A statue of the Lady of Linshui at the Lady Linshui Temple in Taiwan.

The ‘Lady of Linshui’ was born as the Shaman Chen Jinggu in either 766 or 904 CE, depending on the source. The 8th century date seems much more realistic as temples were said to have been erected in the late 700s in her honour. Her popularity led to her being declared the deity ‘Lady of Linshui’ in the 13th century.

Prior to her conception, the goddess Guanyin was said to have appeared to the people of a district near Quanzhou after pleas had been sent to her to build a bridge over a dangerous river. She told the crowd that she would marry anyone who could throw a coin that reached her, which none did. This led to the boat she was standing in being filled with coins, which in turn paid for the bridge. During this spectacle, a townsman threw a handful of silver powder at Guanyin, turning her hair white. The goddess disappeared in the water and the townsman followed her, killing himself in the dangerous waters. His death made her reappear and she reincarnated his soul by biting her finger and spitting the blood into the water. Guanyin then threw the strands of her white hair into the river which conjured a magical snake. This snake was fated to be the enemy of Chen Jinggu throughout her life. Drops of the blood of Guanyin were taken downriver and ended up on a plant leaf which was swallowed by the barren Lady Ge. This sacred blood instantly impregnated her and she gave birth to Chen Jinggu in a room that filled with perfume and music.

Chen Jinggu had been devoted to Guanyin since birth and had begun to show clairvoyant abilities by the age of four. Her early talents led to a journey to Mount Lu, where she learned both shamanism and martial arts. She quickly surpassed the talents of her teacher, becoming a master in both arts. On her return, she became a Shaman alongside two others whom she had trained Lin Jiuniang and Li Sanniang, forming a sisterhood. The three women then rode into a battle against the magical snake. Chen Jinggu armed herself with a sword that held the stars of the Ursa Major, or ‘Great Bear’ constellation in the northern sky. The snake attacked the palace of the King and after a battle in which it consumed his consorts, the three Shamans eventually drove it away.

The soul of the townsman who had attacked Guanyin was said to have been reincarnated in a scholar named Liu Qi; a man who Chen Jinggu had been fated to marry. The second stage of the battle between the snake and the Shaman came when the snake attacked Liu Qi and he was saved by the trio of Shaman. After this battle they fell in love and married, with Chen Jinggu falling pregnant shortly after. Around this time there was a severe drought in the area and the King asked Chen Jinggu to invoke the rain. This meant performing an intensive dance and ritual which she was too pregnant to perform. Instead, she temporarily removed the foetus and sealed it inside the placenta. This was hidden inside the house of Lady Ge to keep it safe from harm. While she was performing the ritual, the magical snake entered the house and ate the child which caused Chen Jinggu to instantly haemorrhage. A third battle began and the snake was killed with the last of her strength, before she passed away. Chen Jinggu was in her early 20s at the time of her death. It was said that her spirit returned to Mount Lu where she learned the art of childbirth. This enabled her to find the spirit of her unborn child and transform him into the child deity San Sheren.

The Lady of Linshui cult developed in the late 8th century in the Fujian Province. She was formally recognised in the Emperor’s Register of Sacrifices in approximately 1250 CE as the deity ‘Lady of Linshui’. The construction of a temple to house her mummified remains exists in the village of Daqiao. This temple was burnt down in 1875 but was later restored. The Chinese Communist takeover of Taiwan in the 1950s saw her statues being defaced and her worship suppressed as it was viewed with feudal superstition. However many locals in the area continued in the wake of the ban. Her most famous site is the Lady of Linshui temple in Tainan in Taiwan, which was originally built from straw in 1736. It was made into a solid installation in 1886 and renovated to its current state in 1983. The Lady of Linshui is believed to be the protector of women and children, specifically foetuses and infants. Women who are pregnant, or wish to be, often visit this temple where a Taoist priest will perform a protection ritual.

-Devon Allen
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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