ALSO KNOWN AS:
Lady White, a powerful thousand-year old snake goddess, decided to explore the human realm, in some versions because she seeks veneration. She assumed the form of an elegant, beautiful, wealthy woman as did her companion/servant, Lady Blue. Lady White’s true form is a big white snake while Lady Blue is a smaller teal one.
Lady White meets a young man and they fall in love. Of course, he has no idea she’s a snake. Lady White is a master healer; she teaches him her skills and they live happily ever after until a sharp-eyed monk recognizes that she’s no ordinary woman. He resolves to inform and rescue the husband. Whether or not he seeks or needs rescuing is irrelevant: the monk is offended by the relationship itself, which he perceives as unnatural. (Hidden with this tale is a rebuke to the esoteric Taoist practice of human-spirit marriages.) Seeking to banish them, he magically trapped Ladies White and Blue in an alms bowl, which he buried near the West Lake in Hang Zhou. The seven-story Lei Feng Pagoda was built over the bowl in order to further imprison the snake spirits.
Lady White is the name and subject of a beloved story and perhaps the most popular Chinese opera. Her legend is retold in countless renditions and in different media: opera but also novels, films, folktales; plays, television series, wood block prints, comics, anime and cartoons. No source is considered canonical. Depending on the version, Lady White may be a heroine, a villainess or something in between.
The first literary versions date from the 13th century but the story dates back at least to the 7th century CE. The first dramatization was in the 14th century.
In the earliest versions, Lady White was depicted as a vicious, man-eating spirit. The priests and monks who intervened were heroic. By the Ming era (1368–1644), she was portrayed as an ambiguous “good Demon.” She steals the elixir of immortality from Hsi Wang Mu in order to save her husband. The monks who oppose her graduallyevolved into villains. Although identified as a snake spirit, Lady White resembles the Jade Maidens and Chinese Fairies who form sacred marriages with Taoist adepts, teaching them mystical secrets of healing and alchemy.
Lady White transforms back and forth from white python to beautiful woman. She sometimes appears with a woman’s head atop a large serpentine body.
The Lei Feng Pagoda was allegedly built to permanently imprison Lady White. A legend circulated that if the tower collapsed, Lady White would be free. However, even trapped underground, Lady White exerted her benevolent power: the tower bricks are reputed to attract wealth and prevent illness and miscarriage. They were eagerly collected, perhaps contributing to the tower’s collapse in 1924, liberating Lady White and Lady Blue, now free to roam where they will. Lei Feng Pagoda was rebuilt in 2002 and is a pilgrimage spot for those who love Lady White.
Benten; Fairy; Hsi Wang Mu; Jade Maidens; Janguli; Lady Blue
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.