From Boreas to Fujin: The Iconographic evolution of a transcultural wind god

Introduction

Before we begin, this paper was actually written on November 29th, 2015, during my college days (I was in the Design Foundations program at the time).

I finally dug it out! I presumably have a copy on my old PC hard-drive, as I couldn’t find any in either of my Google Doc accounts. However, I actually discovered an attached copy in my FB messenger app, because I had sent one to a friend while I was writing it years ago…so, here we go.

I hope you will learn something absolutely fascinating about Buddhism, Alexander the Great’s Conquests, Wind Gods, and how Art and Religion are interwoven.

This paper actually reminded me why I was sold on the idea of starting a blog. Ask interesting questions, find interesting answers, and share them with people. What could be more fun?

Without further ado, the full transcript:


Justin Hsu

COMM1825-15F-Sec2

Mini Research Paper

From Boreas to Fujin: The Iconographic evolution of a transcultural wind god

The Japanese Buddhist Wind Deity, Fujin had his origins as the Greek Wind God Boreas. This short research paper will explore the iconographic evolution of Boreas through several different cultures, finally culminating in his final form in Japan.

It is often easy to assume that different cultures are isolated, developed separately and have no relations to one another, but this is often untrue. Indo-Europeans for example, counts amongst their descendants everything from the Irish to the Hindus. Austronesians can be found in Taiwan, New Zealand and even Hawaii. For this reason, art and culture can often transcend their boundaries. The Japanese Wind God, Fujin is but the final form of a long line of wind deities that have their origins in ancient Greece.

After Alexander the Great passed away, he left behind a sizeable Hellenistic presence in the East. In parts of what we would call Afghanistan today, his subordinates set up an ancient Kingdom known as Bactria and they became a bridge between East and West, a kingdom right alongside the silk road (Crabben 2011).

In the Indian subcontinent, the Mauryan King, Ashoka the Great rose to power and converted to Buddhism. He commissioned great missionary expeditions to spread Buddhism to all four corners of the world, and erected stupas- pillars with religious inscriptions in multiple languages that also housed the ashes of the Buddha- wherever Buddhism spread. (Szczepansk).

Eventually, the Bactrian King invaded India and created what is now known as the Indo-Greek Kingdoms “Indica served as an important source to many later writers such as Strabo and Arrian. The 1st century BC Greek historian Apollodorus, quoted by Strabo, affirms that the Bactrian Greeks, led by Demetrius I and Menander, conquered India and occupied a larger territory than the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, going beyond the Hyphasis…” (Sanujit, 2011, para.31). The Indo-Greek Kingdom was eventually divided into several kingdoms. Greeks living in India at the time were referred to as Yonas in Pali or Yavanas in Sanskrit (Simonin, 2011, para.2).

So where does Fujin come into all of this? Well, Boreas, the Greek wind deities were brought along with the Greeks, and found their way into Ghandara (a geographical region in Pakistan bordering the Kush Mountain range and the Himalayas). There, Ghandara artisans created incredible fusions of Greek and Hindu styled Buddhist art.

Here, the Buddha himself was given human form, modelled after Apollo. Now, these sculptures and reliefs often have decorative deities accompanying the central figure or story. Some of these included Centaurs or Tritons. One of these was the figure of Boreas, who was depicted in the classical style with a bag of wind. Eventually, this Greco-Buddhist version of Boreas became known as Wardo.

Iconographic Evolution of Fujin
Figure 1. Boreas to Wardo to Fujin. From Shizhao (2006, Wikimedia)
Did you know that the Japanese Wind God Fujin evolved from the Greek God Boreas/Aeolus? This is a case of art influencing the creation and depiction of a deity. In the Indo-Greek kingdom, Boreas became the Greco-Buddhist Wardo, was transplanted to China as Feng Bo and then to Japan as Fujin (all because of the spread of Buddhist decor and iconography). In all incarnations, he carries a bag of wind. The following images shows his iconographic evolution. Image 1. Left: Greek wind God (Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara), Hadda, 2nd century. Middle: Wind God from Kizil, Tarim Basin, 7th century. Right: Japanese Wind God Fujin, 17th century by painter Tawaraya Sotetsu. 

Wardo was transplanted to the nearby Tarim Basin in Northwestern China. He became the Taoist wind deity, Feng Po, literally, “Uncle Wind (Andrews, 2000, p.68). When Buddhism reached Japan, they brought with them Feng Po’s iconography, and he became Fujin, literally, “Wind God” (Petretta, 2014, para.3). He was adopted into Shintoism and given name and narrative. To be clear, Fujin is not a native Japanese deity that was given the iconography of Boreas, but he literally is Boreas. They are one and the same. “The Japanese wind god images do not belong to a separate tradition apart from that of their Western counter-parts but share the same origins.” (Tanabe, 2003, p.21).

In all incarnations, they have carried a bag of wind. “One of the characteristics of these Far Eastern wind god images is the wind bag held by this god with both hands, the origin of which can be traced back to the shawl or mantle worn by Boreas/ Oado.” (Tanabe, 2003 p.21).

 

And that was how Boreas made his way to Japan, carried forth by the passage of time, the syncretism of human cultures and the expansion of Buddhism.


References

1. Crabben, J. (2011, April 28). Bactria. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.ancient.eu/Bactria/

2. Szczepansk, K. (n.d.). Learn About Ashoka the Great (and Terrible). Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://asianhistory.about.com/od/india/a/ashoka.htm

3. Sanujit. (2011, February 12). Cultural links between India and the Greco-Roman world. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.ancient.eu/article/208/

4. Simonin, A. (2011, April 28). Indo-Greek. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://www.ancient.eu/Indo-Greek/

5. Andrews, T. (2000). Dictionary of nature myths: Legends of the earth, sea, and sky (p. 68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

6. Petretta, D. (2014, November 22). Fujin: Origins Along The Slik Road | Global Connections. Retrieved November 30, 2015, from http://globalconnections.champlain.edu/2014/11/22/fujin-origins-along-the-slik-road/

7. Tanabe, K. (2003). Alexander the Great: East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan (p. 21). Tokyo: Tōkyō Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan.

8. Shizhao, (2006, April, 20th). WindGods.JPG [digital image].

Retrieved from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/WindGods.JPG

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

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.