In Chinese mythology, Xiwangmu (西王母), or Queen Mother of the West, is one of the most ancient and powerful goddesses in the pantheon. She has complete control over life, death, creation, and destruction. She is married to the Jade Emperor (玉皇) and tends to the Peaches of Immortality in their palace gardens. Xiwangmu is thought to have once been a wild female demon that lived in the mountains and caused cataclysmic disasters. She eventually repented, achieved enlightenment, and became a goddess.
The twelfth chapter of the [Shan-Hai Jing](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ClassicofMountainsandSeas), or the Classic of Mountains and Oceans, a famous Chinese text, describes Xiwangmu as a mysterious, yet powerful deity:
She is the controller of the Grindstone and the Five Shards constellations of the heavens. Xiwangmu rests on a stool and wears an ornament on her head. She holds a staff. In the south, there are three birds from which Xiwangmu takes her nourishment. They are found to the north of the Kunlun mountains.
Like many other high ranking deities, Xiwangmu has multiple names and honorary titles. Her most common name is simply xī wáng mǔ (西王母). Xī (西) is the Chinese character for West. Wáng (王) is an honorific title reserved for gods and emperors while mǔ (母) means “mother.” Her name is most often interpreted as “Queen Mother of the West.”
However, the phrase “wáng mǔ” has a couple of different meanings. Wáng mǔ is also a way of saying “grandmother,” so Xiwangmu’s name could also be interpreted as “Western Grandmother.” Wáng mǔ can also mean “deceased female relative,” so Xiwangmu’s name is sometimes interpreted as “Spirit (or Ghost) Mother of the West.”
Xiwangmu is also referred to as jīn mǔ (金母) or “Golden Mother.” In more friendly, colloquial terms, she is simply known “Aunt Mother Queen” or wáng mǔ niáng niang (王母娘娘).
In early Chinese texts, Xiwangmu has a wild, almost feral-like appearance that matched her ferocious personality. But, around the Tang Dynasty, popular opinion about Xiwangmu shifted dramatically. Texts described her as looking exactly like a normal human woman except for the fact that she has tiger’s teeth and a leopard’s tail. Xiwangmu is often depicted wearing a headdress that she uses to hide her wild, untamed hair.
Xiwangmu is married to the Jade Emperor (玉帝). Together they’re said to have an enormous amount of children, but three of their daughters play important roles in Chinese mythology. Zhusheng Niangniang (注生娘娘) is a fertility goddess that helps couples in need of children. Yenkuang Niangniang (眼光娘娘) is the protector of the blind and has the ability to grant the power of eyesight. Zhinü (織女), perhaps they’re most famous daughter, infamously fell in love with a human, much to her detriment.
In earlier myths when she was a mountain demon, Xiwangmu had a lover named Dongwanggong (東王公). While Xiwangmu ruled the east, Dongwanggong ruled the west. In some versions of the Chinese creation myth, they created humanity through their union.
Xiwangmu is the highest ranking and most powerful female deity in the Chinese pantheon. She has the ability to determine the lifespan of every living being, tends the Peaches of Immortality, and can manipulate the occurrences of major calamities.
Because her story is so old, there is no clear story of how Xiwangmu came into being. In earlier Chinese dynasties, she was actually seen as a negative, demonic figure who caused major floods, disasters, and disease. Popular opinion around Xiwangmu started changing around the Tang Dynasty and she began being seen as a repentant, benevolent goddess.
Xiwangmu lives in a forested garden in the Jade Emperor’s palace together with nature spirits, magical beasts, and her ladies in waiting. In her free time, she like to garden the Peaches of Immortality and rare herbs and plants. Every year on her birthday, Xiwangmu invites all the immortals in heaven to a party and gives them each a peach so that they can continue living eternal lives.
Xiwangmu is also known for being a little unpredictable. While the Jade Emperor is the embodiment of yang — the rational, level-headed, masculine energy in yin and yang — Xiwangmu is wild, untameable, and the pure embodiment of female yin energy.
Much like her daughter, Zhinü, the seamstress who fell in love with a cowherd, Xiwangmu is also a talented weaver and is said to weave the outlay of the night sky each night with all of its brilliant galaxies, planets, and stars.
Journey to the West
In Journey to the West, the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, a rebellious god who repeatedly defies the authority of the Jade Emperor, is put in charge of Xiwangmu’s garden of Immortality — a very important task since her coveted peaches only ripen once every 3,000 years.
Instead of guarding the peaches, however, Wukong ate all of them in an act of defiance to anger the Jade Emperor. Wukong was subsequently banished from heaven by Buddha and pinned underneath a mountain for 500 years.
Hou Yi and Chang’e
One of the most popular Chinese myths is the story of the archer Hou Yi (后羿) and his wife Chang’e (嫦娥). When the earth was still young, there were ten suns in the sky. It was incredibly hot all the time and there was no such thing as night. Hou Yi, a talented archer, shot down nine of the ten suns.
To reward him for his efforts, Xiwangmu gave Hou Yi an elixir of immortality. Before he was able to drink it, Chang’e stole the vial from him and drank it instead. She became immortal and fled to the moon to escape her husband’s wrath.
But absence must make the heart grow fonder! Hou Yi missed his wife so much, that he started leaving out sweet treats like moon cakes and fruits every night to appease her. It’s now considered tradition to leave out offerings to the spirit of the moon, Chang’e, during every Mid-Autumn Festival.
Interactions with Human Emperors
Xiwangmu is the only deity in the entire Chinese pantheon with the ability to talk directly to humans. Her peach tree, with its long roots and tall branches, served as an intermediary between earth and heaven. However, she exclusively spoke to Chinese emperors to give them the Mandate of Heaven and to teach them the secrets of immortality.
The Mandate of Heaven was considered to be the emperor’s divine right to rule. The first emperor to claim the Mandate of Heaven had been delivered to him by Xiwangmu was Emperor Shun of Shanxi. On the day that he was crowned, five major planets are said to have aligned.
In most of her reported interactions with the earthly kings, she usually takes on the role of a Taoist master and tries to teach the emperors her secrets to enlightenment. But, without fail, all the kings for some reason or another, fail her tests and remain mortal.
Xiwangmu is a very popular deity, especially among Taoists. Since she has control over any problems concerning health and fertility, celebrating her holiday (which falls annually on the autumn equinox) is very important.
Xiwangmu is an especially popular figure amongst women and is considered to be something of a mythological feminist icon because of her wild nature, vast powers, and independent streak.
Xiwangmu has been featured in quite a few times in popular culture. She’s featured as a character in Orson Scott Card’s novels Xenocide _and [Children of the Mind](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ChildrenoftheMind), and as a character in the [Shin Megami Tensei](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ShinMegamiTensei) and [Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom ](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor:RiseoftheMiddleKingdom)_ video games.
- Ancient History Encyclopedia - https://www.ancient.eu/MandateofHeaven/
- Encyclopedia Britannica - https://www.britannica.com/topic/Xiwangmu
- Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QueenMotheroftheWest
- Irwin , Lee. Divinity and Salvation: The Great Goddesses of China. Indiana University, 1990.
- Yang, Lihui, and Deming An. 2005. Handbook of Chinese mythology. Handbooks of world mythology. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781576078068 ISBN 9781576078075