Mazu Belief

Last updated by fabiowzgogo at 2014-1-26

Located in the southeast coastal region of Fujian, Meizhou Island has not only wonderful natural scenery, but also cultural charm of Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea in Chinese culture. Being hometown of Mazu and the birthplace of Mazu culture, Meizhou Island is praised as “Oriental Mecca”, a holy place for about 200 million believers from more than 20 countries and districts in the world.

In 2009, Mazu belief and customs was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.

Statue of Mazu on Meizhou Island

Statue of Mazu on Meizhou Island

1. About Mazu

Mazu was born on the 23rd day of the third month of Chinese lunar calendar in 960 AC (during the Northern Song Dynasty of China). The original name of Mazu was Lin Mo. She was the youngest one of the 7 children of Lin Yuan and Woman Wang. Clever, brave and kindhearted, she could forecast the weather and offered medical services to fellow islanders. Lin Mo was deeply loved by the locals. After she had become a grown-up, she decided not to get married and made helping others her life-long enterprise. With her knowledge of medicine, Lin Mo cured the sick and taught people how to prevent illness and injury. Since she had grown up by the seashore, Lin Mo knew a lot about weather and was good at swimming. There was legend saying Lin Mo could go across the sea by a mat. Lin Mo encouraged the people to conquer nature and defeat evil; she was much loved and esteemed by the locals. Lin Mo died at the young age of 28 when rescuing shipwreck victims on Sep 9th of lunar calendar in 987 AC. To memorize Lin Mo, people built a temple for her, which became the first temple for Mazu in the world (Mazu Ancestral Temple). The temple was expanded by San Bao the merchant and had become rather large by Qing Dynasty.

Owing to her benevolence, Mazu had been given 36 titles such as “Madam”, “the Queen of Heaven” and “Holy Mother” from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).The number of the characters of title increased from 2 to 64. In the end, Mazu got the highest position of being the only god of the sea. The belief of Mazu was spread to all over the world by overseas Chinese people, sailors and ambassadors, making Mazu a world-influential goddess of the sea. With over 5,000 Mazu temples dotted around the world and 200 million believers, the Mazu belief has spread to more than 20 countries and regions across the globe.

2. Mazu Culture

After a development of more than 1000 years, Mazu has changed from a folklore belief to an influential folklore culture-Mazu culture, covering many fields such as politics, economics, diplomacy, military affairs, culture and affairs concerning nationals living abroad. It is a special culture form of Chinese nation and a part of Chinese civilization.
Mazu Culture has profound cultural connotation. In the field of academy, Mazu culture covers all kinds of subjects including history of religion, folklore, voyage, science, architecture, literature, arts, overseas Chinese and relationships between China and foreign countries. In the fields of language and folklore, mythologies and legends of Mazu are main contents of Mazu culture, the belief of Mazu and the related customs are also important parts of this culture. For example, the popular Mazu bun, Mazu coat, Mazu noodles, Mazu ceremony, Mazu figures on the boats, sacrifices before setting sail. Besides, the shipyard also worships Mazu and model of the ship. There’s legend that Mazu will bliss and protect babies. Thus many people go to Mazu temple to get infant names and scent bags for their children. Customs in Taiwan includes “fire joining”, sacrificial ceremonies in spring and autumn, Xiema drama, Xiangqing drama, Yige formation, Martial Club, Music Club, worshipping from far away, walking around the spot, crazy about Mazu in March, Dajia Mazu Sightseeing Festival and so on. 

Generally speaking, Mazu culture includes Mazu’s convince of sacrifice, virtues of being true, good and her spirit of helping others, along with architectures, sculptures, paintings, calligraphy works, poems, antiques, folklores, mythologies, stories and believes about Mazu. Mazu culture is profound and abundant. 

3. Sacrificial Ceremony

Mazu is the highest ranking goddess of the sea in ancient China. According to the ancient rites, people who prevent disasters, defend troubles, and make great contributions to the country can be offered with sacrifices. Therefore, emperors of all dynasties since Song dynasty honored Macau frequently and the court issued instruction to offer sacrifices. In Yuan dynasty, the imperial commissioner was sent to Meizhou to offer sacrifices for three times; after Emperor Kangxi of Qing dynasty united Taiwan, he sent courtiers to Meizhou to offer sacrifices for several times. Emperor Yongzheng of Qing dynasty ordered people to implement the courtesy of kneeling down at every three steps and knock head at every nine steps.

To promote the Chinese traditional culture and make Matsu ritual more standard, Meizhou Ancestral Temple Ceremony Notes came out in 1994 referring to the historical data and folk rituals. In recent years, people focused on the artistic process of festival music and dance so as to pursue a more perfect combination of religious rituals and art appreciation.
The sacrificial ceremony for Mazu Ancestral Temple is held on Mazu’s birthday on March 23rd (lunar calendar). The conducting of Meizhou Ancestral Temple Ceremony Notes will be at Mei Zhou Ancestral Temple Square or New Temple Queen of Heaven Square. The sacrificial ceremony lasts about 45 minutes, ranging from small, medium and great. During the ceremony, people do these things in order as below: 1. hit the drum and play the firework;2. the honor guards and groups of music players and dancers stand in position 3 the chef mourner and the assistants stand in position;4. welcome the god and burn incense to offer sacrifices;5. take the mourning silks 6. read the blessing passages 7. kowtow to the goddess;8. give the first sacrifice and play Heping Music; 9. give the second sacrifice and play Haiping Music;10. give the last sacrifice and play Xianping Music;11. burn the blessing passages and silks;12. kneel down at every three steps and knock head at every nine steps;13. send the goddess and finish the ceremony.
The music and dances in Meizhou Ancestral Temple Ceremony Notes was all about the three sacrifices, which can be divided into 5 parts: welcome the goddess, the first sacrifice, the second sacrifice, the last sacrifice. The music of the three sacrifices includes Haiping Music, Heping Music and Xianping Music. Male and female singers sing in chorus. As for the dance, there are 8 rows of pantomimes, including 32 males and 32 females. The males take feathers while females hold short flutes. The is the highest ranking education-dance in ancient China.

4. Significance

The custom of sacrificial ceremony for Mazu enjoys long history and profound effect. Mazu is very famous, especially in coastal regions, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and southeastern countries, where everybody knows Mazu. Mazu culture and customs in Meizhou is unique and worth studying on and protecting. It is especially important for promoting the communication between Ming Nan and Taiwan. On the Double Ninth Festival (lunar calendar) of 1987, about 100,000 Mazu believers across Taiwan Straits held the “Mazu Ceremony of the Millennium Festival”, which lasted for one week, in the Mazu Temple of Mei Zhou. An academic discussing meeting on memorial of one millennium after Mazu’s death is held, opening a new prelude for the communication between Taiwan and mainland of China.

Among thousands of Mazu temples all over the world, there are more than 1000 in Taiwan. Mazu is regarded as “Holy Mother of the Heaven” in Taiwan. Chinese Mazu Culture exchange Association is founded in Mei Zhou Mazu Ancestral Temple in Putian, Fujian, providing a platform cultural associations and staff from in and abroad to carrying out academic research, friendly communication, promoting Mazu culture and enhancing mutual understanding.

During the long history of development, Mazu culture is spread to coastal cities as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao in our country. It follows the steps of overseas Chinese to more than 20 countries all over the 5 continents of the world. Mazu culture has strong cohesion power for Chinese all over the world, especially in the southeastern districts. After 1000 years, Mazu culture has become an important part of the splendid Chinese culture, as well as cultural bridge and spiritual linkage connection Chinese people all over the world. 

Mazu belief comes from the folk. There’s true person in history. The original name of Mazu was Lin Mo. She was born in Meizhou Island in Putian, Fujian in the year of Jianlong in Song Dynasty. The girl was clever, diligent, kindhearted and obedient to her parents. She could forecast the weather and offered medical services to fellow islanders. Lin Mo was respected by locals. Lin Mo was praised as the guardian goddess by people after she had passed away.

There are many folktales of Mazu when she’s alive. 15 stories are recorded in Tian’hou Notes, and 16 stories in Record of Goddess of Heaven Making Her Power Felt. Some of them are listed below: 

5. Legends

Make the Island of Caizi Forever Green

There was a small island near Meizhou Island. It was said Mazu went to the small island to play one day. She threw seeds (caizi seeds) onto the ground and they grew up immediately. The land was soon covered by flowers. People did not need to cultivate and let the seeds grow themselves. The locals regarded the plants as magical flowers. Afterwards, people named this island “Caizi Island”.

Pray for Rain to Save the People 

It was said there was severe drought in Putian when Mazu was at her ageof21. All the people in the county said that only Mazu could save them. Thus, the county official went to Mazu for help himself. Mazu prayed for the rain and said it would rain at 9:00 am on 12th. When that day came, there was no hint of rain because there was no cloud at all in the morning. However, it suddenly became cloudy at 9:00. Then a strong rain came, making the land full of vigor. 

Hang the Mat to Sail on the Sea

It is said that one day Mazu wanted to sail across the sea by ship without paddles or sails. The captain dared not sail the ship; Mazu told him to set sail and suspend a straw mat onto the mast as a sail. The ship then rode over the waves and carried on swiftly across the sea.

Transform the Straw to Save the Vessel

It is said there was an important pass in the west of Meizhou Island. Once, a commercial vessel struck a rock because of the strong wind near the pass, causing seawater to flood the cabin. When the ship started to sink, the villagers dare not go and rescue. Mazu got some grass and threw it into the sea, which miraculously transformed into a raft, attaching itself to the vessel to stop it from sinking. People in the vessel were all rescued.

Subdue the Two Demons

It was said that two demons known as "With-the-Wind Ear" and "Thousand Miles Eye" lived in the northwest of Meizhou when Mazu was 23. The two demons often came out and hurt the locals. People required Mazu to punish the demons. In order to subdue the demons, Mazu went to the mountain with other girls in the village. After more than 10 days, the two demons finally appeared. When they came closer, Mazu reproached loudly. The two demons were afraid of Mazu and transformed to a beam of light to escape. Mazu waved the handkerchief in her hand, summoning a strong wind, making the demon lose their way. The demons took out their iron axe. Mazu prod them into dropping the iron, and they could not took it back. In the end, the demons admitted their guilt and left. After 2 years, the two demons appeared on the sea again. Mazu summoned the strong wind and stones with spells and defeated them. Then the demons subdued and became Mazu’s guardians.

Solute the Problem of Floods

It was said when Mazu was 26, it rained a lot in the first half of the year, bringing floods to the two provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang. The emperor ordered the officials to pray for the sun right away, but nothing changed. The local officials came to Mazu for help. Mazu said: “The disaster is caused by the bad deeds done by people. Since his highness is willing to save his people, I should pray to the god to bless my people.” Then Mazu began to pray. Suddenly, it blew and a dragon flew away from the edge of the cloud. The sky was clear and harvest came that year. The people were all grateful to Mazu and local officials told the emperor about the matter. Mazu was then rewarded.

Save Her Father and Find Her Brother

According to legend, when Mazu was at her age of 16, her father and brother went fishing one day in autumn. A terrible typhoon arose while they were out at sea. The boat was harmed and the situation was sticky. Mazu was sitting at a loom weaving. Suddenly, she closed her eyes and used all her strength to support the loom. Mazu's mother discovered her sleeping and tried to wake her. Mazu dropped the shuttle when she woke. Seeing the shuttle on the ground, Mazu cried and said: “Father was rescued, and brother died!” Soon there’s news came proving what she said was true. After her brother died, Mazu accompanied her mother to look for the body. Suddenly, Mazu found a group of sea creatures were gathering on the surface of the sea. Seeing this, people were worried. Only Mazu knew that the sea creatures were coming for her by the order of the god of water. Then, the water became clear and the body of her brother was seen. The body was taken back. After this, every time when Mazu’s birthday came, groups of fish stayed around Meizhou Island at night and did not leave until dawn. This day was also a day on which local fishermen did not go fishing. 

Required to Cure the Patient

It was said when Mazu was alive, the plague broke out in Putian one year. The family of the county official was also the victim. Somebody told the official that Mazu could save them. Thus, the county official went to Mazu for help. Mazu decided to help him considering that he was not bad as and official and he came from other place. Mazu asked the county official to boil 9 pieces of changpu (kind of plant) with water and glue a piece of spell onto his door. The official did what he was told and he was cured after several days.

Get the Copper Nameplate

When Mazu was 16, she went out to play with a group of girls one day. When she was looking at herself in the water of the well, a god with a group of fairies behind him came up from the bottom of well, holding a bronze nameplate in his hands. The god handed Mazu the nameplate. All the girls were scared and ran away. Only Mazu accepted the bronze nameplate without doubt. After she had taken the nameplate, Mazu was able to perform all kinds of magic and spells. It was said she could go to another place immediately to help people in need. People regarded her as “ magical lady” and “daughter of the dragon”.

Get Across the River On an Iron Horse

It is said that Mazu wanted to go cross the sea one day when there was no boat.  Then, she saw there was an iron horse hanged in front of the house beside her. Mazu got an idea. She took the iron horse and waved the whip, making the iron horse come to life and carry her across the sea. After she landed on solid ground, the horse vanished in an instant. People who witnessed this were all astonished at her magic powers.

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