Magu, Goddess of Longevity and immortal hemp maiden.

Magu: The Hemp Goddess Who Healed Ancient Asia

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"Cannabis" and "criminal" are synonymous in many countries. While cannabis has been steadily weaving onto the "right" side of the law in recent years, the "high" people get from the plant is still often associated with negativity. Yet the "criminal" side of cannabis itself is rather new; hemp, as it is also called, has long been part of medicinal and spiritual practices in various cultures throughout history. A prominent religion that valued cannabis was Taoism (or, Daoism) in ancient China. The Chinese even had a caretaker for this herb; her name is Magu.

Considered in ancient East Asia to be equivalent to the divine ambrosia of the Greek gods, hemp has long been named an "elixir of life".  The goddess Magu's association with cannabis primarily lies in its use as a healing plant - as the majority of Magu's mythological stories revolve around the ways in which she aided the poor and the sick either as a goddess outright, or as a priestess of an unnamed healing deity. Magu takes on a more definitively divine role in the ancient literature of Korea, however the core of her person remains relatively the same.

Portrait of Magu - the Immortal Hemp Maiden.

Portrait of Magu - the Immortal Hemp Maiden. ( Public Domain )

Magu’s Story

Throughout China, Japan, and Korea, Magu (or Ma Gu MaKu, Mako) is depicted as a beautiful young woman, no older than 18 or 19 (in human years). Her youth and beauty are symbols of the health and healing of the universe she is believed to protect. She is a guardian of vitality throughout East Asia, not only in the world of mortals but also the cycles of the earth. Magu is regularly considered to cast aside the winter in favor of flora and fauna. In Korea, Magu's role is elevated from goddess to Creator god, akin to the Japanese Shinto goddess Amaterasu , and her abilities extended to incorporate the creation of the world and humanity.

Japanese goddess Amaterasu emerging from a Cave, "ORIGIN OF IWATO KAGURA DANCE."

Japanese goddess Amaterasu emerging from a Cave , "ORIGIN OF IWATO KAGURA DANCE." ( Public Domain )

While Magu has many ethnic followers, Chinese writers appear to have been the most determined in preserving her mythology. Magu is more prominently displayed in the art of China as well, allowing one to understand her Chinese persona and thus compare her to her other forms. Though Korea considered her a creator deity, Chinese Taoists believed Magu had a mortal upbringing. The most cohesive version of this tale states that Magu lived a poor life in the war-torn 5th and 6th centuries AD, working as a seamstress. There is no mention of her mother, but her father was a horse breeder and he and Magu worked together to make ends meet. One day, Magu was given a peach by one of her clients, but instead of sharing it with her father, she passed it along to an even poorer elderly woman in the street. Magu then made the woman some porridge out of her own cupboard.

Unfortunately, Magu was unable to deliver the porridge in a timely fashion as her father arrived home and locked her in her room. When she finally managed to escape to see the old woman, the woman was gone - a peach stone was all that remained in her place. Magu planted the stone and cared for it as it grew into a vibrant peach tree, and later gave away the fruits freely to those in need. Before long, Magu's peaches were said to be healing, and Magu was immortalized as a goddess possessing the elixir of life.

Magu's peaches were said to be healing.

Magu's peaches were said to be healing. ( Tokin Women )

The Goddess Who Healed with Cannabis

Though this tale is only one of many relating Magu's existence, it reveals the primary emphases of her worship: namely, caring for the sick and poor and cultivating the natural world. Here, Chinese writers depicted her "elixir of life" as peaches, evidenced further by early Magu's symbols in early Chinese art, but cannabis has also been intricately tied to her healing abilities - though on a spiritual rather than physical level. Records of Taoist practices have listed the consumption of hemp seeds as protecting against demonic possession and increasing the "Second Sight", while burning the seeds was pertinent in purification rituals. Often, it was Magu who was invoked during these times, and she came to be associated with the Taoist landmark Mount Tai for its heavy growth of the plant.

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