors (九霄大魔帝君 jiǔ xiāo dà mó dì jūn)." These Great Demon Emperors are considered avatars of Yuan Shi Prime, and they are led by the South Pole Emperor. Their existence further reinforces the interconnectedness of cosmic beings within Daoism.


In conclusion, the concept of demons in Daoism is a profound and intricate aspect of this ancient philosophy. Unlike the malevolent entities of Western lore, Daoist demons encompass a wide spectrum of cosmic beings, some of whom serve as powerful avatars of the divine. Through their tests, they play an integral role in the spiritual evolution of Daoists, guiding them on their quest for immortality and enlightenment.

Understanding the role of demons in Daoism offers a fascinating glimpse into the depth and complexity of this enduring tradition, reminding us that spirituality is a multifaceted journey with unique perspectives and challenges along the way.



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