Golden Mother: The 3500 year old Bronze Age Goddess still worshipped today

Xiwangmu
Han period Brick Relief depicting The Golden Mother. Xiwangmu. Queen Mother of the West. Source: Zhongguo meishu quanji bianji weiyuanhui (1993), no. 216.

The Unknown Goddess

The Golden Mother, also known as Xiwangmu (The Queen Mother of the West), The Western Mother, Golden Mother of the Nacre Lake, etc is a 3500 year old Chinese deity still widely worshipped today.


Unlike most Chinese Gods, the Golden Mother did not originate as an apotheosized human being. Her origins were mysterious, stretching back to a time before the written word, as was the case for most of the truly ancient Chinese deities.

 

“The Queen Mother of the West obtained it [Dao] and took up her seat at Shao kuang. No one knows her beginning; no one knows her end.”
— Zhuanzi (c. 3rd century BC)
Of note, the other major Chinese deity of the 2nd Millennium BC was Shang-Di (the ‘monotheistic’ universal God), who was worshipped as the primordial progenitor and supreme being during the Shang Dynasty; but the Shang Kings also paid homage to the Western Mother, who they knew of as a powerful mother goddess to the West.
Chinese Theology (this is proper term of the religion as a whole) was Monistic in origination.
Shang-Di was without doubt the “Highest Deity”, but he worked through intermediaries in the form of the Shang Kings, his Priestesses, and other numinous spirits. I shall elaborate more on Shang-Di, his evolution over time, and his relationship to the Shang Dynasty and China as a whole in a different post.

Deeply Symbolic

The Golden Mother symbolizes the Axis Mundi (the centre of the world, like Yggdrasil or Mount Meru), she is also the cosmic weaver (she wears a Sheng Headress, which is a symbol of the loom) and in primordial times was a goddess of destruction.


She has tiger characteristics and was a herald of death, slaughter, epidemics and terror, whilst simultaneously having benevolent aspects. In Medieval Times she became increasingly diluted as a more benevolent, life-giving deity (ie, the Queen Mother, as depicted in Journey to the West).


That’s actually very similar to the Egyptian Goddess Hathor/Sekhmet. In Egyptian Religion, Ra sent the normally benevolent Hathor (the Cow Goddess) to punish humans in the form of Sekhmet, the Lioness.

In Chinese Popular Media, the Golden Mother is often depicted as the wife of the Jade Emperor (who was actually multiple, successive gods of usually human origination), but these are actually based on minor accounts.

In most accounts and stories, the Golden Mother was always a single deity.


Personal Relationship

She’s a deity with whom one has personal relationships, appearing before the potentially worthy to confer immortality and dispense with her teachings.

Most of those she approaches ultimately fail to uphold her teachings and as a result could not attain immortality that she offered.

Note that Immortality could possibly refer to spiritual or transcendental immortality. If we consider that the meaning of Xian (Immortals) originally referred to saintly beings with shamanistic powers, but who were definitely not physically immortal, then the neolithic proto-Chinese cultures likely had the same conceptualizations regarding eternal life.

Of the Kings that has purportedly encountered or were disciples of the Golden Mother, the following two were successful in becoming “immortals”.

Shun and Yu were Chiefs of the Tribal Confederacy (the Huaxia) that eventually became China; established by The Yellow Emperor and the Red Emperor during the Neolithic Era. As was the norm for the succession of those times, the Rulers were not father and son, nor were they related by blood. They were considered Saints.

And of those who failed to become Immortals:


Symbolism and Context

Max Dashu wrote a very comprehensive paper on Xiwangmu, whom he called “the shamanic goddess of China”.

In it, he details that Ancient Chinese usage of Wang-Mu (lit. King Mother) does not indicate royal women, but rather any Grandmother (even that of peasants). Paul Goldin says that Chinese usage of Wang (King) was used to refer to any numinous beings or spirits. The proper translation of Xiwangmu is actually The Spirit Mother of the West.

She’s a truly ancient god, and far more cosmic in scope than her relatively anthropomorphic presentation in the modern day.

As I said before, she was a single deity, not paired with a male god, because the “wife” part of her identity was an invention of Medieval writers who tried to tell stories about a mostly unknown mother goddess.

If anything, the Western Mother was often paired with a mysterious “Eastern Mother”. There were implications that the semi-matriarchal Shang Dynasty worshipped multiple Mother Divinities.

Max Dashu wrote:

The oldest reference to Xi Wangmu is an oracle bone inscription from the Shang dynasty, thirty-three centuries ago: “If we make offering to the Eastern Mother and Western Mother there will be approval.” The  inscription pairs her with another female, not the male partner invented for her by medieval writers—and this pairing with a goddess of the East persisted in folk religion. Suzanne Cahill, an authority on Xi Wangmu, places her as one of several ancient “mu divinities” of the directions, “mothers” who are connected to the sun and moon, or to their paths through the heavens. She notes that the widespread tiger images on Shang bronze offerings vessels may have been associated with the western mu deity, an association of tiger and west that goes back to the neolithic. [Cahill, 12-13]
And of course she had qualities akin to that of the Fates, in Indo-European Mythologies:

The sheng is usually interpreted as a symbol of the loom. The medieval Di Wang Shih Zhi connects it to “a loom mechanism” the goddess holds. Cahill says that the sheng marks Xi Wangmu as a cosmic weaver who creates and maintains the universe. She also compares its shape to ancient depictions of constellations—circles connected by lines—corresponding to the stellar powers of Xi Wangmu. She “controls immortality and the stars.” Classical sources explain the meanings of sheng as “overcoming” and “height.” [Cahill, 45; 16-18]

This sign was regarded as an auspicious symbol during the Han dynasty, and possibly earlier. People exchanged sheng tokens as gifts on stellar holidays, especially the Double Seven festival in which women’s weaving figured prominently. It was celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month, at the seventh hour, when Xi Wangmu descended among humans. Taoists considered it the most important night of the year, “the perfect night for divine meetings and ascents.” [Cahill, 16, 167-8] It was the year’s midpoint, “when the divine and human worlds touch,” and cosmic energies were in perfect balance. [Despeux / Kohn, 31]

The Shan Hai Jing goes on to say of the tigress-like Xi Wangmu: “She is controller of the Grindstone and the Five Shards constellations of the heavens.” [Cahill, 16] The Grindstone is where the axial Tree connects to heaven, the “womb point” from which creation is churned out. [Mitchell cite] In other translations of this passage, she presides over “the calamities of heaven and the five punishments.” [Strassberg, 109] For Guo Pu, this line referred to potent constellations. [Remi, 102] The goddess has destructive power—she causes epidemics, for example—but she also averts them and cures diseases. [Asian Mythology]


Many Forms

The Golden Mother is also known as the Nine Radiance, she is the Governor of the Nine Numina, and the Mother of the Nine Heavens.

This establishes her possible role as the hypostasis of Doumu, the Supreme Being and Female Counterpart to the God of Heaven (Shang-Di), representing the Big Dipper/The Great Chariot.

In Esoteric Taoism, Doumu was usually conflated with the Golden Mother and also Jiutian Xuannü (Mysterious Lady of the Nine Heavens), who is an ancient war and sex goddess. In this way, she is a “triple goddess” so to the speak.

The Big Dipper has 7 stars and 2 stars that are not visible to the naked eye (these last two are possibly Vega, a previous North Star and Polaris, the current North Star). Because of this, Doumu is the mother of the Nine Emperors, who are the Manifestations of the God of Heaven (the Nine together are the “Father of the Big Dipper”). 

Doumu is thus simultaneously the consort of God and the Mother of God.

Doumu bears similarities to Semitic goddesses like Ninlil (the consort of Enlil in Sumerian Religion), Ishtar, Ninhursag, or Asherah (the consort to El in Canaanite Religion).

In Chinese Buddhism, Doumu was conflated with Bodhisattva Marici in the Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, during the Tang Dynasty, when Buddhism (and many other foreign religions) were very popular. China had adopted deities as far away as Greece, so this was no surprise.

In Taiwan, The Golden Mother was sometimes associated with Mazu, whom I wrote about in The Goddess of Maritime China.

However, Mazuism was considered it’s own distinct religion, originating from the Fujianese Shamaness Cults in the 10th century, and Doumu and the Golden Mother should not be considered the same kind of religious entities, given their divergent evolution over time. Asia is fairly syncretic however and these different religions, cults and ancient deities are often conflated or united in new theologies.

Xiwangmu/Doumu was also worshipped as Wusheng Laomu (“Eternal Venerable Mother”) or Wuji Laomu (The Absolute Infinite Mother); the Absolute Reality (God) that was primarily the focus of millenarian salvationist sects that have been extent since the Han Dynasty.

The Golden Mother was much more than the somewhat lesser roles accorded in today’s mass media. The so-called wife of the Jade Emperor was in factuality the Chinese Godhead.

 

On the validity of collage art, found art, matte paintings, etc

So, I asked this interesting question on Reddit, mostly to assuage my own doubts and feelings of fraudulence with regards to art projects that didn’t strictly involve me painting literally every pixel (yes, I realized that many creatives have experienced the Imposter Syndrome, but this intellectual understanding didn’t necessarily help me with dealing with it in an emotional, subjective way).

Before we begin in earnest however, first, let’s get some elaboration on the arts referenced in the title.

Collage Art: Bashing different elements (that are often not made by you) together to create a composition.

Found Art: For example, a toilet turned into a fountain. Or just tipped over.

Matte Paintings: An old technique where painting is applied to film strips in order to add elements that weren’t filmed by the camera (ie, painting a Sphinx on a desert). These days, mean any kind of digital environment creation, where some artists would photo-bash a layer that they paint over, or construct a 3D model to paint over, etc. Or just slap 3D models AS the background. Whatever saves time, since this kind of painting is mostly used in applied arts where production must be timely.


My Question on Reddit:

Alright, so recently, I’ve been exploring digital paintings, and that’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been learning a lot of the foundational principles to digital paintings and am making tremendous progress.

However, I also want to explore side projects that involves transforming public domain photos and artworks into new forms. However, these kinds of project feels instinctively strange to me for many reasons, mostly because it doesn’t feel entirely like real art. I know that collage, found art, etc are considered valid art forms, and that concept artists often use matte painting techniques or incorporate 3D models and existing photos into their work…but even so, I would like the public’s opinions.

The kind of projects I want to explore: I want to take existing public domain photos and paint over them to create sci-fi/fantasy environments. I also want to take classical paintings and paint over it/modify it to create something new. And of course collage art could be very interesting.

What are your opinions about such works of art?

And the (somewhat few) folks on that particular SubReddit have this to say—

thePopefromTV:

Not all art is good, but all art is art. Even satirically creating found art is art in its own way. When I see art that really makes me question its validity as art, I quickly realize that the piece is making me think and I usually come to the conclusion that it’s certainly art simply based on that alone.

GlitterGear:

There’s someone who paints over Pokémon cards, and they’re amazing!

I’m not a visual artist, but I view it as analogous to fan fiction. With fan fiction, you’re taking someone else’s content, transforming it and making it your own. I feel like it’s similar to the art you want to explore

charlzandre:

It’s still art. Tracing another image is questionable when you’re just making a painting, but if it’s a collage I feel like the rules are out the window.


These comments actually do help assuage my doubts, and I had expected comments along these lines; mostly because these comments are what would have said if I had to respond to my own question.

On a related note, a lot of folks often claimed that digital art or digital painting don’t constitute “real” art, when in fact digital paintings are exactly like perfectly ordinary physical paintings in terms of the actual painting process (differing for medium).

This article talked about this bias, but it also pointed out something quite interesting: We digital painters also like to accuse artists who practices photo-bashing and collage art of doing “fake art”. Hmmmm. I admit, I do often see it as a “lesser” art form, even though the difficulty of doing collage art well is beyond me, generally. And of course, found art/erasure art gets accused of this as well, along with things like blackout poetry/found poetry.


Now, below is an example of something I did, to experiment with my idea to transform classical paintings into a different form:

Cardinal de Richelieu (1642) by Philippe de Champaignecardinal_de_richelieu_mg_0053

And my experimental transformation of it. Painted over by me.

experiment_bloodcardinal-2

The rationale here was that Cardinal Richelieu (“The Red Eminence”) was a figure that had caused significant bloodshed with his participation and role in the European Wars of Religion (the 17th century). In all fairness he was a product of his time, and I actually admire him as a Statesman, however with a monicker like “The Red Eminence”, and due to his noble bearing, sheer charisma, and political acumen; I have always though of him as a kind of supernatural creature (like Count Dracula). Therefore, this transformative work was about revealing a supernatural version of the Cardinal. 


This is nowhere close to the level of detail I wished to create, but would you consider something like the above to be valid art?

Comment below!

PS: Yes, I missed a day of the Daily Logo Challenge. Don’t you worry, I’ll make up for it.

 

DLC — Day 14, “Cloud Computing Logo”

artboard-1-3logofolio-1_justinhsu-1

Day 14 of the Daily Logo Challenge. Phew, still have 36 to go (to be fair, that’s not a lot left).

Anyway, this one was pretty interesting. Awhile back, I read an article on MacRumors by Jordon Golson that the iCloud Icon was made using the Golden Ratio and that was why every design thereafter looked similar because there was only so many ways you could design a cloud logo while retaining appealing circular shapes.

So I decided to try to do something similar, incorporating the golden ratios into this design — well, to deliberately include it, since I strongly suspect that anything I do that looks good was probably because it has the golden ratio in it somewhere; we all intuitively try to include it in our art and design, because it’s encoded into nature’s perception of beauty and ideal forms,

I constructed rectangles for a Fibonacci Spiral (I didn’t actually put in the spiral), and derived circles from that. And I used that as building blocks to design something interesting. I learned how to build one thanks to this video by Mohamed Achraf.

But are these circles truly ideal? Because I ended up altering the perfect circles I had derived. The final design dropped 2 of the smallest circles and resized some of the circles. I can use all the rules and guidelines there are, but at the end of the day, I break the rules because I think it makes sense (my college teachers are well aware of this tendency of mine, ignoring instructions that is. But I usually justify it via my rationales, and get good marks for it— something I couldn’t have gotten away with in elementary school for sure).

Logo design process work, the First 11 Days— Daily Logo Challenge 2019

Process work for the first 11 days of my Daily Logo Challenge. For those curious, Harris Robert’s Daily Logo Challenge are email prompts you can subscribe to that is automatically sent to your inbox everyday for 50 days straight. Those prompts inspire you to create logos, push boundaries, and improve yourself— and I have found this practice invaluable. I’ve been out of practice since graduating college, and can already see tremendous improvements in my logo design process.

Here are the process work for the first 11 days, I make it a point to show my work whenever possible so people can learn from it.

I’ll upload the completed logos for those 11 days in another post.

You can follow my progress day by day on My Instagram, @justonky.

Thumbnails for my new logo

So I’ve been doodling up some ideas for a new logo. Hopefully something will come of it.

Actually, I’ve already started on some vector thumbnails. Still unsure if I need one per se, but it would make for a fun branding project.

Dabbling in Webcomics

So earlier this year I started to dabble in webcomics, and while that was fun, my focus eventually went into the arts in general, and the next thing I knew, I had picked up digital painting. If I had to do a comic now, I would be far more skilled. When you’re learning something, your art style tend to change very quickly, which honestly is a bad time to be doing a comic of any sort.

I also attempted an actual serial, called Savage Yeeden, but for the same reasons I had given that up (also more on that later).

These are really here for archival purposes, but please enjoy them— I think I told some pretty funny jokes.

SB01SB02SB03SB04SB05

Hellboy (2019): Concept Art in Film Form.

Hellboy (2019): Concept Art in Film Form. A Positive Review.

Alright. I watched Hellboy (2019) by Neil Marshall.

First of all, I am not a fan of gore, and I don’t like it anymore than the average human. DOOM and MKX? That’s too much for me (doesn’t stop me from loving the Doom Lore, or playing MKX mobile). So, no, I am not a fan of how much gore there was— yes it’s that dark in the comics (even without specifically saying so), but implication goes a long way. I am fine with some gore, I have seen Repo: The Genetic Opera….twice now. And that level of gore was acceptable. I do vastly prefer gore to psychological horror. I’ve watched Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, and that’s a movie that I would never want to watch again because it was a mind trip. Psychological Horror is a greater bane of my sanity than blood ever will be.

A warning, the film is not for faint of heart. It’s….stimulating.

Now that we have that out of the way….

PLOT: HELLBOY makes perfect sense to me. I get that people who have never seen the comics are very lost (they introduce a new character every 10 minutes basically, with little to no explanation). It definitely feels like a sequel to a whole series of movies that came before. It side-steps this issue somewhat with copious use of flashbacks (that unfortunately makes little to no sense to people with little exposure to Hellboy comics, the Occult, or Old Wives’ Tales). I have to say that fans of the comics need not fear a lost of logic, or understanding of what the film is doing. You know your Hellboy lore and the film makes sense.

LOBSTER JOHNSON: Also Lobster Johnson! If the universe was fair, audiences would be cheering as loudly as when Captain America appeared in Infinity War. Alas, the universe is not fair, and most people probably blink their eyes and asked themselves, “Who the hell is that rando?”. But what a treat for the fans.

PACING: The intro took the effort to tell us what went down with Vivian Nimue, King Arthur and Merlin. And sped through it lightning fast. It was one of the most underwhelming intros to a film I have ever seen. I mean, MY GOD, I think the pacing issue was the most severe here.

HORROR DIRECTING: It’s very obvious Neil Marshall was experienced with directing horror. The entire film was shot from angles that was more reminiscent of horror movies than an action movie. Which, kind of actually makes sense? But Hellboy in the comics was more Noir I think. An action movie pretending to be horror based on Occult Pulp Detective Noir is….not working.

WEIRD CUTS: Several areas where there was a weird cut. Nothing that damages the continuity, but you do get the very obvious feelings that there was a jump in the same scene, and character positions teleported between one frame and the next (I don’t mean actually teleporting, which several characters did within the actual story because they have magic). Not a huge problem, but the fact that it’s obvious is not a good sign.

PROFESSOR BROOM IS ALIVE: Him being alive is probably the best decision in the entire film. Anchored the whole thing together. Actually, every actor did a fantastic job.

GOOD ACTING: There wasn’t bad acting here. But Hellboy’s character was a bit….odd.

OUT OF PLACE MORAL STRUGGLE: That is, the somewhat forced “am I a monster or a human” thing didn’t really come across properly, and it took him no time at all to decide that Nimue was evil? The hell?

ANTI-SEXY: Nobody asked to see the Baba Yaga kiss Hellboy. Nobody. Also surprising lack of nudity…like, gore is okay, but full frontal is bad? *rolls eyes* But given that Antichrist (2009) is the opposite of sex appeal, I very much agree that this is okay in a “horror” movie (except it’s not! It’s a pseudo-action movie— borderline an exploitation film).

TOXIC MASCULINITY(???): The weird subtext of “Man up, my whiny son” doesn’t really fly in 2019, but Professor Broom is a relic from WWII, so I guess he’s just old fashioned. In any case, it is assumed that the two have a deep and caring relationship underneath all the anger and mistakes (that was more told to us, rather than shown). Feels like a cop out for real philosophy or emotional content. Then again, I never expected one from the film.

EPIC IMAGERY: I will not run out of fan-art to try and draw. The Artbook, if it ever comes out, is probably a BETTER product than the film itself.

THE VERDICT: I like it. Ignoring the excessive gore, the film has decent acting, a straightforward but sensible plot, stays true to the comics’ universe (mostly), and provides enough fantastical imagery to form a hundred metal album covers. The fan-art potential is through the roof. If you need to ask yourself what you’re really buying into when you watch Hellboy, the answer is: You are buying a spectacle, an idea, a trailer for all that is awesome and mind blowing (and gory and disgusting). Something to inspire your mind to creative endeavours, like character design, or painting, and maybe you’d also blow off the dust on your secret stash of metal and rock albums and give it a go.

Film Critics are trying to critique it as if it is a stand-alone Hellboy movie, but it should be considered a companion to the comic books. Rather than simplifying a complex universe (and spreading it out into several films) for the general audience as MCU did, Hellboy just dived right in, and assumed you had, you know…read the comics.

It’s concept art in film form. It’s a death metal album in film form. But it is not…not really a great film.

Where should Hellboy go from here on out? Someone did suggest a Black & White Film was a good idea. Considering the comics was basically German Expressionism, I think that’s a brilliant idea. Perhaps an Indie Project. Something as unique and special as Hellboy should not stay dead.

The Goddess of Maritime China

Mazu Tomb
The Tomb of a Goddess in Nangan, on the Matsu Islands. Prince Roy [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
There is an intricately sculpted tomb in South-East Asia. Few outside of the Chinese community knew that a goddess was buried here.

This here is Lin Moniang’s tomb in Nangan in the Matsu Islands, where her body washed ashore after she died at the age of 28 (Lunar Year).

She was a Fujianese shamaness from Meizhou island in the 10th Century who was later deified as the sea goddess Mazu. Moniang was said to wear a bright red dress to act as a beacon for ships approaching land.

She was herself apparently a devout Buddhist Scholar. In her role as shamaness she was also a rainmaker and diviner. She could apparently exercise psychic powers at great distances; her principal legend concerns her use of this power to rescue her family from a storm via trance.

In one record, she drowned attempting to find her missing father. After her death, she apotheosized into a goddess. Her small cult grew dramatically after one of the Song Emperor’s envoys was rescued at sea by her apparition in the 11th Century. Overtime, Her cult absorbed the cults of other deified shamanesses and local gods in the region, and became a major religion.

She is a goddess of the sea, travel, childbirth, motherhood and even contraception. Mazuism is considered a distinct but related religion to that of Shenism and Taoism, but she can be found in Buddhist temples as well (and some traditions regard her as an avatar of Guanyin). She is always depicted with her two subordinates, Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er, two redeemed demons with the powers of Clairvoyance and Clairaudience, respectively.

A statue of Mazu, with her two guardian generals.
A statue of Mazu in the Kinmen Islands, Republic of China, with her two guardian generals, the redeemed demons Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er. The original uploader was Koika at Chinese Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As the patron deity of Taiwan and of other Hokkien and Fujianese diaspora groups around the world, Her worship can be found on nearly every island and coast where the Chinese peoples have travelled (and therefore also in countries where Chinese peoples are a minority).

As a patron of sea travel, her temples was almost always the first to be erected. Even Admiral Zhang He (15th Century) began actively patronizing her temples after he credited the safe journey of one of his voyages to her intervention— despite being a Muslim; it is suggested that his primary religion is actually Mazuism.

In 1683 she was conferred the title of Tianhou (Queen of Heaven) by the Qing Dynasty after she allegedly helped Marquis Jinghai of the Qing conquer Taiwan from the Ming Loyalists (oddly enough, she was also said to have helped the Ming Loyalists conquer Taiwan and drove out the Dutch).

The Qing government also credited her intervention with their victory over the French at the battle of Tamsui during the Sino-French War in 1884. 

bombardment_of_tamsui
French warships bombarding Tamsui District, Taiwan.

In this way, she is a war goddess also.

She also makes spiffy art on the walls of my house.

A Pop Art screenprint of Mazu.
A screen printed poster of what I have identified as Mazu (uncertain). It’s up on our wall.

© 2019 JUSTIN C. HSU