Ma Gu
Ma Gu is a legendary Taoist xian
Xian (Taoism)
Xian is a Chinese word for an enlightened person, translatable in English as:*"spiritually immortal; transcendent; super-human; celestial being"...

 (仙 "immortal; transcendent") associated with the elixir of life
Elixir of life
The elixir of life, also known as the elixir of immortality and sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone, is a legendary potion, or drink, that grants the drinker eternal life and or eternal youth. Many practitioners of alchemy pursued it. The elixir of life was also said to be able to create...

, and symbolic protector of females in Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology
Chinese mythology is a collection of cultural history, folktales, and religions that have been passed down in oral or written tradition. These include creation myths and legends and myths concerning the founding of Chinese culture and the Chinese state...

. Stories in Chinese literature
Chinese literature
Chinese literature extends thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to the mature fictional novels that arose during the Ming Dynasty to entertain the masses of literate Chinese...

 describe Ma Gu as a beautiful young woman with long birdlike fingernails, while early myths associate her with caves. Ma Gu xian shou (麻姑獻壽 "Ma Gu gives her birthday greetings") is a popular motif in Chinese art
Chinese art
Chinese art is visual art that, whether ancient or modern, originated in or is practiced in China or by Chinese artists or performers. Early so-called "stone age art" dates back to 10,000 BC, mostly consisting of simple pottery and sculptures. This early period was followed by a series of art...


The name

Ma Gu's name compounds two common Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 words: ma "cannabis; hemp" and gu "aunt; maid".

Ma (the modern Chinese character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

 麻, which derives from a Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...

 bronze script ideograph
Ideograph is a term coined by rhetorical scholar and critic Michael Calvin McGee describing the use of particular words and phrases as political language in a way that captures particular ideological positions...

, shows 林 "plants" drying in a 广 "shed; shack") originally meant "hemp, Cannabis sativa". Cannabis has been continuously cultivated in China since Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 times (Li 1974:437); for example, hemp cords were used to create the characteristic line designs on Yangshao culture
Yangshao culture
The Yangshao culture was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the central Yellow River in China. The Yangshao culture is dated from around 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The culture is named after Yangshao, the first excavated representative village of this culture, which was discovered in 1921...

 pottery and the fibres were used to produce cloth prior to the introduction of cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

. Ma has extended meanings of "numbed; tingling" (e.g., mazui 麻醉 "anesthetic; narcotic"), "pockmarked; pitted" (mazi 麻子 "hemp seed; pockmark"), "sesame" (zhima 芝麻), and an uncommon Chinese surname
Chinese surname
Chinese family names have been historically used by Han Chinese and Sinicized Chinese ethnic groups in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and among overseas Chinese communities. In ancient times two types of surnames, family names and clan names , existed.The colloquial expressions laobaixing...


Gu (姑, combining the 女 "woman" radical
Radical (Chinese character)
A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose...

 and a gu 古 "old" phonetic) is primarily used in female Chinese kinship
Chinese kinship
The Chinese kinship system is classified as a Sudanese kinship system used to define family. Identified by Lewis Henry Morgan in his 1871 work Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, the Sudanese system is one of the six major kinship systems together with Eskimo, Hawaiian,...

 terms for "father's sister" (e.g., gugu 姑姑), "husband's sister" (dagu 大姑 "elder sister-in-law"), and "husband's mother" (wenggu 翁姑 "husband's parents"). Gu can also mean "young woman, maiden, maid" (guniang 姑娘 "girl; daughter; prostitute"), and religious titles (daogu 道姑 "Daoist priestess", nigu 尼姑 "Buddhist nun").

Translating Ma Gu into English is problematic, depending upon whether her name is interpreted as a "maid", "priestess", or "goddess" of "hemp", "marijuana", or something else. Victor H. Mair
Victor H. Mair
Victor Henry Mair is a Philologist specializing in Sinitic and Indo-European languages, and holds the position of Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States...

 (1990) proposed that Chinese wu
Wu (shaman)
Wu are spirit mediums who have practiced divination, prayer, sacrifice, rainmaking, and healing in Chinese traditions dating back over 3,000 years.-The word wu:...

 (巫 "shaman"), pronounced *myag in Old Chinese
Old Chinese
The earliest known written records of the Chinese language were found at a site near modern Anyang identified as Yin, the last capital of the Shang dynasty, and date from about 1200 BC....

, was a loanword from Old Persian *maguš "magician; magi", which is hypothetically comparable with Ma Gu.

Chinese Ma Gu (麻姑) is called Mago in Korean
Korean language
Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...

 and Mako in Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

. Mago (마고, 麻姑) is a cosmogonic goddess in Korean creation myths. Hwang (2004:1) calls her "the Great Goddess" and proposes "Magoism, the archaic gynocentric cultural matrix of East Asia, which derives from the worship of Mago as creatress, progenitress, and sovereign." According to the Budoji
Budoji is a narrative literature about the ancient Korean history written by Bak Je-sang during the period of King Nulji of Silla. In 1953, his descendant, Bak Geum , published the book, however, the original version has been unidentified. The published version of the current Budoji is a restored...

, Korean mytho-history began with the "Era of Mago." Japanese Mako (麻姑) is usually a literary reference to the Chinese story (below) about Ma Gu's long fingernails, for instance, Mako sōyō (麻姑掻痒 "Ma Gu scratches the itch") metaphorically means "things going like one imagined".

Cultic origins

While Ma Gu folktales are familiar in East Asia, the sociologist Wolfram Eberhard
Wolfram Eberhard
Wolfram Eberhard was a professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley focused on Western, Central and Eastern Asian societies.-Biography:...

 (1943, 1968:123-126) was the first Western scholar to analyze them. He categorized Ma Gu under a cultural chain of Yao
Yao people
The Yao nationality is a government classification for various minorities in China. They form one of the 55 ethnic minority groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China, where they reside in the mountainous terrain of the southwest and south...

 love songs and festivals. Based on references in Chinese texts, Eberhard proposed two centers for the Ma Gu cult, in the present-day provinces of Jiangxi
' is a southern province in the People's Republic of China. Spanning from the banks of the Yangtze River in the north into hillier areas in the south, it shares a border with Anhui to the north, Zhejiang to the northeast, Fujian to the east, Guangdong to the south, Hunan to the west, and Hubei to...

 and Hubei
' Hupeh) is a province in Central China. The name of the province means "north of the lake", referring to its position north of Lake Dongting...

. Evidence for an "original cultic center" (1968:124) near Nancheng (南城) county in southwestern Jiangxi includes several place names, including two mountains. The famous Ma Gu Shan (麻姑山 "Ma Gu Mountain") is located in Nancheng, and Taoists regard its Danxia Dong (丹霞洞 "Cinnabar Cloud Grotto", see Hahn 2007:29-30) as the 28th of 36 sacred dongtian (洞天 "Grotto-heavens
Grotto-heavens are a type of sacred Taoist site. Grotto-heavens are usually caves, mountain hollows, or other underground spaces. Because every community was supposed to have access to at least one grotto, there were many of them all over China. They were first organized systematically in the Tang...

, heaven-reaching grottos"). The famous Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 Daoist calligrapher Yan Zhengqing visited Mt Magu and inscribed the Magu Shan Xiantan Ji (痲姑山仙墰記 "Record of the Mountain Platform where Magu Ascended to Immortality"). A second Ma Gu Mountain is located in Jianchang county (建昌, near Nanfeng 南豐). Ma Gu Wine (麻姑酒) is made in Jianchang and nearby Linchuan. In addition, Ma Gu is an alternate name for Hua Gu (華姑 "flower maid") Mountain in Xuancheng
Xuancheng is a prefecture-level city in southeastern Anhui province of Eastern China. It borders Wuhu to the northwest, Chizhou to the west, Huangshan to the southwest, and the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu to the southeast and northeast respectively....

 county of Anhui
Anhui is a province in the People's Republic of China. Located in eastern China across the basins of the Yangtze River and the Huai River, it borders Jiangsu to the east, Zhejiang to the southeast, Jiangxi to the south, Hubei to the southwest, Henan to the northwest, and Shandong for a tiny...

. Evidence for a secondary area for the Ma Gu cult in Hubei includes the Song dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 temple near Hankou
Hankou was one of the three cities whose merging formed modern-day Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province, China. It stands north of the Han and Yangtze Rivers where the Han falls into the Yangtze...

, along with the Ma Gu Temple on Mount Heng
Mount Heng (Hunan)
Mount Heng , also known as Nan Yue , is located in Hunan Province, People's Republic of China and is one of the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism in China. Heng Shan is a mountain range long with 72 peaks and lies at 27.254798°N and 112.655743°E...

. Several early folktales from Sichuan province associate Ma Gu with caves and one describes a shaman who invoked her. Regarding the traditions that she was born in Jiangxi and became an immortal xian in Shandong
' is a Province located on the eastern coast of the People's Republic of China. Shandong has played a major role in Chinese history from the beginning of Chinese civilization along the lower reaches of the Yellow River and served as a pivotal cultural and religious site for Taoism, Chinese...

, Eberhard says.
This ascent to heaven, typical of Taoists, connects her with the immortal saints, and indeed she is regarded as a symbol of long life and rebirth, and therefore in the Chinese drama, appears a good omen during birthday celebrations. (1968:124)

Early descriptions

Campany (2002:259-270) provides details of Ma Gu mythology in his annotated translation of Ge Hong
Ge Hong
Ge Hong , courtesy name Zhichuan , was a minor southern official during the Jìn Dynasty of China, best known for his interest in Daoism, alchemy, and techniques of longevity...

's Shenxian zhuan
Shenxian zhuan
The Shenxian zhuan is a hagiography of xian "transcendents; immortals", partially attributed to the Daoist scholar Ge Hong . In the history of Chinese literature, the Shenxian zhuan followed the Liexian Zhuan "Biographies of Arranged Transcendents", attributed to the Confucian scholar Liu Xiang...

(神仙傳 "Biographies of Divine immortals", ca. 317 CE). He compares four Chinese textual variations of Ma Gu stories.

(1) The Shenxian Zhuan Daoist hagiography of Wang Yuan (王遠, or Wang Fangping 王方平) and Ma Gu has the longest early descriptions of her. Wang was supposedly a Confucianist scholar who quit his official post during the reign (146-168 CE) of Emperor Huan of Han
Emperor Huan of Han
Emperor Huan of Han, ch. 漢桓帝, py. hàn húan dì, wg. Han Huan-ti, was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty. He was a great-grandson of Emperor Zhang....

 and went into the mountains to became a Daoist xian. Later, while traveling in Wu (modern Zhejiang
Zhejiang is an eastern coastal province of the People's Republic of China. The word Zhejiang was the old name of the Qiantang River, which passes through Hangzhou, the provincial capital...

), Wang met Cai Jing 蔡經, whose physiognomy
Physiognomy is the assessment of a person's character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face...

 indicated he was destined to become an immortal, and taught him the basic techniques. After Cai had been gone for "over a decade", he suddenly returned home, looking like a young man, announced that Lord Wang would visit on the "seventh day of the seventh month" (later associated with the Cowherd and Weaver Girl lovers' festival), and ordered preparations for a feast. After Wang and his celestial entourage arrived on the auspicious "double-seven" day, he invited Ma Gu to join their celebration because "It has been a long time since you were in the human realm." She replied by invisible messenger. "Maid Ma bows and says: 'Without our realizing it, more than five hundred years have passed since our last meeting!'" After apologizing that she would be delayed owing to an appointment at Penglai Mountain
Penglai Mountain
Mount Penglai , or Penglai Island , is a mystical land found in Chinese mythology. The legend also passed into Japan, where it took shape as the legend of .-Location:...

 (a legendary island in the Eastern Sea, where the elixir of immortality grows), Ma arrived four hours later.
She appeared to be a handsome woman of eighteen or nineteen; her hair was done up, and several loose strands hung down to her waist. Her gown had a pattern of colors, but it was not woven; it shimmered, dazzling the eyes, and was indescribable – it was not of this world. She approached and bowed to Wang, who bade her rise. When they were both seated, they called for the travelling canteen. The servings were piled up on gold platters and in jade cups without limit. There were rare delicacies, many of them made from flowers and fruits, and their fragrance permeated the air inside [Cai's home] and out. When the meat was sliced and served, [in flavor] it resembled broiled mo, and was announced as kirin meat.

Maid Ma declared: "Since I entered your service, I have seen the Eastern Sea turn to mulberry fields three times. As one proceeded across to Penglai, the water came only up to one's waist. I wonder whether it will turn to dry land once again." Wang answered with a sigh, "Oh, the sages all say that the Eastern Sea will once again become blowing dust." (tr. Campany 2002:262)

Ma Gu legends frequently mention these mulberry fields in the East Sea (Christie 1968:50). When Ma Gu was introduced to the women in Cai's family, she transformed some rice into pearls as a trick to avoid the unclean influences of a recent childbirth. Then Wang presented Cai's family with a strong liquor from "the celestial kitchens", and warned that it was "unfit for drinking by ordinary people". Even after diluting the liquor with water, everyone became intoxicated and wanted more.
Maid Ma's fingernails resembled bird claws. When Cai Jing noticed them, he thought to himself, "My back itches. Wouldn't it be great if I could get her to scratch my back with those nails?" Now, Wang Yuan knew what Cai was saying in his heart, so he ordered him bound and whipped, chiding, "Maid Ma is a divine personage. How dare you think that her nails could scratch your back!" The whip lashing Cai's back was the only thing visible; no one was seen wielding it. Wang added, "My whippings are not given without cause." (tr. Campany 2002:263)

Some later versions of this legend say Ma was Wang's sister. The poet Li Bai
Li Bai
Li Bai , also known in the West by various other transliterations, especially Li Po, was a major Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty poetry period. He has been regarded as one of the greatest poets in China's Tang period, which is often called China's "golden age" of poetry. Around a thousand existing...

 immortalized two Classical Chinese
Classical Chinese
Classical Chinese or Literary Chinese is a traditional style of written Chinese based on the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Chinese, making it different from any modern spoken form of Chinese...

 expressions from this story. Ma Gu saobei (麻姑掻背 "Ma Gu scratches [my] back") refers to her extraordinary fingernails. Canghai sangtian (滄海桑田 "blue ocean [turns to] mulberry fields") means "great changes over the course of time"; Joseph Needham
Joseph Needham
Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham, CH, FRS, FBA , also known as Li Yuese , was a British scientist, historian and sinologist known for his scientific research and writing on the history of Chinese science. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, and as a fellow of the British...

 (1959:599-600) says early Daoists observed seashells in mountainous rocks and recognized the vast scale of geologic transformations.

(2) The Lieyi zhuan (列異傳 "Arrayed Marvels", late 2nd or early 3rd century), attributed to Cao Pi
Cao Pi
Cao Pi , formally known as Emperor Wen of Wei, was the first emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Born in Qiao County, Pei Commandery , he was the second son of the late Han Dynasty warlord Cao Cao.Cao Pi, like his father, was a poet...

 (187-226 CE) has three stories about Wang Fangping.
The third gives a version of the incident of Cai Jing's inappropriate fantasy concerning Maid Ma and her luxuriant four-inch nails. Here, Cai Jing's home is located in Dongyang; he is not whipped but rather flung to the ground, his eyes running blood; and Maid Ma herself, identified as "a divine transcendent" (shenxian), is the one who reads his thoughts and does the punishing. (Campany 2002:268)

Kohn's (1993:355-358, "The Hemp Lady") translation includes a woodblock from the illustrated Zengxiang Liexian zhuan.

(3) The Yiyuan (異苑 "Garden of Marvels", early 5th century), by Liu Jingshu (劉敬叔), records a story about Mei Gu (梅姑 "Plum Maid") or Ma Gu, and suggests her cult originated during the Qin Dynasty
Qin Dynasty
The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China, lasting from 221 to 207 BC. The Qin state derived its name from its heartland of Qin, in modern-day Shaanxi. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the 4th century BC, during the Warring...

 (221-206 BCE).
During Qin times, there was a Temple to Maid Mei 梅 – or, as one version has it, Maid Ma – beside a lake. When alive, she had possessed arts of the Dao. She could walk on water in her shoes. Later she violated the laws of the Dao, and her husband, out of anger, murdered her and dumped her body in the lake. Following the current, it floated on the waves until it reached the [present site of] the temple. A subordinate shaman directed that she be encoffined but not immediately buried. Very soon a square, lacquered coffin appeared in the shrine hall. [From then on], at the end and beginning of each lunar month, people there could make out through the fog an indistinct figure, wearing shoes. Fishing and hunting were prohibited in the area of the temple, and violators would always become lost or drown. Shamans said that it was because the Maid had suffered a painful death and hates to see other beings cruelly killed. (tr. Campany 2006:269)

Campany reads this legend to describe founding a temple, probably on Lake Gongting, and translates these "shaman" and "shrine" references in the future tense. Compare the present tense translation of Miyakawa (1979:86) who interprets her body floating to an existing temple.
(4) The Qi Xie ji (齊諧記, 6th century) associates Ma Gu with snakes. It describes her as a commoner from Fuyang, Zhejiang
Fuyang, Zhejiang
Fuyang a county-level city under jurisdiction of Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang province. Fuyang is located on the Fuchun River, a 285 mile long lower stream of Qiantang River, an important commercial artery, it flows NE to the East China Sea at Hangzhou...

, rather than a Daoist transcendent, who loved raw meat hash. She captured a strange beast resembling a sea turtle and a serpent, and ate it with her companion Hua Ben (華本 "Flower Root"). When Ma started choking, Hau could see a snake flicking its tongue inside her mouth. She later enjoyed a meal at Hua's house, but upon learning that they had eaten snake meat, she vomited blood and died. Campany concludes.
This story hints at an even older stratum of legend behind the Maid Ma cult: like other territorial gods known to Chinese religious history, she may have begun as a theriomorphic deity (perhaps snake-headed) who gradually metamorphosed into a human being and finally – the process culminating in Ge Hong's Traditions narrative – into a full-fledged transcendent. Seen in this light, several details of the Traditions hagiography might be read as betraying these chthonic origins. Among these are Maid Ma's long nails, the featuring of meat dishes among the fantastic foods served by the travelling canteen, and the scene describing the "summoning" of Maid Ma, which is reminiscent of shamanic invocations of deities to attend spirit-writing sessions. (2002:269-270)

Hemp goddess?

Ma Gu can be literally translated "Hemp Goddess/Priestess". The Way of Infinite Harmony
Way of Infinite Harmony
The Way of Infinite Harmony is a Taoist sect that worships Her Holiness Princess Ma Gu, Goddess of Hemp .The most famous story featuring Ma Gu is the Ma Gu Xian Shou...

 is a modern Taoist sect that worships Ma Gu and espouses the spiritual use of cannabis
Spiritual use of cannabis
Sacramental, religious and spiritual use of cannabis refers to cannabis used in a religious or spiritual context. Cannabis has an ancient history of ritual usage as an aid to trance and has been traditionally used in a religious context throughout the Old World....


Hellmut Wilhelm's book review (1944:213) of Eberhard's original German book (1943) suggested that Ma Gu was associated with cannabis. Eberhard dismissed this hypothesis in the English version.
I have no indication that the goddess ever was a goddess of the hemp plant (ma) as H. Wilhelm surmised (Monumenta Serica vol. 9, p. 213 note 9). She often wears aboriginal attire, a dress with a collar made of leaves, but not of hemp, which only sometimes has developed, according to a late fashion into a cape of cloth. (1968:125)

Campany mentions the Chinese use of ma "hemp" fibers as a weaving material.
(Note also her shimmering, multicolored gown, "not of this world"; but we are told that it was not woven, at least not in an ordinary way.) I know of no attempt to explain the name Ma gu (literally, "the Hemp Maiden"). (2002:267, fn. 487)

The historian and sinologist Joseph Needham
Joseph Needham
Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham, CH, FRS, FBA , also known as Li Yuese , was a British scientist, historian and sinologist known for his scientific research and writing on the history of Chinese science. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, and as a fellow of the British...

 connected myths about Ma Gu "the Hemp Damsel" with early Daoist religious usages of cannabis. Cannabis sativa
Cannabis sativa
Cannabis sativa is an annual herbaceous plant in the Cannabaceae family. Humans have cultivated this herb throughout recorded history as a source of industrial fibre, seed oil, food, recreation, spiritual enlightenment and medicine...

is described by the oldest Chinese pharmacopeia, the (ca. 100 CE) Shennong Bencaojing 神農本草經 ("Shennong
Shennong , which names mean "Divine Farmer", but also known as the Emperor of the Five Grains , was a legendary ruler of China and culture hero reputed to have lived some 5,000 years ago...

's Materia Medica
Materia medica
Materia medica is a Latin medical term for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing . The term 'materia medica' derived from the title of a work by the Ancient Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides in the 1st century AD, De materia medica libre...

The flowers when they burst (when the pollen is scattered) are called 麻蕡 [mafen] or 麻勃 [mabo]. The best time for gathering is the 7th day of the 7th month. The seeds are gathered in the 9th month. The seeds which have entered the soil are injurious to man. It grows on [Mount Tai]. (tr. Bretschenider
Emil Bretschneider
Emil Bretschneider was a Russian sinologist of Baltic German descent and a correspondent member of Académie française. He graduated from the medical school of University of Dorpat in Dorpat Estonia and was first posted as a physician by the Russian legation to Tehran...


Needham (1980:152) pointed out that Ma Gu was goddess of Shandong
' is a Province located on the eastern coast of the People's Republic of China. Shandong has played a major role in Chinese history from the beginning of Chinese civilization along the lower reaches of the Yellow River and served as a pivotal cultural and religious site for Taoism, Chinese...

's sacred
Sacred Mountains of China
The Sacred Mountains of China are divided into two groups, one associated with Taoism and the other with Buddhism. The group associated with Taoism is known as the Five Great Mountains , whereas the group associated with Buddhism is referred to as the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism .The sacred...

 Mount Tai
Mount Tai
Mount Tai is a mountain of historical and cultural significance located north of the city of Tai'an, in Shandong province, People's Republic of China. The tallest peak is the Jade Emperor Peak , which is commonly reported as tall, but is described by the PRC government as .Mount Tai is one of the...

, where cannabis "was supposed to be gathered on the seventh day of the seventh month, a day of seance banquets in the Taoist communities." The (ca. 570 CE) Daoist encyclopedia Wushang Biyao 無上秘要 ("Supreme Secret Essentials", Needham 1974:150) records that cannabis was added into ritual censer
Censers are any type of vessels made for burning incense. These vessels vary greatly in size, form, and material of construction. They may consist of simple earthenware bowls or fire pots to intricately carved silver or gold vessels, small table top objects a few centimetres tall to as many as...


The Shangqing School
Shangqing School
The Shangqing School or Supreme Clarity is a Daoist movement that began during the aristocracy of the Western Jin dynasty. Shangqing can be translated as either 'Supreme Clarity' or 'Highest Clarity.' The first leader of the school was Wei Huacun , but Tao Hongjing, who structured the theory and...

 of Daoism provides a good example. Yang Xi 楊羲 (330-386 CE) was "aided almost certainly by cannabis" (Needham 1974:151) in writing the Shangqing scriptures during nightly visitations by Daoist "immortals"
Xian (Taoism)
Xian is a Chinese word for an enlightened person, translatable in English as:*"spiritually immortal; transcendent; super-human; celestial being"...

. Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456-536 CE), who edited the official Shangqing canon, also recorded (Mingyi bielu 名醫別錄 "Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians", tr. Needham 1974:151), "Hemp-seeds ([mabo] 麻勃) are very little used in medicine, but the magician-technicians ([shujia] 術家) say that if one consumes them with ginseng it will give one preternatural knowledge of events in the future."

Needham concluded,
Thus all in all there is much reason for thinking that the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with hallucinogenic smokes, using techniques which arose directly out of liturgical observance. … At all events the incense-burner remained the centre of changes and transformations associated with worship, sacrifice, ascending perfume of sweet savour, fire, combustion, disintegration, transformation, vision, communication with spiritual beings, and assurances of immortality. Wai tan and nei tan met around the incense-burner. Might one not indeed think of it as their point of origin? (1974:154)

Waidan "outer alchemy" and neidan
Neidan, or internal alchemy, spiritual alchemy is a concept in Taoist Chinese alchemy. It is a series of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines intended to prolong the life of the body and create an immortal spiritual body that would survive after death.In Neidan the human body becomes a...

"inner alchemy" are the divisions of Chinese alchemy
Chinese alchemy
Chinese alchemy, a part of the larger tradition of Taoism, centers on the tradition of body-spirit cultivation that developed through the Chinese understandings of medicine and the body. These Chinese traditions were developed into a system of energy practices...


The cultural and linguistic origins of Ma Gu remain open questions.

External links

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