The Vastness of Indeterminacy; and its endless awe.

From September 24th, 2019

When I was a child I wanted to write silly fantasy novels exploring cool ideas based on theologies and mythologies, but I had also realize I could never bring myself to actually do it because I was too attached to the so-called “correct” theologies (just like I am attached to correct science, correct law, correct everything).

“I wish I had enough doubt to contemplate such interesting things” was something I would say to myself, comforted by the knowledge I already knew the right answers, backed by the assurances of my elders (who definitely did not know better).

Well, for years now, I have all of those doubts I thought was beyond me, and it was wonderful to experience. Truly wonderful. Blessed are he who believes, without seeing. But Doubly blessed are he who sees the difficult-to-reconcile and unknowable facets of life, and still believes without denying reality.

Now I am older, and I am not really interested in literature for its ideational escapism. I am however, interested in religion, very much so, and its infinity of themes that can explain the human condition. The irony here, is that I realize what I thought was the “correct” theologies was all wrong (as was my realization that the scientific method cannot answer every type of question, and legal laws are constructs).

What happened then, is that the ceiling was blown wide open. It’s not that there was no right answers— but we have to understand that there are a great many diversities of right answers. I am now free to explore all kinds of theological themes and ask many uncomfortable questions. It is no longer so transgressive to write and think and do so-called “wrong” things, because they are not in fact, wrong at all. They are real. More than that, I am asking those difficult questions everyday. Far from being fiction or thought experiments, it is now clearly just plain old reality.

Likewise, unexpectedly, my ancient lamentation that I will never understand “normal peoples’ troubles” is cast into an abyss, because I do in fact, understand their troubles now. I may be slightly exotic (culturally speaking) due to my self-imposed spiritual discipline, but in all that matters, I experience the exact same problems. Because I am very normal, you see. I was normal all along.

I am in fact, merely human; and God is in fact, unknowable, and it only took 26 years for me to let go enough of my attachments to realize this simple truth.

And my faith in God has grown stronger as a result of this. More importantly, I have greater love and respect for my fellow lifeforms, who are, every one of them, my equal in all ways that truly matters. It is easy to say you love all beings, or that you understand them— I never truly loved anything, nor understood them at all. Because I have to start with genuine friendship. You cannot understand anyone if you are lofty, and you cannot be a lover, if you set yourself above your fellows.

Faith must always match what you know to be true (and that is always subject to change). To retain my faith, it was necessary to ask the hard questions and find the hard answers. This is only possible, if you let down your pride and embrace true humility. Fear will turn you away from the truth, but we cannot blind ourselves to truth. And things do not get easier, and never will— and I would not wish for it to be easier. Of doubt and contradictions, they are innumerable, but well worth exploring. To be able to never know for sure…is that not a blessing? Knowing the world is without limit, and that Man can never truly overcome Nature, and that God is never truly knowable— such will renew your faith like nothing before as you gasp in awe at the vastness beyond you, or it will destroy you.

Return to the Arts; The Anchorite (Digital Collage)

My triumphant return to the arts. I have created a digital collage in the style of Inq28, which is the general genre of my miniatures painting journey.

But there is a uniformity between that and my thematic interests in general: The medieval, the disturbing, and especially the religious.

This is but the first of many such experiments to come, in many mediums. I have been invested with great spirit these past weeks, as if something holy have poured into me. I itch to create all matters of art, to try all matters of new techniques, and to hopefully develop a voice and settle into a medium of choice.

We shall see.

The Anchorite
Digital Collage, the Anchorite.

The End of Tang China and the Rise of Xenophobia

Tang China was a powerful and culturally rich multicultural Empire with satellite states in Afghanistan and strong centralized control and friendly relations with neighbours (tributaries).

During this time period, countries like Japan and Korea developed their classical culture by almost completely copying Tang Chinese Culture. Multiple Zen masters and prominent Foreign Buddhists of this era were all trained/or successors to schools in China. Kyoto for example, is a smaller replica of Chang’an, Matcha was actually the method of green tea preparation enjoyed by the Tang Chinese (China later developed loose tea leaf instead of powdered tea). Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean were actual languages influenced by Middle Chinese.

The Capital of Chang’an had a population of almost a million people. Half of those people were foreigners. Many of them multi-generational, growing up in China, taking the Civil Service Exams, becoming Officials and Aristocrats, marrying the locals, etc. Many were slaves as well.

Something like 14% of Tang China’s Prime Ministers were foreigners (yes, actual foreigners).

The surviving Persian Royal Familiy (escaping the Rashidun Caliphate’s Conquest of Iran) married into the Tang Royal Family and were given the royal surname of “Li”. The Last Prince of Persia, Peroz III, was actually the Commander of “Area Command of Persia” in Tang Afghanistan.

However, a series of disasters happened during the height of the Empire and caused a dramatic downfall.

The Sequence of Decline 

1) The half-Sogdian (Persian) General An Lushan lead a rebellion against the Empire and occupied the secondary Capital of Luoyang.

2) Military betrayal by the Uighurs (another Turkic Persian group, at this time mostly Zoroastrians, not Muslims), who helped retook Luoyang from the rebels, but refused to leave until they were paid huge monetary rewards. AND the Tibetan Empire took this opportunity to invade and steal Chinese Territory.

3) The perceived betrayal by foreigners lead to a rise of xenophobic sentiments in the normally very multicultural Tang Culture.

4) The xenophobia culminated in the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 845 AD, where Emperor Wuzhong, acting under both financial interest and religious favouritism towards Taoism, destroyed 4,600 Buddhist temples, 40,000 shrines, and removed 260,500 monks and nuns from the monasteries. He forced monks and nuns to return to lay life, and expelled foreign monks and nuns back to their home countries. Because he classified Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism as “Foreign forms of Buddhism” (despite the fact Buddhism was already foreign), those religions were persecuted as well, and eventually became extinct in China. Because they were also the last bastions of those religion in the world, Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism was practically finished globally. Surviving Manichaeans did manage to hide themselves as Buddhists and Taoist until well into the present day.

5) Emperor Wuzhong’s successor immediately repealed the persecution and tried to rebuild the religious institutions, but the damage was already done. Most of the persecuted religions would never recover. Islam survived, mostly because it was new, and because the Arab traders of the time were focused on trade, not religious propagation.

6) Xenophobia remained rampant, and several Peasant Rebellions were launched on a partially racist platform (mostly anti-government, tbh, I am not sure where I heard the xenophobic platform of the rebel armies from, but it was probably widespread at this time). These peasant armies eventually sacked both Chang’an and Luoyang. The Arab historian Abu Zayd Hasan of Siraf wrote that when Huang Chao (the rebel leader) captured Guang Prefecture, his army killed 120,000 to 200,000 foreigners.

7) Surviving ancient Chinese noble families (some who can trace their lineage to the ancient Zhou, Shang, and Xia Dynasties) were almost rendered extinct, forcing survivors to flee southwards.

8) The Succeeding Song Dynasty, after they reunited all of China from the pretender dynasties, was SINOCENTRIC. Confucianism (a native Chinese religion) became the state religion; women, who enjoyed liberties close to or greater than our modern world today during the Tang Dynasties were shackled under tighter conservative expectations, and foreigners were never again as welcome in China.

A Real Orange Catholic Bible (from Dune)

What if we could get an officially licensed copy of the Orange Catholic Bible (the premier religious text in Frank Herbert’s Dune Universe), constructed together by Earth’s leading theologians hired by whatever Publisher is crazy enough to produce such an expensive and niche merchandise?
sunrise-3533173_1920

It would logically span thousands of pages, include lengthy material on fictional, near future religions (usually syncretic faiths of today’s religions), such as Maometh Saari, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddislamic traditions. To realistically make such a merchandise, would require talents beyond the ability of any ordinary fiction writer (though, Frank Herbert gave it a good go with his in-universe quotes at the beginning of each chapter).

In DUNE, the Orange Catholic Bible is physically described as:

“It has its own magnifier and electrostatic charge system … The book is held closed by the charge, which forces against spring-locked covers. You press the edge — thus, and the pages you’ve selected repel each other and the book opens … the charge moves ahead one page at a time as you read. Never touch the actual pages with your fingers. The filament tissue is too delicate.”

Though of course, a simple E-book will do for our purposes.

But, there is also the AZHAR BOOK. In the Dune Universe, this is a bibliography of every religious material in all of human history, and is the direct precursor of the Catholic Orange Bible. The Azhar Book, as a database, would be immense. We already kind of have this, as the material of every religion today is available online. But nobody has organized that expanse of data into a single book of scripture.

Defending the Mesoamericans

Mural Fragment Representing a Ritual of World Renewal
Mural Fragment Representing a Ritual of World Renewal. 

A question to those who enjoy deep-thought:

Should Mesoamerican, and other historical expressions, of auto-sacrifice (bloodletting) and human sacrifice be considered legitimate and healthy expressions of human culture?— ASSUMING that these expressions were consensual.

At the very least, I contend that ritual self-bloodletting (auto-sacrifice) is a safe practice, if done with proper sanitation. Within the worldview of Mesoamerican religions itself, that is to say. There are still cultures today that practice this to a certain extent. The Tang-Ki Shamans of Taiwan for example, practice auto-sacrifice when they are possessed by the gods. 


What is meant by Consensual: That is to say, for example, warriors who participate in Mesoamerican Flower Wars does so knowing that they may be sacrificed to the gods, but that death is worth chancing for socio-economic advancement.

What is meant by Culture: By culture I meant religion. In Mesoamerican Theology, the offerings of blood is an expression of gratitude to the gods who have crippled themselves to maintain our universe. The gods bleed for us and we bleed for them. In the most extreme case of this, martyrdom is the cost of keeping the SUN alive so that the world does not end.


The Aztec Impression 

It is true that the Mexica (Azetcs) took human sacrifice to new extremes (but not to the levels that Spanish propaganda would have us believe), and largely does so with war prisoners and tributes (whose consent is almost certainly questionable) and were politically reviled by their neighbours for their imperialism (neighbours who conveniently allied with the Spanish I should add), but this doesn’t mean all of Mesoamerican culture or theology is alike that of the Mexica. Nor that indigenous Central American cultures should be reviled, or their destruction justified.

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

Jesus, a Digital Painting Study

Digital Painting of Jesus.

JesusPortraitCOMPLETEV2
Digital Painting Study of Jesus. Portrait.

A study I painted awhile back when I was just literally starting out with digital painting (I had very little idea what I was doing at the time).

It was also, uh, miraculously drawn without reference (I wouldn’t recommend drawing anything without references, not unless you’re already very familiar with human anatomy as a whole— and I am not even that good— but this gamble seemed to have paid off, after some rough starts).

Of course, my visual library had a lifetime of seeing depictions of Jesus in various medias, so this wasn’t a radically different interpretation of Jesus. It’s your classical European Jesus. Why blue? Because it’s more ethereal and gets away from the race debate. And you know, some religions likes their holy figures in blue (like Krishna), so I was like, “why the heck not?”

What the tarnations is a visual library, you ask?— well, my hero, Sinix, of Sinix Design, can tell you all about it in this handy video he made.

And I also did fun stuff with this piece, for example, as an illustration of a bookcover project.

BibleBookCoverMockup_GOOD.png

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.

 

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