The Taoist universe is an infinity of nested cycles of time, each revolving at a different pace, and those who are not mere mortals pertain to different cycles.
Certain teachings take four hundred years to transmit from sage to student; others, four thousand; others, forty thousand. It is said that Lao Tzu, the author of the Tao Te Ching, spent eighty-one years in the womb.
Taoist ritual begins with the construction of an altar that is a calendar and a map of this universe.
At its perimeter, twenty-four pickets, the Twenty-Four Energy Nodes, each representing fifteen days, form a year of 360 days. Within, a proliferation of markers for the Two Principles (yin and yang), the Three Energies, the Three Irrational Powers, the Five Elements, the Five Tones, the Six Rectors, the Eight Trigrams and Sixty-Four Hexagrams of the I Ching, the Nine Palaces and the Nine Halls, the Ten Stems, the Twelve Branches …
Each is a supernatural being, a gate, a direction, a part of the body, a measurement of time, a philosophical concept, an alchemical substance.
As Lao Tzu said, “The Tao created one, one gave birth to two, two to three, three to the ten thousand things.”
– Eliot Weinberger, The Hidden Span, from An Elemental Thing