The Nine Emperor Gods are the sons of Father Emperor Zhou Yu Dou Fu Yuan Jun (斗父周御國王天尊) and the North Star Dou Mu Yuan Jun (斗母元君).
They are the seven (visible) stars that make up the Big Dipper, plus another two (invisible) ‘assistant’ stars.
The Nine Emperor Gods are often wrongly conflated with folk heroes like the sea pirates of the Ming dynasty who plotted to overthrow the Qing dynasty. They are actually high ranking Star Lords who preside over the movement of planets and coordinate mortal Life and Death issues.
Their parents, Dou Fu and Dou Mu, hold the Registrar of Life and Death.
The festival for the Emperor Gods lasts nine days, from the eve of the ninth lunar month.
A couple of years ago, when I was on one of my wanders around George Town, Penang, I came across a part of town flying yellow banners as there was a temple there dedicated to the nine gods. That visit was a rainy one and apparently it tends to rain a lot during the Emperor Gods festival. Here’s the boat that would have been carried in a procession to the sea at the climax of the festival:
During that visit I also visited the Lee Clan Jetty and saw this offering and flag at the end of the walkway:
I’ve been planning to go back to witness the procession at the end of the festival, but life has got in the way and, this year, Covid-19.
There is a temple (Kau Ong Ya) dedicated to the nine gods in Ampang (just on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur), but I have never got around to going for the festival although I did visit once, on a Datuk Gong hunting expedition. If I can find the pictures I took, I will post them.
This post is by no means a definitive guide to the deities known collectively as Datuk Gong, but rather simply a general overview of their worship.
While I have a great interest in these deities, I know very little about them. What I do know has been acquired through reading online articles, Wikipedia entries and some academic texts; and also from conversations with various people, including those who revere the deities, but, unfortunately, do not have in-depth knowledge of them.
Statues of this deity have long fascinated me because of their appearance. Many I know would cringe at Fa Zhu Gong’s coal-black face, bulbous forehead, and his bulging eyes, but there must be a reason for them.
I have yet to find any recorded research that touches on Fa Zhu Gong’s appearance, but one online seller of a statue of the deity attributes his black skin to a fight he had with a fireball-wielding demon.
In any case, when he was a mortal, Fa Zhu Gong was said to be a helpful individual who never hesitated to assist those in need. He healed the sick and defended the weak, and was eventually venerated for his good deeds.
The cobra that is often depicted coiled around his arm was a beast he subdued and made his pet. The deity was able to transform the snake into a whip, which he used to fight evil, particularly when treating the victims of demonic possession. Continue reading “Fa Zhu Gong”→
Mazu (媽祖) is a Chinese sea goddess. Some say she was a tenth century shaman called Lin Moniang (林默娘) who was deified as the protector of seafarers. Myths and legends ascribe various heroic deeds to her, all to do with the sea.
So popular a goddess is she that Mazu is regarded as the Queen of Heaven (天后, Tianhou), the wife of the Jade Emperor. She is also known as Heavenly Consort (天妃); and Holy Heavenly Mother (天上聖母, Tianhou Shengmu). However, some legends say that she is celibate.
One story tells that the demons Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er competed for Mazu’s hand in marriage, but when she defeated them both in combat, they swore eternal loyalty to her and became her guardians. Thus, you can find their statues or images at Mazu temples.
The Jade Emperor (玉皇) is the chief of the Daoist gods. His names include Heavenly Grandfather (天公, Tiān Gōng) and the Great Emperor of Jade (玉皇上帝, Yu Huang Shangdi or 玉皇大帝, Yu Huang Dadi).
The Jade Emperor is said to have inherited his post from the first of the Three Pure Ones, the Jade Pure One (Yuqing 玉清), also known as The Celestial Worthy of the Primordial Beginning (Yuanshi Tianzun 元始天尊). In time, the Heaven-honoured One of the Dawn of Jade of the Golden Gate (金闕玉晨天尊) will replace Yuanshi Tianzun.
The Jade Emperor lives in his palace in heaven with his wife the Jade Empress, Tianshang Shengmu (天上聖母, Holy Heavenly Mother), who is often conflated with Mazu (媽祖), and their large family. Continue reading “The Jade Emperor”→
In her earliest incarnation, in pre-Daoism fifteenth century BCE, she was depicted with tiger’s teeth and panther’s tail. As the Daoist goddess Xi Wangmu (西王母), or Queen Mother of the West, she was made feminine and beautiful, but is still sometimes depicted riding a tiger or in the company of tigers.
By second century BCE she was known to be the dispenser of prosperity, longevity, and eternal bliss.
In the garden of her palace in the mythological Mount Kunlun, the Queen Mother of the West grew immortality peaches which ripened every three thousand years.
Some tales name her as the creator of the Daode jing (道德經). She is said to have then shared the text with Laozi (老子). Naturally, there are tales that have the Queen Mother playing second fiddle to the old man. Whatever the case may be, she is said to embody the Daoist female principle of yin and is extensively referred to in Tang Dynasty poetry about Daoist women.
Unlike the Western meaning of Queen Mother (the mother of a monarch), Xi Wangmu’s title means that she is both a Queen and a Mother.
Dǒumǔ (斗母) is the mother of the Big Dipper, who are of course seven of the nine stars that make up the Nine Emperor Gods. Her other names include Dǒumǔ Yuánjūn (斗母元君) or Lady Mother of the Chariot; Tàiyī Yuánjūn (太一元君) or Lady of the Great One; Tiānhòu (天后) or Queen of Heaven; Dàomǔ (道母) or Mother of the Way; and Tiānmǔ (天母) or Mother of Heaven.
As the Nine Emperor Gods are seen as nine-fold manifestations of Dòufù (斗父 ) or Father of the Great Chariot, the God of Heaven, Dǒumǔ is both wife and mother of the God of Heaven. She is also identified as the ambiguous goddess of life and death Xi Wangmu, or the Queen Mother of the West.
When Zhongli Quan ( 钟离权) was born, light filled the room and it was evident from his features, which included a broad forehead, thick ears and scarlet lips, that he was destined for greatness.
Known also as Han Zhongli(汉钟离) because is said he was born during the Han dynasty, Zhongli Quan became a member of court and an army general. During a battle with Tibetan forces, Zhongli’s troops were overpowered, forcing him to flee to the mountains. There he encountered an elderly man who gave him shelter and taught him the art of alchemy, Daoist philosophy and magic. Thereafter, Zhongli was told to serve his people, which he did, helping the less fortunate in various ways.
Eventually, as a result of his use of powers for good and meditation, he ascended to the shimmering cloud of the immortals.
Zhongli is depicted as a smiling, bearded fat man with a bare midriff. He carries either a peach (symbol of immortality) or a feathered fan with which he wields power over the seas and the forces of life and death).
Zhang Guolao (張果老) was a Taoist occultist, alchemist and hermit who lived on Zhongtiao Mountain in Hengzhou during the Tang Dynasty. Fond of wine, Zhang made his own from herbs. He was also a master of qigong (氣功).
Known for his eccentricity, Zhang was apparently fond of making himself invisible, causing flowers to wilt by pointing at them and even catching birds in midflight.
He is usually depicted riding a white donkey or mule, which he sits on facing its rear. It is said that, at the end of any journey made, Zhang Guolao would fold up his donkey and place it in his pocket or a small receptacle. When he wished to ride once more, Zhangwould then spit water at it and it would then gain its size and form again.
Although shown as an elderly man (lao 老 means old), Zhang is the patron deity of young families and the bringer of male heirs.
Han Xiangzi (韓湘子) is believed to have been the great-nephew of Han Yu, a Tang Dynasty politician, poet and Confucian scholar.
It is said he studied Taoist magical arts under the guidance of Lu Dongbin, rejecting his uncle’s plans to have him enter government service. Han Yu, who raised Han Ziangzi after the death of the latter’s parents, married his nephew to the daugher of another scholar. However, Han Xiangzi left his family to join Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan in order to cultivate himself according to Daoist doctrine.
Han Xiangzi eventually became immortal, but his uncle was adamant that he give up Daoism. During a banquet in honour of Han Yu’s birthday, Han Xiangzi magically produced a bouquet of peonies. On the petals of the flowers appeared the following verse, in gold:
Clouds shroud Qin Peak, where is my abode?
Snow is piled on Languan (Blue Pass), and my horse will not push on
Years later, when Han Yu was banished by the Emperor Xianzong to Chaozhou, his journey to that city was impeded by heavy snowfall on Languan. Recalling Han Xiangzi’s prophecy, Han Yu wept, but his great-nephew miraculously appeared before him and swept the snow away. It was then that Han Yu converted to Daoism.
Han Xiangzi is usually depicted playing or holding a dizi (Chinese flute). He is the patron deity of flautists.