- "spiritually immortal; transcendent; super-human; celestial being" (in Daoist/Taoist philosophy and cosmology)
- "physically immortal; immortal person; immortalist; saint" (in Daoist religion and pantheon)
- "alchemist; one who seeks the elixir of life; one who practices longevity techniques" or by extension "(alchemical, dietary, qigong) methods for attaining immortality" (in Chinese alchemy)
- "wizard; magician; shaman" (in Chinese mythology)
- "genie; elf, fairy; nymph" (in popular Chinese literature, 仙境 xian jing is "fairyland", Faerie)
- "sage living high in the mountains; mountain-man; hermit; recluse" (folk etymology for the character 仙)
- "immortal (talent); accomplished person; celestial (beauty); marvelous; extraordinary" (metaphorical modifier)
Xian semantically developed from meaning spiritual "immortality; enlightenment", to physical "immortality; longevity" involving methods such as alchemy, breath meditation, and T'ai chi ch'uan, and eventually to legendary and figurative "immortality".
The xian archetype is described by Victor H. Mair.
They are immune to heat and cold, untouched by the elements, and can fly, mounting upward with a fluttering motion. They dwell apart from the chaotic world of man, subsist on air and dew, are not anxious like ordinary people, and have the smooth skin and innocent faces of children. The transcendents live an effortless existence that is best described as spontaneous. They recall the ancient Indian ascetics and holy men known as ṛṣi who possessed similar traits.1994:376
According to the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, Chinese xian (仙) can mean Sanskrit ṛṣi (rishi "inspired sage in the Vedas").
Other related articles:
... The Zhong Lü Chuan Dao Ji lists five classes of immortals Guǐxiān (鬼仙—"Ghost Immortal") A person who cultivates too much yin energy ... These immortals are likened to Vampires because they drain the life essence of the living, much like the fox spirit ...