Goddess Mago, Ma_Ku, Magu
Goddess of China, Korea and Japan
By Dr Tricia Szirom
The spiritual traditions of Asia have a greater focus on the feminine as divine and many Goddess representations that have not been available to women in the West where the patriarchal monotheisms have dominated religious belief. Kwan Yin is one of the Asian Goddesses who has been increasingly adopted and venerated in the Western world, however there are many other images and representations, which have not become so well known. One such example is Mago.
As with other representations of the divine, the stories associated with Mago have cultural differences even with the similarities that exist across time and place. For example in China she is known as Ma Gu, a beautiful young woman whose name means cannabis/ hemp or aunt/maid. In some parts of China she is the Goddess of spring, health and healing. In Korea She is Mago the originator and administrator of earth’s unfolding. In Japan she is known as MaKu. The Goddess in Her many forms and representations is fluid in manifestation, borrowing from other cultures and stories. This is equally true of Mago and Her name can mean maiden, priestess, or even ‘cannabis’ depending on the various cultures and languages in which She is present.
According to Hwang, the Korean Goddess Mago is the equal of Xiwangmu (the Supreme Goddess of Daoism) and Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess of the Japanese imperial family), who together are the pantheon of East Asian cosmic goddesses. While Xiwagmu and Amaterasu are well known, Mago and Her Korean history are still relatively invisible.
She is the ancestor of all races. She takes care of everything on earth via the equilibrium of cosmic music/sound/vibration.
In Chinese art Magu is usually shown carrying cannabis or hemp or with a basket of peaches the meaning of which are outlined in the following story which has been summarized from a variety of sources:
In the period 420 – 589 when many Chinese and people from ethnic minorities lived together, Magu and her father, Ma Qiu, were both from an ethnic minority. This was a time of war and lifewas hard for ordinary and food was short. Magu’s father breedhorses in a market town and Magu made hers by sewing for rich people.
One day, one of the women she worked for gave Magu a peach which she carried it home to share with her father. On the way she saw an old woman wearing yellow clothes collapse, and while people gathered around no one offered her food. MaGu immediately offered her peach to help revive the old woman. The old woman thanked her and asked if she also had a little porridge to spare. Magu asked her to wait and hurried home to cook some porridge.
When her father heard what his daughter was doing he became angry and said that she could not cook porridge for a stranger; to be sure he locked her in. When Magu heard that her father was asleep she filled a bowl with from the pan to take to the old woman. She went back to the spot where the old woman had collapsed by she was gone. However, Magu found a peach stone.
In a dream that night Magu dreamt about the old woman who thanked her and told her “that the peach had given her life”. In the morning Magu planted the peach stone which now had magical powers so that after a year it had grown into a large peach tree. To everyone’s amazement it flowered after a few months and not long after produced big red peaches. Magu picked the peaches and gave them to poor, old people who were filled for days and cured of minor ailments. As a result people now call kind hearted Magu “Xian Gu” or a Goddess or one of the immortals, and say that her gift of peaches should be named “MaGu Xian Shou” or “Magu offers life”.
Other representations of Magu in Chinese art show her with a fawn. Her hair is usually worn in a chignon and she has extremely long nails which are the subject of early poetry. Due to her association with both beauty and longevity she often appears on birthday cards in China. She was also the personification of beauty, elegance and youthfulness so that elixirs were made in her honour.
According to Helen Hye-Sook Hwang in her paper on the Female Principle in the Magoist Cosmogony, Mago is the great Goddess of East Asia who is not really known in modern times; although her original story was written in the fifth century in the Budoji (ancient Korean text) and dates back several thousand years BCE well before patriarchal domination. She goes further in claiming that:
Magoism offers a consistent view that names the history of humanity as gynocentric. It is one way, perhaps one of the oldest ways, of looking at the present in light of its gynocentric origin and the cross-cultural unities of pre- and proto-patriarchal times.
Helen explains that, in Korea, what she calls Magoism is a gynocentric consciousness, where Mago and her two daughters form a trinity, reproduce by parthenogenesis and are embodied in the ‘ Eight Female Musical Pitches’.
Magoism refers to the anciently originated cultural matrix of East Asia, which venerates Mago as originator, progenitor,and sovereign Mago as originator completes and maintains the self-equilibrating power of the universe. According to the cosmogonic narratives of the Budoji and folktales from Korea, Mago moves and relocates the primordial water and land including mountains, megaliths, rivers, ponds, and villages (Hwang).
The story of Mago commences with the music of the stars, of the universe. When this heavenly music came into optimal harmony Mago birthed Herself and is the strong, wise Mother Goddess whose name means both Goddess and Grandmother. At this, the beginning of the universe, Mago births her daughters by parthenogenesis and her two daughters birth both male and female children until there are 3000 children living in Mago’s paradise. At this point in the myth Mago and her daughters produce humans who split the paradise with dissent and Mago gradually withdrew.
According to Nguyen Ngoc Tho, worship of Mago is a ‘natural’ religion coming from from a polytheistic tradition with special acknowledgement of the Goddess as Mother. Natural Goddesses are the creators and originators of the universe. Anceint peoples did not understand the role of men in procreation and believed that women as women conceived from the light of the moon. Chinese worship of the divine as feminine is particularly strong in the areas of Ling’nan where Goddess manifestations are extremely popular.
It is not clear whether Mago is the earliest East Asian as goddesses without names have been unearthed in “pre-historic” archaeological sites and written history doesn’t exist pre-patriarchy. However, a life-sized goddess statue was unearthed in an ancient site in the northeastern region of China which dates from 4,700 to 2,900 BCE. The heavy use of jade along with the partly bear-figured female icon is congruent with the account of Magoism in the Budoji. Daoist scholar Robert Ford Campany states that the worship of Mago dates back to the Stone Age.
While the rise of patriarchy in East Asia did not remove the Goddess to the same extent as happened in the West, unfortunately various Goddesses lost their status as creator and mother of the world. This happened to Mago. In addition, translations into English were done by men, who brought with them a patriarchal cultural bias; they could not conceive of an ultimate female deity.
According to the Han Bear Society, there have been waves of oppression of the Mago practice of shamanism and its tantric sexual practice became reason for ‘witch hunts’. During the emergence of Confusionism even priestesses of Mu Dang chose to live as Confucian. Goddess worship was considered to be primitive and only the practice of the uneducated and simple minded. At this time Ma Go ‘transformed’ to Mountain Goddess as Grandmother spirit of the Ancestor.
However, in spite of oppression, Magoism has never completely disappeared, although it has been truncated, distorted, and eroded. This is apparently the case in Korea over the past three or four hundred years and is replicated in Japan and China.
However, traces of Magoism abound in East Asia in the form of not only written and oral texts but also in the religious and cultural practices that have survived until today. In other words, Magoism is a living tradition. The recent publication of the Budoji (Epic of the Emblematic City) heralds another new time, in which the archaically-originated reality of Magoism revives. While recovering and examining these materials, this paper ultimately illumines the making of an East Asian feminist perspective of Magoism, which I call feminist Magoism or Magoist feminism.
Magu with her ancient lineage provides yet another strand of evidence of a world-wide belief in a Mother Goddess who was the creator of life, gave birth to the human race and provided a nurturing and caring environment for them to live in.
Sources of Information
Nami Lee Reflections on Mago, a Goddess in Korea: A Creator Symbol in Korean Myth. Dr Lee’s Psychoanalysis clinic, Nami Lee is an Jungian Psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist in Seoul, Korea
Deepak Shimkhada and Phyllis K. Herman Editors, (2008) The Constant and Changing Faces of the Goddess: Goddess Traditions of Asia. Cambridge Scholars Publishing
The Han Bear Society was established by Master Godam in order to revive the long-forgotten Mago tradition and transmit the true nature of Mu-ism, the oldest form of Shamanism in the world.
Patricia Monaghan, Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines
Nguyen Ngoc Tho, Goddess Beliefs in Chinese Ling’nan Area, Ph. D. Candidate in Culture Studies Department of Culture Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, VNU-HCMC
Patricia Bjaaland Welch Chinese art: a guide to motifs and visual imagery