Xuan Nü, Dark or Mysterious Lady

Today is the 15th of the 3rd lunar month. It caught me by surprise, actually, my mental calendar was a day off! The astronomical full moon isn’t until 12:57pm PST tomorrow. By the way, there will be a lunar eclipse in Scorpio, which will be visible pretty much everywhere in the world except for North America. Today, however, is the celebration day of Jiu Tian Xuan Nü (九天玄女), the Dark or Mysterious Lady of the Ninth Heaven. Morpheus Ravenna recently wrote an excellent post critiquing the concept of the “Dark Goddess” as it relates to An Morrígan. In Chinese, the word “Xuan” (玄) can mean either “dark” or “mysterious/profound.” Therefore, one could literally call Xuan Nü a “dark goddess,” based on her name. The story about her, however, tends to suggest less “moral darkness” and more of an association with “mystery.” The Handbook of Chinese Mythology tells that Huang Di engaged in a long campaign against the war god Chiyou. There are many different variations in the story, including some where Xuan Nü’s intervention is critical:

Some versions maintain that after Huang Di fought against Chiyou many times and still could not win, he retreated with his army to Mount Tai. There was a thick fog lasting for three days. In the fog, Huang Di saw a lady with a woman’s head and a serpent’s body. He kowtowed, bowed twice, flattened himself agains tht eground, and did not dare to stand up. The lady said, “I am Xuan Nü [literally means ‘Dark Lady,’ a Taoist goddess in later tradition – this was the editors’ note, not mine]. What do you want to ask me?” Huang Di answered, “I hope I can get myriad attacks, myriad wins.” So the goddess taught him the art of war, and he defeated Chiyou in the end. (141)

Deng Ming-Dao reminds us in today’s entry in The Lunar Tao that “The Mysterious Lady holds both a sword and a gourd–that symbol of healing and immortality. The warrior goddess takes life and gives life. That is sometimes necessary, and none of us should shirk when we must–perhaps when there’s no other choice–go into battle” (89).

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