7/03/2008

Goddess of the week - Mazu

Name: Mazu (媽祖)
Location: China - and other parts of south-east Asia
Sphere of influence: The sea and sailors
Famous portraits: She is a popular goddess and there are many portraits and statues of her.

According to legend, Mazu was born as Lín Mòniáng (林默娘) in 960 on Meizhou Island, Fujian Province, China - an island where a large part of the inhabitants was (and still is) fishermen. She did not cry when she was born and was therefore given her name which means 'Silent girl'.

There are many legends that connect her with the sea. She was said to have been an excellent swimmer, once she learnt the art which she only did when she was 15. The most famous legend tells of how there is a terrible storm out at sea. She either falls asleep and dreams of her father and brothers out at sea, or falls into a trance (the story is told both ways). In this state she meets her father and brothers and tries to hold them up to keep them from drowning. But her mother walks in on her and fearing her daughter's life might be in danger she tries to wake the girl up. She tries to comfort her mother, thereby losing the grip of her father. Later the brothers return to tell of how they were miraculously saved - but the father drowned.

There are two different versions of her death. According to one, and the most common, she died aged 28. She said good-bye to her family and walked up a mountain never to return and instead turned into a goddess. According to another version she died when she was 16 - she went out swimming looking for her lost father but was overcome by fatigue and drowned.

She quickly became a popular goddess, worshipped for her courage at helping those in need out at sea. She is often shown wearing red clothing, clothes she is supposed to have worn out on the beach to let the fishermen and sailors have a fair chance of seeing her and be able to return to safety. She sits on a throne. He worship spread from the original area to all of coastal China, and with the migrations during the 19th and 20th century it was spread to Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and other places where Chinese seafarers settled down. She is still very popular and if you see to number of temples she is most popular in Taiwan where she has over 800 temples (some just for her and others shared with other deities.

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