Friday, January 1, 2010

The Peach of Immortality

(Image: The God of Longevity or Sau, is probably the most popular deity out of the three star Gods Fuk Luk Sau. He represents good health, longevity and a quality and smooth life. He is depicted carrying the Peach of Immortality, itself an auspicious symbol for long life and excellent health. The God of Longevity is also seen carrying a Dragon staff with a Wu Lou. The Wu Lou is believed to be filled with nectar of immortality.)
Many cultures have stories about a magic elixir or a fruit, the drinking or eating of which can reverse aging and grant eternal life to the partaker. Xi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West in ancient Chinese mythology, lives far to the west (from ancient Chinese capitals in the east), high in the mountains, in a hidden garden where she grows peaches that give eternal life. Although the exact location of Xi Wang Mu's sanctuary/fortress is unknown, I think it is somewhere in the mountains ringing the Tarim Basin where there was west-east contact more than 4,500 years ago. Xi Wang Mu predates Daoist thought (under which she became 'civilized') and was originally a fierce tiger-goddess, a creator and destroyer of life. In that way, she resembles many other original goddesses whose origins reach back in the mists of time, long before writing, long before "history" as we think of it today.
The Silk Road was responsible for introducing the peach, a native of China, to other areas of the world, notably ancient Persia, in the earliest days of trade between those two countries. From Wikipedia: The scientific name persica, along with the word "peach" itself and its cognates in many European languages, derives from an early European belief that peaches were native to Persia (now Iran). The modern botanical consensus is that they originate in China, and were introduced to Persia and the Mediterranean region along the Silk Road before Christian times.
Ironic, isn't it. China introduced the peach to the rest of the world, although it was accepted "history" that the peach was introduced into China from Persia. Accepted history was WRONG. Today, westerners (laypeople and scholars alike), are generally uninformed when it comes to ancient Chinese sources that talk about early chess. The problem is further compounded by translation issues - not only are those ancient Chinese sources not translated into other languages, Chinese scholars have problems translating the archaic Chinese into modern idiom. The equivalent is a little like me attempting to read Beowulf in its original "English " -- which doesn't seem like English at all!
One has to wonder - what if historians are wrong about the way chess was transmitted, too? According to most of them, chess came to China from Persia, after Persia got it from Hind (formerly northwest India, today part of Pakistan). But what if, just like peaches, chess came into Persia from China and was then introduced to Hind via Persia?
Here is what Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets has to say about peaches:
Female genital symbol, in China regarded as the source of the ambrosia of life which game gods their immortality; corresponding to the apple in western Europe. Great Mother Hsi Wang Mu ruled the magic peach gardn in the west, where the gods were reborn.(1)
Peach Blossom meant a virgin in Taoist symbolism, while the fruit stood for a mature woman whose juices were essential to man's health. China's patron saint of longevity Shou Lou was an old man with a high bulging forehead, bursting with "yhin juice" he had absorbed and sent up to his head through sexual coupling with many woman To reveal his mystical secret, Shou Lou always held up a peach with one of his fingers stuck into its cleft.(2)
Chinese wizards made magic wands from peach twigs. These might be compared to magic wands made in the west from other woods sacred to the Goddess, such as witch hazel, witch-willow, apple boughs, or holly.(3)
Western writers sometimes confused the Oriental peach with the apricot, because abricot was once a European word for the vulva. Sculptures from the pagan period at Nimes showed examples of this fruit in conjunction with phalli.(4)
(1) Larousse, 382.
(2) Rawson, E. A., 234.
(3) de Lys, 397.
(4) Knight, D. W. P., 136, pls. XV, XVI.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...