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 Xiwangmu, or the Queen Mother of the West.
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.
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).
He is the patron of military soldiers.
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.
Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓) is the best known of the Eight Immortals and the only one who is venerated as an individual deity.
His real name is Lü Yan (呂巖) and he was a Tang Dynasty scholar and poet, and the disciple of Zhongli Quan (钟离权) another of the Eight Immortals.
It is said that Zhongli Quan put Lu Dongbin through ten trials before he agreed to take him on as a student.
Although a scholarly man with a kind heart and a calm disposition, Zhongli Quan is said to have a weakness for women. One of his lovers was a woman called White Peony and there are several versions of their relationship. However, in all of them, White Peony eventually achieves immortality for herself.
Lü Dongbin is usually depicted dressed as a scholar and wielding a two-handed sword or a fly-whisk, which symbolises the ability to fly.
Lu is the patron deity of doctors and literature, and is the protector against all evil spirits, which he defeats with his sword. He also ensures the success of off-spring.