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Religions in China - Magu 麻姑, Mistress Hemp


Magu 麻姑 "Mistress Hemp" is a female immortal venerated in Daoism. The oldest report of her ist to be found in Ge Hong's 葛洪 Shenxianzhuan 神仙傳 from the Jin period 晉 (265-420). In her biography it is said that once the immortal Wang Yuan 王遠 (courtesy name Fangping 方平, religious title Shangzhen yuanjun 上真元君 "Lord of the supreme perfect origin") dwelled with a certain Cai Jing 蔡經 he invited Magu for dinner. She reported from her travel to an island in the Eastern Sea where she saw mulberry trees and fields, which nobody believed. When Cai Jing saw that Magu’s feet were like birds’ claws the thought that they would be good to scratch his itching back. But Wang Yuan was able to read his thoughts and punished him for these frivolous thoughts by flogging his back with an invisible whip. When the dinner was over Wang Yuan and Magu climbed their coach and ascended to Heaven.
Wang Yuan’s biography in the book Shenxianzhuan 神仙傳 is very similar.
The late Tang period 唐 (618-907) Daoist Du Guangting 杜光庭 repeats this story in his Yongchengji xianlu 墉城集仙錄 and adds the information that Magu was Wang Yuan’s servant. Only later she was identified as Wang’s younger sister (Lishi zhenxian tidao tongjian houji 歷世真仙體道通鋻後集). Further information from the Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420~589) book Qixieji 齊諧記 is quoted in the Song period 宋 (960-1279) encyclopedia Taiping guangji 太平廣記 (131) where it is said that Magu lived during the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) in Fuyang 富陽.
After she had eaten the meat of a snake she vomited blood and died. Very much later, in the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) encyclopedia Gujin tushu jicheng 古今圖書集成 (Shenyi dian 神異典 270) the book Taiping qinghua 太平清话 is quoted where it is said the her actual name was Li Qiongshan 黎瓊仙 and that she was a former concubine. The local gazetter Dengzhou fu zhi 登州府志 says that she lived during the short-lived Later Zhou period 後趙 (319-350), came from Jianchang 建昌 and that she exercised Daoist practice on Mt. Guyu 姑余山 near Mouzhong 牟州, where she eventually became an immortal.
It can be seen that there are several traditions venerating a Mistress Hemp. Therefore there are also many place names including her name, like a Mt. Magu, a Magu Cave, or Magu temples, like during the Tang period when there was, according to the writer Yan Zhenqing 颜真卿, a Mt. Magu 麻姑山 with a small platform in Nancheng 南城縣. A furnace for the production of longevity pills was still visible at that time. In Jianchang was likewise a Mt. Magu. During the Song period Hong Mai 洪邁 mentioned a Magu Cave 麻姑洞 near Mt. Qingcheng 青城山 in Sichuan. The book Yiyuan 異苑 reports that during the Qin (?) period there was a Magu Temple 麻姑廟 (Meigu 梅姑廟) in Danyang 丹陽縣. Magu lived nearby and was able, through Daoist skills, to walk over the water. Her husband killed her and threw her body into the river which carried her to the place where the temple would be erected later.
Magu is a deity prayed to for longevity.

Source: Qing Xitai 卿希泰 (ed. 1994), Zhongguo daojiao 中國道教 (Shanghai: Zhishi chubanshe), Vol. 3, pp. NNN.

August 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail