Xi Wang Mu
Xi Wang Mu, the great queen mother of the west, was worshipped by everybody. She is a mediator between the human and the divine. She was a gatekeeper for Immortality which she could bestow on those she thought worthy. But how is it that in a land where women are defined only by their relationship to men, mother, daughter, or wife, did a women gain so much prominence and come to represent such an ideal of character?
We learn about Xi Wang Mu only by what is written about her, and all these texts were written by men. This is something that must be taken into account as we explore Xi Wang Mu’s position in China. She had already attained some importance even before the development of Daoism as a religion. The Zhuang Zi mentions her and says she acquired the dao. This is of course from a text about what is best called daoist philosophy: however this connection to attaining the dao from a source that seems to have informed some of the daoist religious’ schools of thought may be one of the things that lead to her exalted position inside the very patriarchal Chinese culture.
Could Xi Wang Mu also have served as a kind of pressure valve? Perhaps having this great women in the west to look to served a need for women in china in order to give them some sense of self worth instead of their only worth coming from their relationship with the various men in their lives. Allowing for the image of a woman in power in the west may have helped women in their everyday lives deal with some of the stress of their position in society. She certainly was held in high regard by women. Indeed her and her handmaidens are the special patron of all women but in particular of those women who held positions where they were acquiring their own wealth.
She also served to represent the other side of things for the followers of some forms of religious daoism. In basing the theory of how the universe is put together on the idea of yin and yang, it created the need to give...