The Motherly Matriarch
Origin of the Motherly Matriarch
As the sea protector worshiped by people in the southeastern coastal area as well as by overseas Chinese, the Motherly Matriarch ( 媽祖 Mazu ) was also known as Heavenly Consort ( 天妃 Tianfei ), Queen of Heaven, Lady Heavenly Consort and Goddess of Heaven, etc. According to the Supreme Venerable Sovereign' Book of the Miracles of the Heavenly Consort Who Saves from Disasters ( 太上老君說天妃救苦靈驗經 Taishang Laojun Shuo Tianfei Jiuku Lingyan Jing ), the Supreme Venerable Sovereign conferred on the Motherly Matriarch the title of 'Heavenly Consort of Universal Salvation, Demonstrator of Benevolence in Brilliant Communion, Sublime and Numinous Protector of People, Guardian of the Kingdom, Trustworthy Saviour in Numinous Communion, Pure and Orthodox Promoter of Filial Piety, and Assistant of the Big Dipper' ( 輔斗昭孝純正靈應孚濟護國庇民妙靈昭應弘仁普濟天妃 Fudou Zhaoxiao Chunzheng Lingying Fuji Huguo Bimin Miaoling Zhaoying Hongren Puji Tianfei ). The records about the Motherly Matriarch started to appear in the Northern Song dynasty. It is said that the Motherly Matriarch was born in the first Jiannong year of the first Song emperor (AD 960) and was the daughter of Lin Yuan, who was a high-ranking military official. The Motherly Matriarch's personal name was Moliang. She died in the fourth Yongxi year of the Song emperor Tai (AD 984) at the age of 28. It is said that when she was born, the room was filled with red light and strange smoke. She was born one month old and didn't cry even once. So she was called Moniang, which means 'Silent Girl'. She started to attend a village school at the age of eight and showed a special interest in burning incense and worshiping Buddha. She was taught Daoist books and secret skills at the age of thirteen, and granted a mysterious talisman at sixteen. Since then, she was able to stretch a straw mat to sea, saving people in danger. After her ascension, she always responded quickly to prayers. Since the Xuanhe year, between the Northern and Southern Song dynasties, she was granted various titles nine times, which continually increased her importance and prestige. Her original title 'Madam' was replaced by 'Higher Consort' in the Shaoxi year of Southern Song dynasty emperor Guang (AD 1190). Then her title was changed to 'Heavenly Consort' during the first Yuan emperor's reign, then, further, to 'Queen of Heaven' during reign of the Qing emperor Kangxi. During reign of the Qing emperor Jiaqing, the titles conferred on the Motherly Matriarch added up to 28 Chinese characters.
Salvation for People
Most stories about the Motherly Matriarch were related to her salvation of people stranded in the sea. It is said that she could save people from far away with the help of two aids: her Penetrating Eyes ( 千里眼 Qianli Yan ) and Penetrating Ears ( 順風耳 Shunfeng Er ). Usually dressed in red, the Motherly Matriarch traveled among the islands on clouds. When ships sailing on the sea were hit by storms and people on board recited the Motherly Matriarch's sacred titles, she would emerge to help. According to the Supreme Venerable Sovereign's Book of the Miracles of the Heavenly Consort Who Saves from Disasters, the Motherly Matriarch's obligations included saving wrecks, people in danger, and innocent souls seeking for release. In later periods, her obligation was enlarged. In the Daoist book mentioned above, she claimed to save businessmen, farmers, craftsmen, soldiers, women suffering from difficult labor, and patients if they call her name piously and let her know their wishes. So in folk culture, she was also called 'Auntie Who Delivers Babies'.
Worship for the Motherly Matriarch
In most parts of China's southeastern coastal area, there are temples dedicated to the Motherly Matriarch, among which the oldest one was in Putian county of Quanzhou city, Fujian province. In Taiwan province, there are 74 temples dedicated to the Motherly Matriarch, 39 of which have a reliable history as to their origin and development. Among these temples, two were constructed in the Ming dynasty and 37 in the Qing dynasty. It is said that the Motherly Matriarch was born on the 23rd day of the third lunar month, a day when memorial activities such as worshiping rituals and parades of Motherly Matriarch statues would be held by the different temples dedicated to the Motherly Matriarch, among which the temple in Putian, Fujian province and Chaotian temple in Beigang, Taiwan were most influential. Even today, worship for the Motherly Matriarch remains prosperous in terms of the number of believers as well as the scale of its rituals.
The Belief Motherly Matriarch
The Motherly Matriarch (Mazu) cult began in the coastal areas and has lasted for one thousand years.
The Motherly Matriarch, also called the Heavenly Empress, originated as a goddess at Putian in Fujian Province. The Mengliang lu, written by Wu Zimu, stated that there was a Holy Consort Temple of Shunji ( 順濟聖妃廟 Shunji Shengfei Miao ) in Hangzhou during the Southern Song Dynasty. According to the temple records, the goddess was surnamed Lin, and came from Putian in Fujian. She performed numerous miracles when she was alive, and was enshrined in the memorial temple after her death. The imperial court bestowed an inscribed tablet and conferred on her the title of Madame. She protected the boats in the sea and was concerned about the weals and woes of the people. Another document recorded that she was the sixth daughter of Lin Yuan, who was an official in Putian in the Five Dynasties. People also believed that she was the daughter of a fisherman. When Zheng He traveled to the South Seas in the Ming Dynasty, he consecrated the Heavenly consort in his ship. Whenever he was confronted with difficulties, he would call the goddess's name and she respond to him rapidly. When she replied, there would be divine light shining on the mast. Once her divine light appeared, safety would return immediately. (cf. Zheng He's Records of Communications with Foreign Countries ( 通番記 Tongfan Ji )). From the Song to the Yuan and Ming dynasties, ocean shipping played a very important role in the national economy and the people's livelihood. Each imperial court paid much attention to Mazu, the patron goddess of the sea. She was referred to as a consort in the Song, and was conferred the title of " Heavenly Consort under the Nation's Patronage" in the eighteenth year of the zhiyuan reign the Yuan dynasty. During the reign of emperor Kang Xi, wars broke out for the purpose of unifying the two sides of the Taiwan Straits. The Government needed her protection and gave her the title of " Celestial Empress and Holy Mother ". Even longer titles were later given to her, reaching seventy characters in the eleventh year of Tong Zhi's reign.
Belief in the Celestial Empress actually originated from folk beliefs. The Imperial court promoted her position, but the common people still worshiped her according to their own understanding and feeling. People in Fujian call her " Mazu", which refers to an unmarried girl of the older generation. By this name, we can sense the intimacy between her and her followers. In folk legends, it is believed that when confronted with big trouble, call her " Mazu" and she will immediately come for salvation. If you address her as " Celestial Empress", she needs time to put on her court dress, so it wastes time.
Some Daoist scriptures explain the origin of the Motherly Matriarch belief, and several folk traditions also provide explanations.
The Motherly Matriarch belief originated among the common people; there were no official books about her. The Book of the Miracles of the Heavenly Consort Told by the Supreme Venerable Sovereign ( 太上老君說天妃靈驗經 Taishang Laojun Shuo Tianfei Lingyan Jing ) appeared in the Ming Dynasty. It collected stories and legends about her and praised her miracles and efficaciousness. The scripture said that her experiences were very unusual. The Supreme Venerable Sovereign observed in the Realm of No Extremity that the ship and boats went back and forth in the sea, with waves surging turbulently. If obstructed by wind, rain, thunder or lightning, the boats would turn over and people died. It was difficult to survive. So he sent the Jade Maiden of Sublime Deeds ( 妙行玉女 Miaoxing Yunü ) down into the world and let her manifest herself as a person to save the living beings. This Immortal was the Motherly Matriarch, the later Heavenly Consort. This story tells us that she has long been accepted into Daoist theogony and worshipped as an important deity.
Common people have their own stories of the Heavenly consort. One of them is that she was born because she swallowed a Buddhist flower given by Bodhisattva Guanyin.
The Motherly Matriarch cult has crossed the boundaries of China and been introduced to countries where the overseas Chinese have settled.
She is a very important symbol of the national spirit on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The Motherly Matriarch is a patron goddess in the sea and is believed in by fishermen and boatmen. There are always terrifying waves in the sea, so people yearn for a powerful and kind-hearted god to protect them. This is the psychological reason of the Motherly Matriarch cult. On both sides of the Taiwan Strait, people could only use boats to go back and forth, so the Motherly Matriarch belief has become deeply rooted in people's hearts. The culture of Taiwan and the mainland have thus overlapped. Taiwan's folk culture shares its origins with that of South Fujian, which is the ancestral land of most Taiwanese people. People in the Qing said that when " going back and forth between the mainland and Taiwan, the goddess is extremely efficacious". When there was no advanced navigation technology, belief in the Motherly Matriarch has been a spiritual bond between the mainland and Taiwan. It is still a significant cultural and spiritual symbol and an important link between the two sides today.
In modern times, many Chinese in the coastal areas have traveled far across the oceans and made a living in foreign countries. So the cult of the Motherly Matriarch has been brought to the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Temples of the Celestial Empress have been built there. The Motherly Matriarch carries the seed of Chinese culture, showing that the Chinese will not forget their native culture.