Mazu, Goddess of Mercy

Mazu Votaries, Lunar New Year, 2002

Mazu goes by many names: Goddess of the Sea, Goddess of Mercy, and Heavenly Queen. Her literal name in Chinese is “Mother” (Ma) and “Ancestor” (zu).  According to legend, she lived in Fujian, as Lin Moniang, during the Song Dynasty.  The year of her birth is usually given as 960.

While still quite young, perhaps only sixteen years of age, she died of exhaustion after swimming far out to sea to save her drowning father and brother.  Her courage inspired fishermen in Fujian to honor and pray to her in times of need and distress.

Mazu is believed by many to be a manifestation of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Today Mazu is worshiped through coastal China and in many regions of Southeast Asia.  She is perhaps the most venerated deity in Taiwan.

This photograph was taken on the first day of the Lunar New Year, 2002, at the Tachia Temple dedicated to Mazu in central Taiwan.

3 thoughts on “Mazu, Goddess of Mercy

  1. Thank you for this blog. 🙂

    What is meant by a manifestation?
    I understand ’emanation’ and ‘incarnation’. An incarnation would be born as the actual deity and an emanation would be created by the deity as a personification through which their actions take place. How is she regarded? 🙂

  2. Perhaps manifestation is not the best word. Emanation might be more appropriate. Since they are not one-in-the same and yet closely related this would seem to be the better word to describe her. In every Mazu temple I have visited I have seen images of Guanyin as well as other
    Chinese deities, but Mazu is believed to be much closer akin to Guanyin. In practice I don’t think people distinguish much between them at all. The most certainly are not rivals.

    There are no texts (or none that I know of) associated with Mazu worship, but one version of her biography has it that at the time of Lin Moniang (Mazu’s) conception her mother was visited by Guanyin, in a vision or dream, who granted her wish for a daughter. As young girl, Lin Moniang worshiped the Bodhisattva and showed early evidence of great spiritual gifts.

    But I am not sure if that means she is an emanation or an incarnation! She has a separate identity from Guanyin, but also shares a kinship, and bears many of the attributes of mercy and compassion of Guanyin.

  3. I would say that she was an ’emanation’ then.
    If there was worship, in that case, it would be worship of Guanyin ‘through’ Mazu.

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