Mighty Mom of Mythistory
Out of the myriad divinities from China’s Mythistory, who is the one goddess everyone should know? The mother of the Chinese people—the most storied and revered of China’s ancient goddesses—Nü Wa.
Legends describe Nü Wa (pronounced new wha) as a deity with a dragon-esque lower body. She lived on paradisal Mount Kunlun—a Taoist haven of lore and home to a host of primordial immortals. Numerous historic texts credit Nü Wa with creating mankind and all living creatures, saving us from a blitz of catastrophes, and so much more.
Meet the Middle Kingdom’s foremost mighty mom.
Nü Wa the Creator
When Earth was newly forged, it was a quiet and uninhabited place. One day, Nü Wa came across a gentle river. Drawn by its sparkling waters, she paused to take a long, pensive gaze at her own reflection.
And then it clicked. She realized what the desolate world was missing.
Getting down on her knees, Nü Wa scooped up yellow clay and began kneading tiny figures that looked just like herself. One by one the bitty bods rose up and danced.
However, this task soon proved too slow and laborious for the goddess’s ambitions. She plucked a branch off a nearby willow, and with a dip and a swish, cast out countless silty splatters. As the droplets landed, each morphed into a little person that instantly pulsed to life. Thus the world was populated and its drear dispelled.
Nü Wa the Superheroine
The newborn folks lived happily…but not ever after. Before long, raging fires, devastating floodwaters, and terrifying beasts plagued her realms. The four pillars supporting the heavens crumbled. The sky ruptured. The land cleaved. The planet itself began keeling southeast. (Legend says this caused the Earth’s axial tilt, celestial bodies’ northwest-bound orbits, China’s landscape to be higher in the western regions, and most of its rivers to flow toward the southeast.)
Mighty mom to the rescue! First, Nü Wa smelted an alloy of five colored stones. Blue, red, yellow, white, and black—the quintet embodied the essence of the Five Elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Using this magical mortar, Nü Wa spent nine days patching the skies. She then sacrificed the legs of a titanic tortoise to replace the pillars of heaven. Nü Wa travelled far and wide quelling fires, floods, and fiends. Finally, peace was restored. And her children could sing and dance once more.
Nü Wa’s Legacy
Nü Wa is often ranked as one of the Three Sovereigns from the bedrock of Chinese Mythistory. She’s a creator and protector. She contrived matrimony between man and woman, and became patroness of marriage, fertility, and childbirth. She invented ancient musical instruments like the hulusi gourd-flute, bamboo flute, and reed pipe. Together with husband Fuxi, she restored order in the world and established a way of life for humans.
We owe much to China’s first mighty mom. Thus the one goddess to know from early Mythistory? Definitely Nü Wa.
Ancient China was a land where gods and mortals lived in tandem and created a divinely inspired culture. And so it became that early Chinese history and mythology are wholly intertwined. Our new “Mythistory” series introduces you to the main characters of the marvelous legends of China.