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8.8: The Queen Mother of the West

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    The Queen Mother rode an imperial carriage of purple clouds, harnessed with nine-colored dappled qilin (unicorns). Tied around her waist, she wore the whip of the Celestial Realized Ones; as a belt pendant she had a diamond numinous seal. On her clothing, fashioned of multicolored damask with a yellow background, the patterns and variegated colors were bright and fresh. The radiance of metal made a shimmering gleam. At her waist was a double-bladed sword for dividing phosphors, and knotted flying clouds made a great cord. On top of her head was a great floriate chignon. She wore the crown of the Grand Realized Ones with hanging beaded strings of daybreak. She stepped forth on squared-off, phoenix-patterned shoes, soled with rose-gem. Her age might have been around twenty. Her celestial appearance eclipsed and put in the shade all others. Her numinous complexion was unique in the world. Truly, she was a Realized Numinous Being.34

    Do you remember the Queen Mother of the West from Chapter Five? She was still present in Tang times, as a Daoist deity and a poetic muse. She embodied ultimate yin, the female force of the universe, and worked with other high deities to create and maintain the cosmos. Her devotees turned to her for aid them in transcending human limitations such as death and ignorance, helping them become perfected and immortal beings. There were many methods to reach Daoist spiritual purity, including giving up eating normal food (grain). Special medicines made of mica, pine resin, and many herbs could both diminish hunger and thirst in fasting, and contribute to the development of special powers.35 As well as uniting in holy marriage with a deity of the opposite sex, a person aiming for Daoist perfection and immortality could also be tutored by a deity of the opposite sex in how to meditate and what elixirs or special potions to drink.

    The Queen Mother of the West brought followers to spiritual attainments through the experience of divine passion. Divine passion was the desire of deities and humans for mutual union and communication, spiritual union aiming at spiritual development, but described in sensual terms. The Queen Mother had liaisons with sage kings, historical emperors, poets and male Daoists. Tang poets wrote frequently about those meetings, but even more about her visits to their contemporaries and themselves, and their journeys to her beautiful, joyful paradise. The poems reflect their desire to find a divine teacher to show them the meaning of life, let them experience perfect fulfillment, and free them from ignorance, suffering, and death.

    Tang poets used the same kind of language in describing their love affairs with Daoist priestesses and nuns, or when courting them. They used the same language of beauty and power and imagination and transcendence in writing to, for, and with courtesan entertainers, whom they compared to the Queen Mother’s attendants. This was an imaginative space for divine love and love-poetry. As one poet praised an entertainer:

    Sounds of tubes and strings congeal; the singing she produces is so lofty.

    How many people, in the region of the heart, conceal a wounding knife?

    I think and measure again: what would bear comparison?

    Just a single tree, newly opened, of the Queen Mother’s peaches.36

    This page titled 8.8: The Queen Mother of the West is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sarah Schneewind (eScholarship) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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