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Sources from the Warring States period (475-221 BCE) associate the Queen Mother with shamanistic traditions, such as her familiar the three-legged crow, and her peaches of immortality orchard (Despeux 2000: 386). 3rd century BCE Shanhaijing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) says, "In appearance, Queen Mother of the West looks like a human, but she has a leopard's tail and the fangs of a tigress, and she is good at whistling. She presides over the Catastrophes from the Sky and the Five destructive Forces." (tr.
Birrell 2000: 24) During the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), people believed that the Queen Mother could protect them from disease and death, and she became the central figure worshiped by a peasant cult that arose in Shandong and swept through the country in 3 BCE (Despeux and Kohn 2003: 27).
The Quanzhen (Complete Perfection) School uses daogu (道姑, "ladies of the Dao") in reference to both convent nuns and devout laity (Despeux 2000: 384, 2008: 171).
Xiwang mu, the Queen Mother of the West, is the most prominent female Daoist divinity, although her traditions predated organized Daoist religions (Despeux 2008: 172).
Chinese women had special importance in some Taoist schools that recognized their transcendental abilities to communicate with deities, who frequently granted women with revealed texts and scriptures.She was accordingly called Nanyue furen (南嶽夫人, Lady of the Southern Marchmount).After this time, she became the object of an important cult which, especially under the Tang (Schafer 1977) became prominent among women Daoists and spread throughout China (Strickmann 1979: 142).The number of Daoist women decreased until the 12th century when the Complete Perfection School, which ordained Sun Bu'er as the only woman among its original disciples, put women in positions of power.In the 18th and 19th centuries, women Daoists practiced and discussed nüdan (女丹, "women's neidan inner alchemy"), involving gender-specific practices of breath meditation and visualization.