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SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS Number 118 June, 2002 The Spider s Web. Goddesses of Light and Loom: Examining the Evidence for the Indo-European Origin of Two Ancient Chinese Deities by Justine T. Snow Victor H.
SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS Number 118 June, 2002 The Spider s Web. Goddesses of Light and Loom: Examining the Evidence for the Indo-European Origin of Two Ancient Chinese Deities by Justine T. Snow Victor H. Mair, Editor Sino-Platonic Papers Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA USA SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS FOUNDED 1986 Editor-in-Chief VICTOR H. MAIR Associate Editors PAULA ROBERTS MARK SWOFFORD ISSN (print) (online) SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS is an occasional series dedicated to making available to specialists and the interested public the results of research that, because of its unconventional or controversial nature, might otherwise go unpublished. The editor-in-chief actively encourages younger, not yet well established, scholars and independent authors to submit manuscripts for consideration. 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We do, however, strongly recommend that prospective authors consult our style guidelines at Manuscripts should be submitted as electronic files, preferably in Microsoft Word format. You may wish to use our sample document template, available here: Beginning with issue no. 171, Sino-Platonic Papers has been published electronically on the Web at Issues 1 170, however, will continue to be sold as paper copies until our stock runs out, after which they too will be made available on the Web. Please note: When the editor goes on an expedition or research trip, all operations (including filling orders) may temporarily cease for up to three months at a time. In such circumstances, those who wish to purchase various issues of SPP are requested to wait patiently until he returns. If issues are urgently needed while the editor is away, they may be requested through Interlibrary Loan. You should also check our Web site at as back issues are regularly rereleased for free as PDF editions. Sino-Platonic Papers is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial- NoDerivs 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. THE SPIDER'S WEB Goddesses of Light and Loom: Examining the Evidence for the Indo-European Origin of Two Ancient Chinese Deities Justine T. Snow Dedicated to Professor Victor Mair, for his undaunted courage OVERVIEW Scholars have long viewed the art of spinning and weaving and their relationship to spiders as the exclusive property of the lunar goddess. Yet, during the course of a search for knowledge about the Chinese weaving goddess, Chih NO, it became apparent that goddesses ofthe sun and dawn were also weavers and spinners and that the concept of the solar spider l was lacking in recognition. Not' only does the beauty of weaving and spinning in Indo-European solar mythology deserve to be celebrate l it merits closer examihation, especially in cliltures along the Pre -Silk Road, for the following reason. In China the Goddess of Weaving and a now extinct female solar' charioteer have co~terparts in the lj.gveda and Homer, yet no attention has been directed to this curiosity. Therefore, this paper is presented in the hope that it will serve to stimulate a more thorough and scholarly investigation into the origin of Chih Nii and Hsi-Ho. There seems to have been a great deal more travel and communication in the ancient wor~~ than modern scholarship sometimes wishes to believe possible. John Major To know the myths is to learn the secret of the origin of things. Mircea Eliade 1 PART 1. CHIH NU The indissoluble love between a weaving-maid and a herdsman has been the subject of countless poems and mythic tales in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese literature. In China, the first written account of a weaver woman in the sky appears about 2,700 years ago at approximately B.C. Although the myth evolved over centuries and there are now several variations of the theme, the basic and beloved story which you will read below was generally known in China by the time of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-220 AD.).2 The beauty of this ancient myth, with its theme ofa love so strong it endures for eternity, lent itself to being borrowed throughout the Orient in successive centuries: Once upon a time in the stars above China the father of a talented, industrious young weaving girl married his daughter to the celestial Oxherd on the opposite shore of the Milky Wal, which in China is called Sky River, The River of Stars, or The River of Heaven. He soon regretted having done so however, because his lovely daughter fell hopelessly in love and no longer wished to ply the shuttle but only to play in her lover's arms, forsaking her duties and abandoning her loom. The herdsman likewise, so perfectly pleased with his bride, left his oxen or cattle to wander where they ought not to go. Angered by the disrespect implied in such delinquency, the weaving girl's father separated the couple for eternity and no amount of pleading could sway his heartless decision. The punishment seemed worse than death and the young bride's anguish became so pitjful that her father eventually softened to his favorite daughter's ceaseless tears, the harsh sentence being amended to include a meeting between the lovers just one night each year on the seventh night of the seventh moon (in China this night is known as Ch'i-hsi and in Japan it is called Tanabata). As the River of Stars could not be forded, a bridge of magpies was commanded to the heavens by the girl's father to span the distance, thus enabling her to cross over on their backs, to the Herdsman's bank. On this night Herdsman and Weaver-girl are together at last and the people below on earth can only imagine the intensity and tenderness of their love for each other. 3a 2 The Chinese name Chih Nii may be translated as Weaver-girl , but she is also called the Weaving Lady (or Maid), Spinning Maiden, Weaving or Spinning Damsel, Girl of the Han River, and The Goddess of Weavers. Her husband Ch'ien Niu has been called Herdsman, Herd-boy, Oxherd, Ox-leader, Cowherd, and even Cowboy. In Gertrude Jobes' Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore and Symbols, Chih Nii is described as the Chinese Spinning or Weaving maid... An astral deity, she is the star Vega in the constellation Lyra, patroness of marriage, typifying the unending longing of love. She is the dawn maiden, comparable to Aurora, and she weaves together or harmonizes the forces of night and day. 4 There are dozens of sources in Western languages which refer to Chih Nii, yet only Jobes mentions dawn maiden in describing her. Within the three volumes of Jobes' dictionary, she is mentioned several times in this context. For example, under DAWN Chih Nii is listed among the two pages full of dawn goddesses from world mythology. Following a description of the Roman dawn goddess Aurora she writes parallels Chinese Chih Nu... Under WEAVER DAMSEL Jobes has written: Accord of nature, fate spinner. Dawn maid who harmonizes the forces of night and day, or goddess who harmonizes the universe. Arachne, Athena, Aurora, Chih-Nu, Emer,Bos, Orihime, Penelope. 5 On what basis had Jobes concluded Chih Nii was a dawn maiden? Perhaps she was referring in part to the previously published book by E. T. C. Werner, Dictionary o/chinese Mythology, wherein Chih NO is described as ''the daughter of the Sun-god,,6. Oddly and of significance to our investigation, in Chinese mythology no Sun-god exists, yet there is evidence for an ancient Sun-goddess! What became of the weaving maid's Sun-god father (if indeed he ever was her father) remains a mystery. Another reference to her elusive parentage can be found in a Japanese version of the Chinese myth in Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales, wherein Weaving Maid is described as daughter of a Deity of Light .7 Unaware of any additional textual evidence to corroborate Jobes' and Professor Werner's statements, I was intrigued as to their sources, and felt compelled to investigate the possibility that Chih Nii, as the above authors had suggested, might have been a dawn or sun 3 maiden. This investigation revealed that the Chinese Weaver-girl does in fact share important attributes with other weaving, dawn, and sun goddesses: fate, spiders, marriage, the number seven, a reluctance to leave their lover's bed, punishment for neglect of duty, and-most significantly-the designation Daughter of Heaven shared with a dawn maiden even older than the Greek and Roman: the Indian goddess Dshas (or D~as) of the ~eda (c B.C.), whose name is cognate with both BOs and Aurora. All three stem.from the Indo European word for dawn *haeusos, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European term *h,flues-, meaning 'to shine'. 8 About Chih Nn Sinologist Edward H. Schafer writes:... Consider her many names, some of them, while common enough, almost restricted to poetry. The least channing of these names is one of the oldest-as old perhaps as ''Weaving Maid (Chih nn) itself It is Grandchild (or Granddaughter) of Heaven (T'ien [nn] sun), an epithet that occurs in early Han 9 times... The reference to Chih Nn as Granddaughter of Heaven is recorded in scroll 27, the astronomical chapter of the Shih chi (Records of the Scribe), an important historical work by the imperial historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien (Sima Qian) completed c. 90 B.C. Additionally, an early commentator, Hsn Kuang ( A.D.), states that there is a significant textual variant which, instead of saying Chih-nn is the Granddaughter of Heaven, says Chih-nfi is la/the) name of the daughter of heaven (chih-nil t'ien-nil ming yeh ) [emphasis author's]. Ssu-ma Chen (720 A.D.), in his Suo-yin [Searching out the Hidden] commentary to the Shih chi, cites a text called ~e Ching-chou chan [Divinations of Ching -chou] (date unknown), which states that Another Dame for Chih-DU is Daughter of Heaven (T'iennil). 10 Considering the fact that Chih Nn (Weaver-girl) is a/the or another name for the Daughter of Heaven, ~, it is intriguing to apply Miriam R. Dexter's Indo-European research to her appellation: In three of the IE stocks, Baltic, Greek, and Indo-Iranian, the existence of a PIE 'goddess of the dawn' is given additional linguistic support in that she is designated the 'daughter of heaven. ' This can be seen in the correspondence of Lith dievo dukte, Grk OuycitTJp Awe;, and OInd duhitli diwih which all derive from a pm *dhug{ho}ter diuos 11 ~ 'daughter of heaven'. 4 Justine T, Snow, The Spider's Web: Evidence for the Indo-European Origin Based on her name alone, the evidence is compelling that this goddess was adopted from another cultures mythology, and this is further strengthened by the additional similarities she shares with Indo-European weaving/dawn goddesses, In addition, chili Nii' s appearance in:.' stellar mythology is not without mystery. According to Cambridge Sinologist Anne Birrell:. Unlike other stellar myths.., no myth exists to explain whether Weaver Maid and Draught Ox [later Herdsman] were metamorphosed into stars from suprahuman or human form, or weather the movement and pattern of the stars to which their names became attached inspired their stellar 'ft. 12 persom lcatlons. RELUCTANCE AND PUNISHMENT OF THE INDO-EUROPEAN DAWN/SUN GODDESSES, REMINISCENT OF CHIH NU'S MYTH,. o The idea of a weaving girl, enjoying the bed and company of her herdsman husband with such abandon as to forgo her celestial duties (and ultimately being punished for it), certainly parallels the theme of the reluctant dawn [which] is found throughout Indo European dawn mythology , 13 Chih Nfl's neglect of duty and her eternal faithfulness in love is especially similar to the story of BOs, the Greek goddess of the dawn, [who] shares mythology with Aurora, having the immortal, ever-aging TIthonus as lover; Eos, as Aurora and other dawn goddesses, is 'reluctant' to leave her bed. 14 Dexter describes the Baltic (Latvian) Auseklis who like other goddesses of the dawn, was 'reluctant' in the sense that she did not always rise in the moming. In Latvian folksongs, there were various explanations for her absence: she was said to be locked up in a golden chamber, or in Germany sewing velvet skirts.,,15 Her Lithuanian cognate was the dawn maiden Aushrine who was another daughter of heaven.,,16 Interestingly, both Aushrine and Usas. kindled the fire for the sun. 17 We shall see later that Ups was also a weaver and, as with the Chinese weaving goddess, she was punished severely for neglecting her weaving duties. For example, in the f}.gveda, the tardy dawn goddess U as suffered an attack on her chariot which was crushed by Indra as a warning to her, lest she forsake her morning duty again. In RV79.9, her devoted supplicant expresses concern for her welfare and beseeches, Shine forth, 0 daughter of the heavens, do not delay the task, lest the sun should bum you with his ray like a hostile thief. 18 5 SOLAR SPINNERS AND WEAVERS Among other solar goddesses whose attributes included spindle and loom there is the Nordic Sol, the personification of the sun ,19 sometimes called bright maid of Heaven or bright bride of heaven , whose two horses Arvak (early dawn) and Alsid (scorching heat) drew the sun'scbariot across the sky.20 In Homer' s Odyssey the solar horses who pulled the dawn chariot for Eos were ( almost identically), Daybright and Firebright . Interestingly, S6l's father's name, Mundifare, is sometimes translated as spinner of the world.,,21 About S6l, (Sun) Patricia Monaghan writes 'Mistress Sun,' the ancient Scandinavians used to sing, 'sits on a bare stone and spins on her golden distaff for the hour before the sun rises.,22 Karl Kerenyi prefaces his translation of the same song about the Nordic Sun Goddess in his brilliant essay from Goddesses of Sun and Moon with: In that strangely mythological cultural field of the north where' the Latvian songs to the sun and the runes of the mytho-logical epic Kalevala were kept alive, spinning and weaving were the characteristic activities of the Sun Goddess's large kinship group.23 The lovely Finnish sun-maiden named Paiviitar, in the Kalevala, is the daughter of the (female) sun Paiva. who weaves shimmering cloths of gold and silver on the edge of a rainbow (as opposed to the edge of the Milky Way, where Chih Nti weaves). Similarly, in ancient northern European (Baltic) folk songs and mythology, there is Saules Mite, Mother Sun, and her daughter Saules meita, Daughter of the Sun. While it cannot always be detennined in her poetry and songs if it is mother or daughter who is being referred to, Saule is visualized as she spins silken threads in the foliage of an apple tree,,,24 and the shuttle of her loom was made of gold. 25 Sheena McGrath writes that She [Saule] also rules all things feminine, including weaving, spinning... and that She spins gold, silver and bronze, and dresses in dazzling silk clothing embroidered in silver and gold:,26 As stated earlier, the Chinese Weaving goddess ChihNu was patroness of marriage, and the song below implies Saule had a similar role: She seems to have a connection with marriage generally, as in the following song (Joue!, 1989): 6 of Two Ancient Chinese Deities,' Sino-Platonic Papers, 118 (June, 2002) Saule was weaving her crown Seated in the s~ Weave, Saule, give me one, I must go to the house of the suitor. 27 Saule resembles Sol, BOs, and Usas because she rides across the sky in a carriage drawn by yellow horses... [and especially Helios when she] rides nightly in a golden boat.,,28 The now extinct Chinese sun goddess Hsi-ho, also called The Woman (whom we will examine in Part 2 of this article), also rides in a horse-drawn chariot across the sky. In this Baltic folk song Saule resembles Usas who, as we will see below, was thought to change the color of the sky by spreading her weaving out across it, Do you know why in the evening our sky is turning red? Saule hangs her silken garment in the winds near her bed.,,29 Another daughter of the sun who wove lived on the magical island of Aeaea in the Odyssey. She was the fair-tressed goddess Circe. With celestial voice she passed the days in her palace singing at the loom and the pattern which she wove was observed to be a great web, shining, beautiful, and glorious. 3o This mischievous daughter of He Ii os (the S~), was apparently content to reign on the island of dawn while leaving the laborious chariot duties to her paternal aunt BOs but, as McGrath points out, A fragment ofhesiod (1966: verse 390) says that she [Circe] rode with the sun in his chariot (Goodison, 1989).',31 McGrath surmises that Circe's shining fabrics might be sunbeams which she makes for her father and that Her location suggests that she was a goddess of morning.,,32 One of the most endearing goddesses of all time and certainly the most frequently mentioned and beloved goddess in the J!.gveda is the dawn goddess U~as, the daughter of heaven . Her chariot was drawn by seven horses or oxen and, when she wove the morning light, the colors of the sunrise each morning were, metaphorically, the fibers being worked on her. sky loom as in hymn which reads, ... Growing bright, U~s is making her webs.,,33 This is interpreted by Sanskritist Professor Walter Maurer to mean, ''the garment of. color that Usas 'weaves' each day,,34 and then (as in RVl.92. stanzas 2 and 5) spreads,35 across the sky.' Very importantly, Usas. and Chih Nii share a connection to the number 7 which, as we shall see, is the number of moves Chih Nii makes in a day, and, while there is no consensus among experts as to why the Chinese weaver girl makes her 7 moves, the number 7 was commonly (almost exclusively) used in solar mythology in both ancient India and Greece. 7 THE ORIGIN OF WEA VING/SPINNING GODDESSES In her exactingly detailed book, The Language of The Goddess, the late worldrenowned archaeologist and prehistorian, Maria Gimbutas, provides ample evidencethrough spindle whorls and loom weight decorations-for a decidedly European origin to the patroness of spinning and weaving, which can be traced as far back in time as the Early Neolithic (7th millennium B.C.) in Europe. In her invaluable chapter titled Giver ofcmfts: Associations with Spinning, Weaving, Metallurgy, and Musical Instruments, she writes: The relation between the Bird Goddess and the art of spinning is evidenced by the chevron and the chevron combined with meander found on Neolithic and Copper Age spindle whorls. (FIGURE 104) [Transylvania; B.C.]... Many spindle whorls of the 6th and 5th millennia B. C. bear inscriptions including V's, M's, and zig-zags; these may be dedications to the patroness of spinning. [FIGURE 105, 36 Thessaly; B.C.] The link between weaving and the Goddess is evidenced by the appearance of her signs and features on loom-weights. (FIGURE 106) [Romania and Hungary, B.C.]... One of the earliest specimens, dated to B.C., is from Bulgaria... Further linking the Neolithic Goddess with weaving are numerous wall paintings of textiles at ;atal HtiyOk [A Neolithic stratified settlement tell at K
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