Lupita Nyong’o | Behind the Scenes of Essence photoshoot
FIGURES OF LORE | ma gu, chinese mythology
↳ requested by anon
Ma Gu (Chinese: 麻姑; pinyin: Mágū; Wade–Giles: Ma Ku; literally “Hemp Maid”) is a legendary Taoist xian (仙 “immortal; transcendent”) associated with the elixir of life, and she is a symbolic protector of females, in Chinese mythology. Stories in Chinese literature 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.
Ma Gu’s name compounds two common Chinese words: ma “cannabis; hemp” and gu “aunt; maid”.
Ma (the modern Chinese character 麻, which derives from a Zhou Dynasty bronze script ideograph, shows 林 “plants” drying in a 广 “shed; shack”) originally meant “hemp, Cannabis sativa”. Cannabis has been continuously cultivated in China since Neolithic times (Li 1974:437); for example, hemp cords were used to create the characteristic line designs on Yangshao culture pottery and the fibres were used to produce cloth prior to the introduction of cotton. 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.
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 (1990) proposed that Chinese wu (巫 “shaman”), pronounced *myag in Old Chinese, was a loanword from Old Persian *maguš “magician; magi”, which is hypothetically comparable with Ma Gu.
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