Hsi Wang Mu
Queen Mother of the West; The Western Mother; Golden Mother of the Shining Lake; The Tiger Lady; The Amah of Tortoise Mountain; Queen of the Western Paradise
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Xi Wang Mu; Seiobo (Japan)
Hsi Wang Mu, the Western Mother, may be the most ancient surviving Chinese goddess. The reference to her as “Mother” indicates her stature, not necessarily her nature. Hsi Wang Mu is not particularly maternal. She is not a “mother goddess,” nor is she a sex or love goddess but a spirit of supreme female authority. Hsi Wang Mu epitomizes Yin. She is Ultimate Yin: the very essence of female power.
Her associations with the West are no coincidence: in China, west, the wild frontier, is the direction of Paradise, mysticism, mystery, and danger. Hsi Wang Mu is a goddess of alchemy, shamanism, magic, and esoteric, hard-won wisdom. The creatures with which she is closely associated (tigers, magpies, crows, foxes) all have profound associations with magic and sorcery.
Like the alchemist that she is, Hsi Wang Mu has experienced numerous permutations. The earliest documented description of her appears in the book The Classic of the Mountains and the Seas, variously dated from the fourth to second centuries BCE: she is a fierce tiger-woman with tiger’s teeth, a leopard’s tail, and a woman’s wild, tangled hair, described as presiding over Catastrophes from the Sky and the Five Destructive Forces.
However, veneration of Hsi Wang Mu may date back at least as far as 1400 BCE. She mayoriginally have been the deified tribal ancestress and shamanic leader of a northwestern tribal people perceived by the Chinese as exceedingly ferocious (that tiger). Evolving into an extremely important shamanic goddess and extending her terrain, the Tiger Lady was adopted into the early Taoist pantheon. (An Eastern Mother once existed, too.)
Shamanism was once extremely prominent in China. However, in response to Confucianism, deities associated with shamanism either transformed or were marginalized, essentially left out in the cold.
Exceedingly prominent during the early stages of Taoism, especially in northeastern China where she was credited with ending a huge drought in the third century BCE, by the third century CE, Hsi Wang Mu underwent a profound transformation at least partially in response to the rise of Confucianism, which actively ridiculed and attacked shamanism. Her tigress characteristics were shed; Hsi Wang Mu emerged as an elegant, regal queen.
Despite her transformation, she was too strongly associated with shamanism to ever be completely accepted by the new order. Hsi Wang Mu presides over her own paradise in the West, where she is the keeper of the peaches of immortality, fruit that ripens only every three thousand years. She throws a huge party in conjunction with the harvest: all the deities are invited. If they wish to renew their immortality, they must attend.
Hsi Wang Mu remained the highest ranking female deity through the Tang Dynasty (618–917 CE), venerated by men as well as women, but she would eventually be completely eclipsed by Kwan Yin. She remains the highest ranking Taoist female spirit, a role model for Taoist adepts and priestesses. Hsi Wang Mu presides over sacred arts: meditation, visualization, Tantric sexual techniques, alchemy, elixirs, and breathing exercises. Her epithet “Mother of the Golden Tortoise” indicates her associations with ancient tortoiseshell divination. She is a goddess of life, death, rebirth, and eternal life.
Hsi Wang Mu’s paradise is on Mount Kunlun, which Taoism perceives as the world axis (axis mundi): the crossroads between Earth and the celestial zones. In her wild tigress days, she lived in a cave but now presides over a magical Fairy court in a palace constructed entirely of jade beside a Turquoise Pond. Her Western Paradise is also an afterlife realm where dead souls reside. “To go attend Hsi Wang Mu” was once a euphemism for death. Funeral banners still read “See you again at Turquoise Pond!”
No need to wait for those peaches to ripen. Hsi Wang Mu is a supreme alchemist: she knows the formals for the elixir of immortality. She maintains a registry of everyone who has attained immortality.
• Hsi Wang Mu controls and bestows immortality.
• Hsi Wang Mu mediates between people, spirits, and ghosts.
• She arranges sacred marriages between Taoist priestesses and adepts.
Hsi Wang Mu appears in visions and dreams. The Jade Maidens may convey messages for her.
Alchemists and jade carvers; Hsi Wang Mu is also a matron of women, but especially those who live outside standard family boundaries: adepts, priestesses, fortunetellers, nuns, novices, “singing girls,” courtesans, prostitutes, sexual entertainers, and deadwomen. Although Taoist tradition encourages transmission of wisdom between genders (from male to female to male and so forth), Hsi Wang Mu personally instructs female adepts.
A regal, beautiful, powerful queen, Hsi Wang Mu wears yellow damask (in China, the color yellow was once reserved for the highest royalty only) and a diamond seal around her waist. She is described as having a strong voice that resounds when she shouts. She also whistles. She may also manifest as a white tiger or ride one. Hsi Wang Mu often appears accompanied by packs of tigers and leopards.
Peaches and mushrooms of immortality; whip; diamond seal worn around her waist; double-bladed sword
Hsi Wang Mu rides a carriage of purple clouds drawn by nine-colored dappled Chilin, the mythical animal sometimes described as the Chinese unicorn
Her servants include the Jade Maidens and the moon rabbit; her court is home to a host of beautiful Fairies.
Animal: White tiger; leopard; fox, especially nine-tailed fox
Red phoenix; white crane; three bluebirds serve as her messengers and servants; crows; magpies
Hsi Wang Mu has a small temple on Pu To Shan, Kwan Yin’s sacred island. (Pu To Shan was sacred Taoist territory before Kwan Yin’s arrival.)
• Since 1980, the turquoise pond before the Taoist temple on sacred Mount T’ai has been called the “Queen Mother’s Pond.”
- Abka Hebe;
- Bau Gu;
- Chang’O, Lady;
- Eight Immortals;
- Fox Spirits;
- Green Jade Mother;
- Jade Maidens;
- Kwan Yin;
- Ma Gu;
- Primal Woman of the Nine Heavens;
- T’ai Shan, Lady;
- T’ai Shan, Lord;
- Tzu Ku
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.