Jiutian Xuannu (九天玄女), the Dark lady of the Ninth Heaven, abbreviated Xuannu, is also called Jiutian niangniang (九天娘娘), Yuannu (元女), Liali ma (連理媽) etc. The term Jiutian, the Ninth Heaven or the nine Heavens, symbolizes the highest and means all directions, everywhere. Xuan (玄), dark, means subtle and profound. Jiutian Xuannu is a legendary figure in the era of the Five Sage rulers of the legendary Age and a mythical deity of both Daoism and popular religion. It is said that Sheng-mu Yuan-jun (聖母元君) dispatched Xuannu to help Huang Di (黄帝), the Yellow Emperor, defeated Chi You (蚩尤) by way of imparting him a talisman. In another story, it is said that Xuannu was Huang Di’s master who made him lead the divine soliders to defeat Chi You. It seems that Xuannu played a decisive role in the war between Huang Di and Chi You.
In the Xuan-he Yi-shi (宣和遺事), a prototype of Shui-hu Zhuan (水滸傳), when Song Jiang (宋江) committed a murder and fled into Xuannu’s temple. Xuannu presented him a divine book, ordered him to enlist himself in the army and predicated that he would be a general and success. Finally, Song Jiang did become a general and make some important achievements. This story was rewritten into other stories, such as the Shuihu Zhuan (水滸傳), Pingyao Chuan (平妖傳), Ba-xian Chu-chu Dong-you-ji (八仙出處東遊記), and Nu-xian Wais-hi (女仙外史) etc.
The origin of Xuannu is vague. There are at least four kinds of speculation. The first is about a divine bird, Xuan-niao (玄鳥). It is said that one kind of an ancient statue of Xuannu was in human figure with bird’s head. The second is a new one that Xuannu been a female demon who could cause drought. However, the concrete evidences of above two speculations are not found. The third one is she descended to earth as Nu Wa (女媧). This saying seems only spread in Taiwan. The last one is about Nu-xian (女仙). In Daoist scriptures and other novels, they revealed that the possibility of Xuannu as a Nu-xian which is in relation of alchemy and fang-zhong shu (房中術), a kind of sexual yoga or a practice shared within a couple’s marital bed. That is the reason why mercury is called Xuannu in scriptures of Daoist alchemy. Besides, the Daoist temple, Chi-song guan (赤松觀), which is located in Jin-hua (金華) Zhe-jiang province is regarded as the place where Xuannu finished her alchemy and ascended to heaven.
Though Xuannu was regarded as a war goddess or Nuxian before, she is a goddess of fertility and the patron of matchmaker today. She is also an important goddess to both some Daoists and fashi (法師), a master of religious healing or exorcism rite in popular religion. There are some fashu (法術) under the name of Xuannu, such as Jiutian Xuannu Zao Gao mifa (九天玄女灶告秘法), Xuannu fang-zhong Jing (玄女房中經) etc. Jiutian Xuannu Zao Gao mi-fa is a ritual about praying for the blessing of Kitchen god (灶神).
In Taiwan, there are about nineteen to twenty three temples dedicated to Xuannu. The first one is located in Taichung, named Chao-feng Gong (朝奉宮). It was built in 1821. There are nine statues of Xuannu to represent her title “the nine heavens.” They are called Lian-li Ma (連理媽). In Chinese , lian-li is a term to describe a tree whose branches join together and Ma means mother or a courtesy title addressed to a married woman. Coincidentally, there is a temple which is located in Bei-jing (北京), main land China, also founded nine statues of Xuannu. Xuannu’s birthday is on September, 9th by Chinese lunar calendar. The temples of Xuannu would hold some festivals and rites as a celebration.
Keywords: Jiutian Xuannu, the Dark lady of the Ninth Heaven, Chao-feng temple, Lian-li Ma, Shuihu Zhuan