Introduction to Chinese Esotericism

Taoism is a nature-based religion, philosophy, and a 2,000 year old tradition of sorcery native to China since the Zhou Dynasty. In that same time, Buddhism enters China and a modality of it–esoteric Buddhism–is blended in with Taoist magic. Yet the roots of Taoist magic trace back even further than the dynasties of antiquity, back to Neolithic shamanism. This introductory six-video lecture series will delve in to Chinese occult practices that syncretize Buddhism and Taoism.

Video 1 is an introduction to the course and the distinction between exoteric and esoteric Taoist/Buddhist practices. Video 2 covers the history of Taoist and Buddhist mysticism in China. Video 3 gets into the cultural practice of Taoist sorcery while Video 4 gives you a crash course into Eastern metaphysics. Finally, Videos 5 and 6 will give a primer on practicing or integrating Taoist magic and esoteric Buddhism into your path.

1: Introduction to Buddhist-Taoist Esotericism

2: History of Taoist and Buddhist Mysticism in China

3: Taoist Sorcery and Its Cultural Practice

4: Taoist Metaphysics

5: A Thought Tour of the Chinese Occult

6: Taoist Magic in Contemporary Times

I’m creating this lecture series as an invitation to you to learn more about the occult traditions I practice. I hope you find within these offerings bits of insight, knowledge, and methods that you can integrate, syncretize, or adapt for yourself.

For the full playlist, go here:

1. Introduction to Buddhist-Taoist Esotericism

This video sets the stage for the subsequent video discussions to come. When I say “Taoism,” what am I referring to? What have been the driving political forces in history that shaped what you’ve come to believe Taoism to be?

This series is focused on esoteric schools of Buddhism and Taoism, so before we get into the substance of our discussions, let’s talk about the distinctions between the exoteric and the esoteric.

For those who are Chinese, Taiwanese, or part of the Chinese Diaspora, I’m going to assert ever so boldly that your knowledge and understanding of all that this video series is going to address is critical to an understanding of your own cultural identity. Take ownership over what it means to be a Descendant of the Dragon.

2. History of Taoist and Buddhist Mysticism in China

In this video lecture, we are going to cover over 4,000 years of history, going through the dynasties, beginning with the Xia, Shang, and Zhou, until we reach modern China. Our coverage will span beyond 4,000 years, preceding the Xia, to talk about shamanism in the Neolithic Era.

Works cited for everything covered in this lecture are in the end notes of The Tao of Craft (North Atlantic Books, 2016).

3. Taoist Sorcery and Its Cultural Practice

What is the impact of Taoism on the everyday Chinese culture and the collective consciousness of its people? What are some of the guiding principles underscoring Taoist sorcery? This lecture will discuss some of the practical ways Buddhism and Taoism get syncretized in Chinese occultism.

The practice of Taoist magic will be presented through its two branches: outer alchemy (waidan) and inner alchemy (neidan). We’ll talk about the greater spiritual objectives of practicing Taoist magic and what thousands of years of experience and wisdom have to say about how to achieve those objectives.

Starter tips will be offered, such as beginning work with Jiu Tian Xuan Nu, the Lady of the Ninth Heaven, recitation of Kuan Yin’s Great Compassion Mantra, and other thoughts for branching out in a direction that’s going to make the most sense for you.

4. Taoist Metaphysics

This video lecture will be a beginner-level overview of Taoist metaphysics, which will begin with the Taoist mythology for the origins of the universe, cover Taoist expressions and esoteric thought on reality as it has been created by our minds and by physical matter. Concepts of magic and non-physical entities will also be addressed.

While the audio portion of the lecture gives a cursory overview of the Wu Xing five phases and the eight trigrams of the Ba Gua, you can pause the video screen at various intervals and copy down a comprehensive body of reference material on both Wu Xing and Ba Gua metaphysical correspondences.

Video #4 covers how the spiral sequence of creation mentioned in earlier videos drive the creation (and the expansion) of the universe according to Taoist metaphysics, which eventually leads the Chinese occultist to the Lo Shu magic square and ritual magic devised from the magic square and the Big Dipper. Working with the eight trigrams of the Ba Gua through the Eight Immortals will also be addressed briefly.

Note: Don’t forget to click on the hyperlinked video heading above to visit the companion blog post. There are supplemental PDF handouts to download to go along with Video #4’s lecture.

5. A Thought Tour of Chinese Occultism

This video lecture was originally set to be titled “Syncretism in Chinese Occultism,” but we’re going to modify it to “A Thought Tour of the Chinese Occult.”

If you’re going to watch this video, then buckle in and settle down, because it’s a long one and I start you off in extremely ambitious territory—the deepest most obscure layer of Eastern esoteric thought.

In our tour of Chinese folk shamanism, we’ll look at two specific practices: the tang ki (spirit-possessed mediums) and dreamwork. Then we’ll review a few more intersecting points of Buddhist and Taoist syncretism, such as the emphasis on meditation and mudras; how Legalist thought has had an impact on the structure and codes of conduct set by orthodox Taoist lineages; and one compelling feature of how Confucianism plays in to the occult: the master-student relationship.

After visiting Confucius, the Buddha, and Lao Tzu, we’ll discuss Chinese folk religions, the very important craft consideration of regional land spirits, what traditional Chinese witchcraft looks like, which will include brief coverage of necromancy and soul dualism (the hun and the po), exorcism, and astral projection in ritual magic.

6. Taoist Magic in Contemporary Times

Closing out this six-part video lecture series, we’ll talk about patron divinities, ancestor veneration, and cultivating both divinatory and meditative practices. Let’s cover the key lunar holidays per the lunar-solar calendar. How do you set up a home altar and what are the basics of a kai guang ritual? I’ll leave you with a few hand mudras, their uses, easy meditation practices, essential ritual tools, and how to get started on your own book of methods, or Taoist grimoire.

11 thoughts on “Introduction to Chinese Esotericism

  1. Pingback: Crafting with a Ba Gua Mirror in Traditional Asian Witchcraft – benebell wen

  2. I love this series! Thank you so much for sharing all this information. I bought your Tao of Craft and love it! I really hope you will complete it this course here!


  3. Pingback: Crafting with a Ba Gua Mirror in Traditional Asian Witchcraft – benebell wen – Dinesh Chandra

  4. Eisa safari

    Hi dear. I am a researcher & auther for talisman books from IRAN. I watched your clip and it is very nice. I want to buy your books and I am any quastion about the chinese talisman . please say your contact ways….. tnks


  5. flora

    Benebell, you don’t know how much you’re helping me and potentially others with the same background. I’m a chinese canadian who was quite disconnected from my culture, cut off from the members of my family that practiced, and never got any traction in building a solid practice as a result. Nothing I was looking up throughout my youth, which is all stuff in the western traditions, ever resonated with me and intuitively I always felt put off from practicing them. Even now that I’ve committed to the practices and traditions of my culture and ancestors, I have a hard time finding resources and piecing together the scraps of information I get into something practical because of the general secrecy of it all and most importantly, the language barrier (I’m relearning how to read chinese slowly but surely, yet we all know esoteric texts will be a different beast).

    You’ve provided so much direction, knowledge, and guidance. I would not be able to be on the path I am now without your work, and for that I’m so thankful.

    I’ll be very patiently waiting for the last instalment, and cheering when we get it! Thank you so much!!


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