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21. 西王母 - Xiwangmu (Chinese Mythology)

In today's episode, we discuss Xiwangmu, or the Queen Mother of the West. We talk about the influence of folk religions, the Mandate of Heaven, and the dangers of nationalist spins on mythology.

Sources:

Handbook of Chinese Mythology by Lihui Yang

,An Iconographic Study of Xiwangmu during the Han Dynasty by Jean M. James

,Re-Writing Mythology in Xinjiang: The Case of the Queen Mother of the West, King Mu, and the Kunlun by Alessandro Rippa

,Queen Mother of the West

Transcript Below:


[intro music]

Lizzie: Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts,

Zoe: I'm Zoe.

Lizzie: And I'm Lizzie. So, Zoe, you did the research this week. Who are we talking about?

Zoe: So, in honor of the upcoming Lunar New Year, I decided to choose a Chinese lady, and I'm doing Xiwangmu, or the Queen Mother of the West from Chinese mythology.

Lizzie: Oh, cool! We talked about her a little bit in the Chang'e episode.

Zoe: Yes! And I will mention Chang'e in this episode. Um—

Lizzie: Nice!

Zoe: So, Xiwangmu is a Chinese goddess who is also worshipped in neighboring Asian countries such as Japan and Vietnam. And, so, as well as being called Queen Mother of the West, which is a calque or literal translation of Xiwangmu, she has many other titles. Some of the most significant are "The Eternal Venerable Mother," as she is referred to by maternist practitioners of folk religions, and also “Golden Mother the First Ruler” as she was often called during the Tang Dynasty. Also, commoners during the Tang dynasty called her "Queen Mother", "The Divine Mother", or just "Nanny" which I thought was cute.

Lizzie: Interesting.

Zoe: Yeah. And she's viewed as a dispenser of wealth, eternal bliss, and longevity, as well as the embodiment of yin, or feminine energy. So, a little bit of history, the first mentions of her found in oracle bones from the fifteenth century BCE, which describe making sacrifices to a, quote, “Western Mother.” And then, one of the earliest depictions of her was in the text Shan Hai Jing, which is, or the Classic of Mountains and Seas from the Zhou Dynasty. So, then the Taoist writer Zhuangzi referenced her in around fourth century BCE, describing her as one of the highest deities, as she had obtained the Dao, as well as immortal and celestial powers. And she became a very important figure in Taoism, as I’ll discuss later. And she was a widely popular figure during the Tang Dynasty - particularly in poetry, and the Tang Dynasty is considered by many to be the “Golden Age of Chinese Poetry.” So that's cool.

Lizzie: Hm! Yeah, I think we mentioned that dynasty in the Chang'e episode. In the depictions of Chang'e.

Zoe: Yeah, there was a lot, I think there was a lot of, like, art, it was a big art time. For, um, in Chinese history, there was a lot of art, particularly poetry, being made. During that time.

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: So, originally, Xiwangmu was originally a wild, beast-like god whose gender was unclear. They looked human, but had the tail of a panther and the teeth of a tiger, and they were said to be very good at roaring.

Lizzie: Ooh!

Zoe: So, many Chinese scholars believed that early depictions of Xiwangmu had both masculine and feminine characteristics, thus the unclear aspects of their gender. And they were the ruler of punishment, calamity, and disease, originally.

Lizzie: Interesting.

Zoe: And they also lived on the Jade Mountain, which is the home of the Supreme Divinity and a place of paradise and happiness for gods and immortals. And then, in between the Warring States era and the Han Dynasty, the depiction and conceptions of Xiwangmu changed greatly from a monsterlike creature to a dignified queen. According to the text Mu Tianzi Zhuan, which is a biography of the Emperor Mu, Xiwangmu hosted Emperor Mu at a banquet, and was an excellent host, improvising poems and singing beautiful songs to please him. And after this time, her functions increased, and she became the goddess of health, wealth, fertility, and calamity, although she still lived among wild animals.

Lizzie: So, when they say "calamity," like they said that during the punishment era, and also the like healing and wealth part...

Zoe: Yes—

Lizzie: Like, what does that mean?

Zoe: I think, so it means, more like she has the power over good fortune or bad fortune, so, like, you could pray for her... she decides what to bestow on you, and you can pray for her to give you good luck and long life. But she could also like, cause more chaos, I think.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: She was best known as the keeper of the Elixir of Immortality!

Lizzie: Yes!

Zoe: The same elixir that she gave to the hero Yi in one story, and that Chang’e drank and travelled to the moon with.

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: So, yes, reminder of Episode 6, where we discussed Chang'e and her story in more depth. And she has a male consort named Donggongwang, or King Father of the East, and they are often depicted together, although she seems to be more significant than him because she's found depicted alone as well, and he's just mainly shown with her. And the two of them are prayed to for longevity, children, and wealth. And so, just a quote about her depictions from the Handbook of Chinese Mythology, “She is typically shown as a respectable goddess, sitting on a cloud or a seat made of a dragon and a tiger. She is often surrounded by Jade Rabbit, a toad, birds, or sometimes a three-legged crow, a deer, a dragon, a nine-tailed fox, and immortal servants with wings. The rabbit (sometimes the immortal servants also) is usually pounding the elixir in a mortar in front of Xiwangmu and Dongwanggong.”

Lizzie: Ah! So, like Chang'e.

Zoe: Yeah! So, I assume that the depiction of the rabbit pounding the Elixir of Life is not unique to story of Chang'e but is just associated with stories of the Elixir in general.

Lizzie: Oh, okay.

Zoe: And so, throughout the Tang Dynasty, Xiwangmu was seen as the embodiment of the yin force and therefore had a special relationship with all women, especially female Daoists. And she was actually especially important to women who did not fit the societal norm of the docile, obedient woman. So, that's pretty fun.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Pretty cool. So, there are several stories associated with Xiwangmu. So, Xiwangmu was the owner of the divine saucer peach, which were fruits that gave longevity to whoever ate them. And, she actually often wore a headdress with peaches suspended from them, which sounds like a great fashion statement and I like it a lot.

Lizzie: Yes, that sounds very stylish.

Zoe: Mm hmm. She gave the peaches to to an emperor, I believe it was Emperor Mu, actually, and he enjoyed them so much that he kept the pits for later use. However, Xiwangmu told him that this kind of peach needed 3,000 years to be harvested. So, discouraged, the emperor decided not to grow them after all. And so, these peaches and Xiwangmu are also mentioned in Journey to the West, which is a renowned Chinese novel. In the novel, the peaches are classified into three categories: ones that ripened every 3,000 years and made someone healthy, ones that ripened every 6,000 years and gave someone a long life, and ones that ripened every 9,000 years and could make those who ate them, quote, “be as long-lived as heaven and the earth.”

Lizzie: Huh, okay. So was like three an important number?

Zoe: Yeah, I mean, I don't know the details of it being important but it seems to be a cyclical thing of every 3,000 years, there being a certain peach that ripens. And I think it works because like, you know, you get at least one peach every 3,000 years. And so, in the novel, Xiwangmu invites all the immortals to a great banquet in order to serve the peaches. It's called the Saucer Peach Banquet. But, in the novel also, the Monkey King, who's a character who's interested in gaining immortality, crashes the ceremony and eats many of best peaches, causing chaos and disruption.

Lizzie: That's kind of fun.

Zoe: Yeah, it is pretty fun. He seems like a pretty fun character. So, after the Tang dynasty, when she was revered in poetry, Xiwangmu became more popular in folk traditions, and then she was known specifically as the bearer of peaches. She was depicted as a consort of Yu Di, or the Jade Emperor, the highest ruler of all heaven and the gods. And so, they had several children together, and one of them was the Weaving Maiden. In the legends, the Weaving Maiden descended to earth in secret, where she fell in love with and married a cowboy.

Lizzie: Ooh!

Zoe: Yeah! Her mother was—

Lizzie: I didn't know there were Ancient Chinese cowboys.

Zoe: So, it says "cowboy" in the Handbook of Chinese Mythology, I looked it up 'cause I was like, "wow, really?" It was a guy who like, was taking care of cows.

Lizzie: Oh.

Zoe: So—

Lizzie: [laughs] Okay!

Zoe: [laughs] You know. Like, some said a cowherd. But I liked the cowboy. 'Cause—

Lizzie: Yeah, no, that's really fun.

Zoe: You know, she fell in love with and married a cowboy. But, her mother was displeased with this union. So she pulled out her hairpin and drew a line in the heavens, separating the two lovers. And the line became the Milky Way, called the Silver River.

Lizzie: Aww.

Zoe: And so the two lovers are forced to stand on either side of the shore until every lunar July 7th, when they are allowed to meet again and a flock of magpies makes a bridge for them.

Lizzie: That's really nice.

Zoe: Yeah!

Lizzie: I love, like, stories that explain natural phenomena.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: I think that's so fun.

Zoe: Yeah, and I really like the idea of the Milky Way being involved in like, you know, long lost lovers.

Lizzie: Yeah, exactly.

Zoe: Yeah, it's sad, but it's very beautiful. So, this next story has a trigger warning for mention of sexual harassment. So, other myths state that Xiwangmu is the mother of the sun and the moon, alongside Yu Di, who is the father. So, originally, the sun and moon, this seems to be separate from the myth of the ten suns, from the—

Lizzie: Okay, I was wondering.

Zoe: Yeah, because in this story there seems to be only one sun. Originally, the sun and moon got along very well. However, the sun eventually began to sexually harass his sister, the moon. So, the moon confronted the sun in front of Yu Di, and their father was so angry that he decided to kill his son. In this moment, Xiwangmu arrived. She saw Yu Di about to kill her son and cried, begging him not to do so. Instead, she offered an alternative solution: that the sun and moon be separated in the sky, with the sun coming out in the daytime and the moon coming out only at night.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. I love stories like that about the sun and the moon. We talked about that in the sun goddess episode.

Zoe: Yeah. And so despite this story, or perhaps because of it, Xiwangmu is more associated with the moon and her connection to Chang’e. She stands opposite of Xihe, the mother of the ten suns. And I think that it also shows, like this story shows how powerful a goddess that Xiwangmu is because she literally creates night and day, which is a very significant thing to create. And, like you said, it being a creation story, which is very fun and then she's the one who causes that creation. I think it's very cool. And then she has the power to stop the Jade Emperor from killing his own son.

Lizzie: Yeah, that's very powerful.

Zoe: So, Xiwangmu also plays a very important part in the flood story of Chinese mythology.

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: So, in this story, two gods were fighting each other one year — so fiercely that they dislodged and broke the pillar of the sky, Mount Buzhou. Since the pillar was damaged, the sky tilted northwest, the earth was damaged in the southeast, and water began flooding everywhere. Xiwangmu felt sympathetic to the plights of the people on earth, and along with her older sister, Lishan Laomu, or also Nüwa, another important Chinese goddess, they set out to repair the sky. They gathered and melted down stones of five different colors, using that to patch up the sky. This light from the fire used to melt the stones was absorbed by the sun, which allowed it to shine again and warm the earth. It also melted the ice on earth, and created a hot spring. They worked together as a team, with Xiwangmu stoking the fire and Lishan Laomu kneading the stone paste into cakes, and sticking them into the hole in the sky. To support the stones, they cut the legs off of a tortoise and used them as pillars in the four corners of the sky to hold it up. And, finally, they used the ashes to fill in the flaws in the earth, and the world was restored. And many temples were built to them to honor their accomplishment.

Lizzie: That sounds like a really fun story.

Zoe: Yeah! And I think it's really cool that they use fire to fight the power of water.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Which is very interesting because normally, like, you know, fire is submissive to water or less powerful to water. But they use it, and it works, and they work really hard at it and I think it's— I think it's a really cool story. 'Cause like they work so hard at it, like it seems like a really hard task but they do it. So, as I said before, Xiwangmu played an important rule in Taoism. It’s likely that her adaptation into the religion changed her depiction from the earlier animalistic roles into her more queenly roles. In a text by Taoist master Tu Kuang-ting, he describes a meeting between Xiwangmu and Laozi, the founder of Taoism. In this text, Xiwangmu acts as Laozi’s superior, and is credited as the divine author of the Dao de Jing. This text is part of Shangqing Taoism, a goddess-worshipping sect of the religion.

Lizzie: Cool!

Zoe: In Tang Dynasty poetry, another meeting between Laozi and Xiwangmu is depicted. However, this text depicts Xiwangmu is shown as inferior to Laozi, as she calls him by his title and pays him homage.

Xiwangmu is also said to have interacted with many emperors throughout China’s history. Her approval and blessings give great credibility to the emperors, and function as a part of the Mandate of Heaven. So, some of the most significant interactions include: Yu the Great, of the Xia Dynasty, who was a great like heroic emperor of legend. And it's said that Yu the Great studied as a disciple of Xiwangmu. She gave Yu the legitimacy to rule as well as techniques needed for ruling. And so, her acting as a teacher gives her enormous power, because teachers are always above their students in seniority and wisdom. In the traditions of Taoism. Then, as mentioned before, she interacted with King Mu of the Zhou Dynasty. And this is one of the best-known stories of her interacting with a ruler. So King Mu was traveling to the far western regions of his empire in order to earn the Mandate of Heaven. And he encountered Xiwangmu on Mount Kunlun and had an affair with her. He hoped to become immortal, and so gave her many treasures. But, he failed in that task and departed. And I have a quote from Wikipedia about this, "The relationship between the Queen Mother of the West and King Mu has been compared to that of a Taoist master and disciple. She passes on secret teachings to him at his request and he, the disciple, fails to benefit, and dies like any other mortal.”

Lizzie: Oh, wow!

Zoe: Yeah. So, again, that's showing her in a very like powerful position as a master and someone who is a master of the Dao teaching to one of the emperors. So, I thought that's really cool. So, then finally, it is said that she interacted with Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty, or the man who united the Warring States by his military prowess, and began the construction of the Great Wall. So, the story says that when he had the opportunity to meet and bless Xiwangmu, he wasted it. His failure to take advantage of this encounter with Xiwangmu acts as a cautionary tale. He died with no dynasty and he is known historically as a failed ruler.

So, worship of Xiwangmu often spiked during times of chaos - for example, around the fall of the Han Dynasty. So, there was a big religious movement involved singing and dancing to entertain the goddess, and also the distribution of special chips made out of straw or hemp. And it was believed that if you didn’t have the chips, you would not survive when Xiwangmu came to the world. And so people travelled around the country and gave their chips to others in order to save as many people as possible.

Lizzie: That's nice!

Zoe: Yeah. She was depicted on money trees and mirrors, with inscriptions offering desires for long life as willed by Xiwangmu. So, in modern practice, Xiwangmu is still widely revered in folk religion across China, with many temples dedicated to her in areas populated by the Han people. People pray to her for good luck— to get rid of locusts, for rain, for children, recovery from disease, and a long life and wealth. There is a specific temple devoted to her on Tai Mountain in the Shandong Province - called the Wangmu Pool. Every year on the lunar March 3, they celebrate her birthday with a saucer peach festival. And they offer sacrifices, such as wine, cigarettes, and imitation money. They try to throw coins into basins within the pool, and if they do so, it will bring them good luck. And they generally have a good time.

Lizzie: That's really nice.

Zoe: Yeah. So, what are your thoughts on her?

Lizzie: I think she's very cool. I think it's cool that she's very powerful and that everyone else must submit to her, especially, like, emperors and even other gods. It reminded me a little bit of Amaterasu.

Zoe: Really?

Lizzie: Yeah, because we talked about the legitimacy to rule and how they had to be like, sort of approved by Xiwangmu and they had to, like, submit to her and all that, it reminded me of Amaterasu because, basically if you want to be a ruler of Japan, like, it's said that you are descended from Amaterasu. So.

Zoe: Oh, okay!

Lizzie: That was like a very important, like, part of being the ruler of Japan.

Zoe: Yeah—

Lizzie: And just like this whole idea of having to submit to a goddess. I think it's very cool.

Zoe: Yeah, definitely.

Lizzie: And I think it's also, like, I don't know if this is universal across all mythologies but I feel like there's this sort of thing now where it's like people think that goddesses were like inferior to, you know, men, but, in reality, goddesses were quite powerful in their respective pantheons.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Like, and that's sort of been erased by like, modern thought.

Zoe: Yeah, definitely, yeah, she was and is super powerful. You know, like I said, in her stories, she's shown has super powerful, she's shown as like a Daoist master over emperors, and a teacher. Which is very significant.

Lizzie: I think that's very cool. Like, I don't know if she was associated with like, wisdom, but, regardless. That's cool that she was, like, the imparter of knowledge.

Zoe: Yeah. And, also, she was the— considered to be the first devotional figure to appear and be the overruling devotional figure until the Buddha and Buddhism replaced her in prominence. So, she was like, that level of significance.

Lizzie: So, she was a huge deal.

Zoe: Yeah. And she—

Lizzie: Is she still worshipped now?

Zoe: Yeah, she still is, yeah. She's like, I think the most powerful like folk religion icon in China. Out of all the gods. So, that's really cool.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: Mm hmm. So, the very interesting part of Xiwangmu is that she occupied a space that's not really occupied by any other god or goddess in Chinese mythology. So, she sort of serves as a dual role: both as an accessible helper of humanity, and as more cosmological goddess as the embodiment of the force of yin. And so, I think that she was likely so popular as a folk goddess that her influence expanded over time that she became the embodiment of yin and feminine energy. She was just that important. So, originally, you know, she was seen as a goddess of luck, a goddess of wealth and prosperity and long life, and people were so dedicated to her and devoted to her that her influence grew and grew until she became like, the overseer of this very powerful force.

Lizzie: Yeah, like, we talked about this a little bit in the Pele episode, but how people, like, gods who were the closest to the people are the ones who had the most influence, kind of.

Zoe: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I think that makes sense based on like, her original form. Which is so different from how she's currently depicted, as the wild part-animal goddess of disease and chaos, is that she was taken from this very popular folk figure, she was adapted into Daoism, and made into a very significant part of that religion. And then became, she just became so widespread and like such an important part of people's lives that she really, like, began to represent, in worship and in beliefs, the influence that she had. And, um, that's actually shown by the attendants that she's depicted with. So, she's generally shown with a toad, a hare, a nine-tailed fox, and devotees, and these symbols are all generally associated with the moon and the story of Chang'e. So, these companions taken in context with the Chang’e story and the ideas about Xiwangmu in general, offer some thoughts, is that, perhaps Xiwangmu is not immortal naturally, but is immortal because of the elixirs she makes, like Chang’e became immortal by taking the elixir. So, thus, she is not a distant, celestial god who's been around since the dawn of time, but a god much closer and more accessible to humanity who became immortal through her own personal means rather than like, you know, existing as this spiritual force that was originally created to be immortal. And, it's actually implied that worship of her threatened the power of the emperor to some extent, or was considered an alternative to the emperor.

Lizzie: Cool!

Zoe: Yeah, so this is shown by how there was a rise in worship of her after the fall of the Han Dynasty, which was a period of significant uncertainty and chaos and also definitely a time of lack of trust in imperial authority and emperors in general.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. So, you would turn to like a greater authority.

Zoe: Yeah. So, everyone was like really upset and angry with the emperors for causing, like, not being able to basically hold the government and the dynasty together, and, as the dynasty fell, it became a really, like, it kind of fell into a place of chaos without very many central authorities. And so, because of how uncertain everything was, they turned to her, who was certain, and like basically someone they could count on when they couldn't count on emperors or anyone in authority positions, like, any humans in authority positions.

Lizzie: That makes sense.

Zoe: Yeah. And it also said in one of my sources that her cult rivaled the domestic order, which implies that it may have challenged the power of the emperor to some extent, and also challenged the social order that determined women to be submissive and docile. Because she was so significant and so powerful and everyone was like, putting her first. As opposed to like, the male gods. Like, for example, she was worshipped outside of the, like, emperor state-sanctioned worship of sky gods. Like, she was separate from that, but people worshipped her widespread anyway. And, so, like, she's really a goddess of the people. She's not a goddess of emperors, or, like, authority or royals. Which I think is really great.

Lizzie: Even though she does have influence on the emperor.

Zoe: Yeah! And then I think it's even cooler that she has influence on them because she's like... not necessarily one of them.

Lizzie: She's more for the common people.

Zoe: Yeah. And it is odd because in some ways it does feel like she really upholds the social order in her existence to some extent, like she helps keep the emperors in power, like she's not causing revolutions against them. She keeps humans from becoming immortal, and she kept her daughter from being with the mortal she loved, and she prevented the sun from being truly punished for his actions, but also, just the existence of such a powerful female figure during a time like in Confucian Han Dynasty China, when women were supposed to be completely submissive is very important and significant and I think that's why she was so important to women who defied gender norms. So, one more thing about Xiwangmu that I learned when I was doing my research is that she has also been used as a propaganda piece justifying the Chinese occupation of the Xinjiang province, which is where the Uyghur people live.

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: So, basically, the Xinjiang province was conquered by the Qing Dynasty in the 1700s, and it's also the home to Mount Kunlun which I mentioned earlier. As, like, being a place where Xiwangmu lived and called home. And so, throughout history since that conquest in the 1700s, the Qing government and other governments past that have used used various myths and legends to justify control of the area. And that includes the myth of Xiwangmu.

Lizzie: Wait, like, how?

Zoe: So, like I said, the stories say that Xiwangmu lived on Kunlun Mountain. And they said, well, since that's in the Xinjiang province, that shows that we've had control of this province for a really long time. Even though, historically, that doesn't seem to actually be the case. But, actually, that's also not true, because in the, like I mentioned earlier, the earlier Zhuangzi text, Xiwangmu was not associated with Kunlun mountain, she was associated with another mountain and there was a different spirit associated with Kunlun mountain. And Kunlun Mountain was more of like a metaphorical place of spiritual ascension, and more of a moving point that shifted further west and was not specifically located in one place. So, the geographical depictions of it from earlier myths were focused on mythological geography and imagining places that had not yet been really encountered. And only really during Han western expansion did they encounter the imagined locations for real and then did Kunlun Mountain become like an actual real place and part of the mythology.

Lizzie: Yeah, that makes sense.

Zoe: Mm hmm. And so, even though only in, like, later texts, or only in some texts was Xiwangmu associated with this specific mountain in this specific location in the Xinjiang province. The story is basically used as evidence that the Chinese government has had control of the Xinjiang province for a really long time, and therefore justifies continued occupation and control of the province and the people within it. And so, I thought this was really interesting and really important because, like, we talk a lot about how great mythology is, and how cool it is, and it is really great, it is really cool, it's so interesting, but there are ways in which myths can be weaponized and turned against people and used in harmful ways and this is one of the situations in which we can see that and I think that's important to talk about as well.

Lizzie: And how it can be used for nationalism, and that sort of thing.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah. Nationalism. Using myths for nationalism is a huge thing that you can see.

Lizzie: Mm hmm. But yeah, that's a really important point.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: I hadn't really thought too much about it.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah, so, like, in a lot of like what mythology around Xiwangmu sort of is meant to depict her as a historical figure in some ways, like she's associated with actual historical figures like Emperor Mu, and then that sort of, like, in a way, almost makes it so she's a historical figure and therefore her story can be used as historical evidence. Rather than like just a mythological character in a mythological story. Or like a story that's more about, like, metaphorical things rather than like–or like imagined places rather than a real physical place. And so, like, by depicting her like that, they're basically saying like, oh, because it says that she lived here, and you know, she interacted with all these historical characters, then obviously China was here from a very long time.

Lizzie: Yeah. 'Cause we've talked about how goddesses and folk figures can, like, can have a real place in a history of a people, which is often very cool, like Erzulie Dantor, like Pele, but, and then in this case it's much— it's a little bit more of a negative thing.

Zoe: Yeah. Like she's definitely a very influential goddess and her worship is very important but her stories basically started being co-opted in order to justify oppression of a people.

Lizzie: Yeah, so, we can see sort of the reverse.

Zoe: And in a way it kind of reminds me of what I talked about in the Scheherazade episode. Sort of how Scheherazade has been sort of turned into a character as like an authority on the Middle East and like what the Middle East is like even though she's like a fictional character.

Lizzie: And like weaponized by like white European authors.

Zoe: Yeah, white European authors to turn—

Lizzie: Into like an orientalist fantasy.

Zoe: Yeah, yeah. To create an orientalist fantasy through her gaze and storytelling and basically saying, well if she says it's real, then it must be real, when she, Scheherazade is not real. Scheherazade is a storyteller and a fictional character in a book. Yeah.

Lizzie: But yeah, Xiwangmu is very cool, I think it's very cool that she was associated with dragons and tigers and lots of different animals. Like, it seemed like you were talking about a lot of the animals that are part of the Chinese zodiac.

Zoe: That's a really good point. Yeah, I hadn't even thought of that.

Lizzie: Not all of them, like I don't think the deer is part of the Chinese zodiac, but, like, rabbit, dragon, tiger...

Zoe: Mm hmm. Definitely. Yeah, and she is a really cool character, and her influence is very important. I think that she as a figure has been very cool.

Lizzie: Yeah, she sounds like very interesting and powerful and I like learning about goddesses, especially, like, I don't know if she counts as like a mother goddess, because a mother goddess figure is like—not even like a mother necessarily but more like a creation character of like a people and that sort of thing.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Which is always really cool to see in different cultures.

Zoe: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, she's definitely sort of has like that motherly or like creation relationship with the people, I mean she is called Queen Mother of the West, and she, you know, is really there for people to turn to her for asking for help, for luck and prosperity and everything. And she's close to them and someone that they can really talk to. She's not, like, off in the clouds and in the heavens like other gods.

Lizzie: Yeah, she's of the people.

Zoe: Yeah. Definitely.

Lizzie: I also think it's cool that she has an association with the moon. Because you also said that she was like very important to, like, I don't know, womanhood and everything.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: So it's kind of a, you can see the connection there.

Zoe: Yeah, so, she's definitely, like she's sort of the embodiment of yin energy and I think that's definitely tied to her association with the moon. 'Cause I believe yin energy and the moon are linked together and associated together.

Lizzie: That would make sense. And do you know if she was associated with any other, like, goddesses from different cultures at all?

Zoe: Not that I could find, really.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: Like I know she was, like, also worshipped in Vietnam and Japan because they had, like, names for her in Vietnamese and Japanese that were also used. But I think, you know, it just shows her influence. And that, like, she was one of the goddesses that was sort of adopted or taken on by other nearby places.

Lizzie: Mm hmm.

Zoe: So, happy Lunar New Year, Year of the Ox, let's hope it brings good fortune to everyone, and we all have a good Year of the Ox.

Lizzie: Yeah, so, happy Lunar New Year, and thank you Zoe for telling us all about Xiwangmu and thank you for listening, please subscribe, listen to our other episodes if you enjoyed this episode, and yeah. Thank you!

Zoe: Goodbye!

[outro music]

Lizzie: Mytholadies Podcast is produced by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. Today's episode was researched and presented by Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @ mytholadies and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening! See you next week!