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Why do people put their faith in religious specialists? Why are some people considered to be more adept at communicating with deities, explaining scriptures, blessing objects, or solving problems with ghosts and other malevolent forces? The Way and its Powers will propose one possible answer to this question by focusing on the practice of a particular category of religious specialists –Taoist priests in northern Taiwan.
The priests perform offerings and exorcisms, using two distinct sets of rites, and have become the most important providers of these services in the areas in which they operate. This study, which is based on several years of fieldwork amongst these Northern Priests, explores different aspects of this dynamic tradition, describing the religious context in which these priests operate, the ritual traditions of which they make use, developments in their recent history, the way that knowledge is transmitted and practice is organized, as well as the offerings and exorcisms they carry out. Using case studies to discuss the correct practice of ritual and the efficacy of healing ceremonies, this study discusses the construction of religious authority amongst Taoist priests, arguing that while efficacy and orthopraxy both play a role in the establishment of authority, a priest’s authority cannot be reduced to either of them but is the result of a social process in which the way a priest enters the field and his relations with other priests play a key role.