Episode 79: Jiutian Xuannü

Take a moment and picture this: You’re hanging out, minding your own business, when suddenly the sky opens and a Dark and Mysterious Woman emerges riding a flaming phoenix. Yeah, we’re also super impressed. Which is why we love the story of Jiutian Xuannü! We dive into the stories of the goddess, what our wrestling personas would be, crave some Cinnabon, plan a zoo trip, and have a lot of fun with phrases like “invisibility ability” and “physiological cosmology”. All this, and more, in episode 79!


Make sure to check out The Noir and Bizarre, an original podcast coming out of WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR Station. Host Katie Marquette examines weird and creepy history, surreal film and fiction, and strange folklore.


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About Us

Spirits was created by Julia Schifini, Amanda McLoughlin and Eric Schneider. We are founding members of Multitude, a production collective of indie audio professionals. Our music is "Danger Storm" by Kevin MacLeod (http://incompetech.com), licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0.


Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast. A boozy tour through mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.

Julia: And I'm Julia.

Amanda: And this is episode 79. [inaudible 00:00:14].

Julia: Yep. We went back to China. For some, good, good mythology this time around, and I'm really excited about how it turned out.

Amanda: Me too. I'm also excited about those who just joined us on Patreon. Patreon.com/spiritspodcast, which is the place that you can become a member of the spirits community, and get awesome behind the scenes extras, recipe cards, bloopers, cut audio. All kinds of great stuff. Welcome and thank you. To Mirela, Ramone, David, BRG, Rach, Grace, and Atinydino.

Julia: Such a good name.

Amanda: So good. Thank you as always as well to our supporting producer level patrons, whose support sustains us. Neil, Phillip, Julie, Kristina, Josh, Eyeore, Jessica, Maria, Cami, Ryan, Phil Fresh, and Deborah. As well as our legend level patrons. Mercedes, Ashley, Buggie, Rachel, Sandra, Ashley Marie, Leann, and Cassie.

Julia: Ah yes, you sustain us. Like nutrients and good, good water. On a battlefield.

Amanda: It's true. It'll be relevant. Just wait.

Julia: It always is.

Amanda:  I love how it took me like 40 episodes to realize that you made that relevant every time.

Julia: I do my best. It's not always good, but I do my best.

Amanda: Julia, what were we drinking during this episode?

Julia: Well Amanda, because it is nearly summertime, and because our goddess for this episode is also known as The Dark Lady. I decided to make us some, charcoal infused hard lemonades.

Amanda: I was very suspicious.

Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative). People will find the recipe online though. If they get their show notes.

Amanda: It was very good.

Julia: I was happy with it. I thought it turned out pretty dang good.

Amanda: Well before we get into the episode. We wanted to give a couple shout outs. One to Teela, who is a fan of the show. And we are a fan of her. Just wanted to say hello. Teela, what's up?

Julia: And then we also are going to give a shout out to a new show. This is the Noir and Bizarre. It is an original podcast coming out of WYPR, which is Baltimore's NPR station. And the host Katy Marquette examines weird, and creepy history. Surreal film, and fiction. And strange folklore.

Amanda: You can tell it is really up our episode, and we actually got a sneak peek of the episode dropping tomorrow, as of the day this episode comes out. Where they discover the many myths and personification of death. Super. My favorite subject.

Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda: Death can be an old washer woman. Can be an angel of doom. It can be a shrieking lady in the wind. Sounds like a banshee.

Julia: That's my jam.

Amanda: It absolutely is my jam as well. And we think that you would really enjoy it as well listeners. You can find this episode, and all of the other ones, at wypr.org/podcastcentral. Or search for The Noir and The Bizarre wherever you get your podcasts.

Julia: Do it up. It is definitely going to be up our listeners alley.

Amanda: And we're going to include a link in the description as well. That about does it I think.

Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda: Without further ado, enjoy spirits podcast. Episode 79, Jiutian Xuannü.

[Theme music]

Julia: When it comes to direct-to-English translations of names. Normally we have some pretty cool names. With some pretty cool translations. Right?

Amanda: Oh yeah, for sure.

Julia: For example. Persephone's name can be translated as, because she is wise, and touches that which is in motion.

Amanda: I mean, word. I don't know, the seasons.

Julia: Yep. Checks out. Thank the Greek.

Amanda: The earth.

Julia: Sekhmet has these cool titles like, the one before whom evil trembles. And she who maul's.

Amanda: Same.

Julia: Yeah. But I think that Jiutian Xuannü, is one of the coolest directly translated names, I've ever heard in my entire life.

Amanda: Please hit me with it.

Julia: It means, the mysterious slash dark lady of the nine heavens.

Amanda: I want to know everything.

Julia: I know right. I'm just thinking of like what that invokes for me, and it's just like riding nine horses into battle, with storm clouds coming down. And stuff like that.

Amanda: Oh yeah.

Julia: Oh man. Yeah, just basically Thor Rangarok. The entire of Thor Ragnarok.

Amanda: Yeah. Like a nice sort of scarily goth dressed lady coming down from the skies, with nine hell hounds behind her.

Julia: Yeah. 100%.

Amanda: I guess it says something about us that we both picture dark scary stuff as heaven.

Julia: Yeah. Checks out. I like it. She was specifically known as Xuannü, prior to around 850 C.E.

Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia: That was just the darker mysterious lady. I wish I could rock a title like that. That is such a cool title.

Amanda: I know. I would give up night hag. To be the dark and mysterious lady. Because then you're relevant at all times of day.

Julia: I realize right now that, this is what I want my wrestling title to be.

Amanda: Oh for sure.

Julia: Most wrestlers Amanda, come out and they'd be like, "Oh, that's Osca." But they also get these nicknames from the commentators.

Amanda: Right.

Julia: Like the empress of tomorrow. Which is a real wrestler.

Amanda: Is she futuristic?

Julia: No. She's just fucking gorgeous.

Amanda: Okay.

Julia: She's great. I love her. And now Amanda, just off the top of your head. I want to know what your wrestling gimmick would be?

Amanda: My wrestling gimmick?

Julia: Yes.

Amanda: I think I would be a professorial, or a librarian type.

Julia: Okay.

Amanda: That would then like, rip off whatever outer clothes I have, and be a task master.

Julia: Okay.

Amanda: Not in like a weird porno way. But in a ... I don't know? I could beat you down in a courtroom, or here in the ring.

Julia: Like She-Hulk?

Amanda: Yeah. For sure.

Julia: There's actually a character in the WWE right now, that is like a statistician character, where she goes out with these people she's like, "I calculate, that you're going to lose," and it's great.

Amanda: Yeah, I'll be like the operator, because my day job is operations. At a tech company.

Julia: I love it.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: That's really, really good.

Amanda: I think so.

Julia: I appreciate your wrestling gimmick. It's very good.

Amanda: I know. I know. And I could team up with a surgeon, and I don't know? There's lots of ways this could go.

Julia: Rather than describing Jiutian Xuannü, what she looks like. I think I'm going to let a Ming Dynasty poet named Rongyu Tang do it for me.

Amanda: Alright.

Julia: This is from his novel, which translates to, water margin. "On her head she has a nine dragon, and flying phoenix top knot. And on her body she wears a red silken gown. Decorated with golden thread. Blue jade like strips run down the long gown, and a white jade ritual object rises above her colored sleeves. Her face is that of a lotus calix, and her eyebrows fit naturally with her hair."

Amanda: Okay. Nice. Very important

Julia: "Her lips are like cherries, and her snow white body appears elegant, and relaxed. She appears to be the queen mother, who hosts a Saturn peach banquet. But she looks like Chang’e, who resides in the moon palace. Her gorgeous immortal face cannot be depicted, nor can the image of her majestic body."

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: Yeah, it's a lot.

Amanda: Wife goals, or life goals. That's all I have to say.

Julia: I mean both, let's be real here.

Amanda: Yeah, yeah.

Julia: Her first story comes from a Taoist master, known as Du Guangting, and it was written somewhere between 850, and 933 C.E.

Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia: In the story Jiutian Xuannü is the teacher of Huangdi, who is a deity also known as The Yellow Emperor who was one of the legendary sovereigns, and cultural heroes of China.

Amanda: Hmm.

Julia: He was said to be based off a real person. Who probably ruled somewhere between 2697, and 2589 BCE.

Amanda: Jesus. That's a long time ago.

Julia: Yeah. It's a real long time ago.

Amanda: Man. We come from such a new, country.

Julia: I know. It's so weird.

Amanda: A very old land, that was completely steam rolled and ruined by colonialization, but yeah wow.

Julia: As a country itself as we understand it now.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: Very, very young. Very different.

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: That's over 5,000 years ago, right? Right about?

Amanda: Yeah. Over four. Almost five.

Julia: Oh yeah, yeah. Geez.

Julia: Yellow emperor, he is one of those cultural heroes that is said to be the ancestor of all the Chinese people, which we've seen instances of in the past before. We saw it in Korea.

Amanda: Yep.

Julia: We've seen it in Japan. All of that kind of instances. Jiutian Xuannü was said to have learned all that she knew, from Xi Wangmu, who is said to be the queen mother of the west. She was the dispenser of prosperity, longevity, and eternal bliss. And was said to be the person who opened up the silk road trading.

Amanda: I mean no big deal.

Julia: I mean kind of a big deal. For sure.

Amanda: Changing the scope of the world.

Julia: Just you know, creating a vast trade network, that influences the world to this day. Sure, sure, sure.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: Good job.

Amanda: And allows us to have archeology, in a lot of ways. Because finding goods that originated from other countries, and are only able to be traded via the silk road are some of the ways in which we can date countries or artifacts or whatever. It's so cool.

Julia: I mean makes sense that she's the goddess of prosperity then huh?

Amanda: Oh yeah. By the way, archaeologists, anthropologists, other people who dig for a living. I super want to hear your stories.

Julia: Please, please come to us if you dig for a living.

Amanda: I mean you could dig stuff for a living, and be a cultural commentator.

Julia: Yeah. Yeah please. I appreciate it. We appreciate what you do.

Amanda: And dig creepy cool things for a living.

Julia: I like that. Then, there was Chiyou, who was a tribal leader and who was fighting Huangdi at the time. Nowadays he's been deified as the god of war, and was considered one of the three legendary founding fathers of China.

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: All of this being background story so we know who the players are in the story, in which Jiutian Xuannü is introduced.

Amanda: Right.

Julia: Here's the direct story, and then we'll break down the specifics after I read this. Okay?

Amanda: Okay.

Julia: "The yellow emperor came in to power. Chiyou and his brothers, a total of 80 people all had the bodies of beasts, and spoke like human beings. They had bronze heads, and iron foreheads. They ate sand and rocks, built military weapons, and intimidated the world. They killed at will, and without principle showing no mercy. The yellow emperor governed the state, and he looked at the sky and sighed. Heaven dispatched the mysterious woman down to earth, to deliver military messages, and sacred talismans to the yellow emperor enabling him to subjugate Chiyou. The returning statesmen, the yellow emperor, therefore used them to suppress the enemy, and seized control of the eight directions."

Amanda: What are the eight directions?

Julia: I think it's just the span of the world.

Amanda: Of the world.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: And the directions. You know North, south, east, West.

Amanda: Oh, okay. I was like I don't know. Fear, success, despair.

Julia: Yes. I like those.

Amanda: Eight directions of fate is sort of how I was thinking.

Julia: I mean I dig that too. That's a cool interpretation

Amanda: Wow. That is like the foundation myth of foundation myths.

Julia: Before this battle, between Huangdi and Chiyou, Jiutian Xuannü appeared to Huangdi. Chiyou had created a thick mist on the battlefield, which was so impenetrable, that it obscured both the day, and night.

Amanda: Whoa.

Julia: Huangdi is trapped in this mist for days, unable to find his way out unable to tell if it's day, or night, or even send his troops in any direction really.

Amanda: Yeah. That completely strips away all the things you mentioned. Direction, the passage of time, stuff like that.

Julia: Yeah, it really fucks you up. Finally, Jiutian Xuannü is sent to help him. She rides into the mist on a cinnabar phoenix, which is kind of similar to a flying peacock with long tails, but on fire.

Amanda: Not going to lie, I really thought you said Cinnabon.

Julia: No, cinnabar. Like the Pokémon Island. Where the fire tribe is.

Amanda: That's true. Whoa.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: That's a cultural relevance that I can get behind.

Julia: But Cinnabon also would be adorable.

Amanda: Like Kiki's delivery service, but flying on a Cinnabon.

Julia: I love It. I love it so much.

Amanda: I'm hungry.

Julia: She bakes the Cinnabon on the tail of the phoenix.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: It's very good.

Amanda: Ooh. Or what if the phoenix just brulees stuff, wherever she goes.

Julia: Oh man. Just lay out a bunch of crème brulees.

Amanda: Like giving you a crispy, sugary trail.

Julia: I love it so much.

Amanda: Listen, most foods would be improved by broiling. Prove me wrong.

Julia: That's 100% true.

Amanda: Come on.

Julia: I can't think of something that wouldn't.

Amanda: I mean hot foods.

Julia: I mean, I still can't think of anything that wouldn't be improved.

Amanda: Toast. Eggs.

Julia: Yep.

Amanda: Stir fry.

Julia: Maybe cereal, not? But that's a cold food.

Amanda: That is a cold food. And also oatmeal for sure.

Julia: Oh yeah.

Amanda: That'd be cool. Some crème bruleed oatmeal. Get at me.

Julia: Ooh, now I want that.

Amanda: Julia just looked off into the distance like she'd seen God.

Julia: See, someone on Twitter commented. That every time we do this, I'm hungry.

Amanda: It's true. It's true.

Julia: And now I'm hungry again. Thank you for that.

Amanda: Okay. Well in roughly 25 minutes we can get you some snacks.

Julia: Okay sweet. Flys in on this phoenix. She's using phosphors and clouds as reigns, in order to ride the bird.

Amanda: Whoa.

Julia: Which, is just beautiful. I love it so much.

Amanda: That's such a cool image.

Julia: She's also wearing this amazing outfit, that's made of kingfisher feathers, which have you seen a kingfisher before?

Amanda: I actually have. And they're epic.

Julia: They're like these teal, gorgeous looking birds. I love them. They're one of my favorite birds. I have a lot of favorite birds. Just a side note. And, she's also wearing these nine different colors, in order to represent the nine heavens.

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: Huangdi greets her, and welcomes her command. To which Jiutian Xuannü tells him, "I base myself on the teachings of the grand supreme. If you have any doubts, you may question me."

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: So good.

Amanda: I love that, because normally a ruler, much less like a deity. Or a messenger of a deity. Would be like, "Don't question me. This is how it is. Prove your faith."

Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda: But she's saying, "Hey listen, I'm here. Ask me a question." It's like, "We're ready."

Julia: And I also really like it because it makes her seem like she's this mouthpiece for something bigger, but also that she's channeling a force that Huangdi can't understand. But she can interpret for him.

Amanda: Exactly. She is really a holy body. You know, that can take in stuff, that's raw. That's more raw, and bigger than a human being can understand.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: But through that, pass through filter. Make it something that humans can grab.

Julia: Absolutely. Oh man, I like that. Oh, okay. Sorry, I just get all excited.

Amanda: And wait, it's grand supreme right?

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: Is that monotheistic god? Or is it more of like a fate, universe force type thing?

Julia: It's a god, but it's not monotheistic, because she is also a deity.

Amanda: I see.

Julia: But it's kind of like the hierarchy of the deities. Where Zeus, or Odan, or something like that.

Amanda: Yeah. Okay.

Julia: It would be that situation.

Amanda: Cool.

Julia: Cool. Huangdi responds to her, "Chiyou is cruelly crossing us. His poison is harming all of the black haired people. The four seas are sobbing. No one can protect his own nature, or life. I want the art of winning a myriad of victories, in a myriad of battles. Can I cut the harm facing my people?" I want to break that down just a little bit. Especially that last sentence.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: Because, he asks now how he can defeat Chu, but instead how he can help his people. And honestly, I think that's kind of what I find to be the true ideal of a leader.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: And I think that's really a very defining moment for [inaudible 00:15:25] in this story.

Amanda: Yeah. 100%. I thought the exact same thing when you read it. Which is, a hero would ask what the quickest path to glory is.

Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda: And this ruler is saying, "Listen, I know that I can't get everything I want, but what I need to know is how I can minimize, or stop this harm. Please help."

Julia: Yeah, how best do I help my people? Not just how do I get glory and defeat the enemy.

Amanda: Yeah. Also, way more of history should be told in poetry. It's just beautiful.

Julia: I know. I love it. Its great. So, when asked this question Jiutian Xuannü responds by bestowing him objects and artifacts that will allow him to defeat Chiyou and ascend into heaven as a deity.

Amanda: Hell, yeah.

Julia: They're not really specific about what the artifacts are, at least not the source that I was reading, but it's just like there's supposed to be these really beautiful, it's like items of power basically.

Amanda: I love bestowing you with your items of power scenes in movies, and books, and comic books, and stuff like that, I just, I don't know. I love it when a person ... It's like a meet-cute, but it's a person and their weapons.

Julia: Yes, basically. And I just want to finish out the story by mentioning that in the telling of the story Du Guangting specifies without Jiutian Xuannü help Huangdi would never have achieved this. He would have never defeated Chiyou in battle, he would have never ascended as a god. It's very, like... “And because of her help he was able to do all these things!”

Amanda: Hell yeah.

Julia: He would not have been able to do it without the help of the goddess.

Amanda: Cool.

Julia: Which, I am a fan of. [Sings] “Give credit where credit is due, especially to women.” I don't know why that was a song, but there you go.

Amanda: I will give you a musical stinger. Ba-da ba!

Julia: Thank you. That's true friendship right there.

Amanda: Ding!

Julia: So, Amanda.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: Because of the story that I told you about Huangdi and Jiutian Xuannü...

Amanda: How could I forget?

Julia: She is associated with warfare.

Amanda: Sure.

Julia: Obviously, but that's not her only association because she's amazing. So, she's also associated with magic. So, several Taoist texts give the goddess magical capabilities such as the ability to turn invisible.

Amanda: Okay. I mean, the shrouded in cloud, right?

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: How much more in tune with nature and light and obfuscation could you get?

Julia: I know, exactly. God, she's so cool. She's also been known to be able to mobilize the stars, using them to protect China.

Amanda: Dang.

Julia: I'm not entirely clear from the text I was looking at how that is supposed to be a thing.

Amanda: I assumed fate, and alignment, and stuff like that.

Julia: That makes sense. I had a turning the stars into soldiers to help protect the world kind of situation.

Amanda: Whoa.

Julia: That was my imagery in the head. I don't know if that's accurate, but that's the cool thing that I had in my brain stuff.

Amanda: I guess with that example of disorientation on the battlefield that we learned about earlier you could also use the constellations and the heavens to guide people somewhere.

Julia: Navigation?

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: Oh, that's interesting. I like that. Oh cool, okay.

Amanda: Or even sending constellations or sending messengers, omens, examples of like, "Oh hey, I'm seeing this constellation in the sky that represents whatever so, I should be cautious or I should be bold, or I should go by sea," or whatever.

Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, yeah. I like that a lot. Now I just want to see the movie version of that. You know what I mean?

Amanda: I know, but the good movie version.

Julia: Oh yeah, of course. Not the shitty movie version.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: I've been watching a lot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 lately and oh, man, there's a lot of bad movies out there.

Amanda: Do you know what I've been watching recently?

Julia: Tell me.

Amanda: Animal Planet's The Zoo.

Julia: Yes you did, you texted me about this.

Amanda: I did.

Julia: I am obsessed.

Amanda: It's a reality show about the Bronx zoo.

Julia: I'm obsessed.

Amanda: I love the goose and everything about it is beautiful. It's about the zoo keepers and just fellow New Yorkers in the Bronx just loving animals and taking care of them and just being so conservation and wild life health minded. I always disliked going to zoos as a kid because I felt so badly for the animals, but modern zoo keeping, it's all about preserving species and rehabilitation, stuff like that. So, it's feel good, it's adorable, it's so well edited. It's so good.

Julia: Can we take a trip to the Bronx zoo, please?

Amanda: Yeah we can!

Julia: Because I've been trying to drag Jake for two years at this point and I want to go real bad.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: Before the schools let out and shit, you know what I mean?

Amanda: I absolutely do. We should go very soon. Double date. Someone among us can Instagram stories it.

Julia: Yes.

Amanda: Oh my god, please.

Julia: 100%. Okay, good. We're going to go to the zoo. Now back to the story.

Amanda: Okay.

Julia: Her invisibility ability ... Invisibility ability, that's a thing that I just said, is exercised through her acolytes known as the Six Ding Jade Maidens. So, the Jade Maidens each have a different ability that includes invisibility.

Amanda: Okay. Like one per?

Julia: Yes. So, for instance one can hide her physical body, another can conceal her destiny, one's fortune, spirit, soul, et cetera.

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: It's really cool. So, there's physical invisibility, but then someone could be like ...

Amanda: There's metaphysical invisibility.

Julia: "I want to know what your future is," be like, "Haha, you don't know. I won't tell you."

Amanda: That's amazing though, especially when your powers involve the realm of time, fortune, predestination, all this kind of stuff. You need protection and abilities in those arenas too.

Julia: Hell yeah. Especially as a goddess or as just non-mortal deities you be like, "I'm not going to tell you your future, or fortune, or you cannot see my spirit," I just like that a lot.

Amanda: Yeah, or imagine in a movie or book you'll have an oracle who looks at stuff to come and says, "Oh, beware this person," or, "You're going to be fine," but imagine being able to cloak yourself from such imagining. You are the ultimate stealth bomber coming in to change fate in a way that no one can see.

Julia: Which leads into my next point, the fact that Jiutian Xuannü originally learned her invisibility as a military strategy where it was used to defeat enemies and protect the state.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: There you go.

Amanda: Boom.

Julia: So, worship for her invisibility is also done in the hope that concealing their bodies will allow them to expel evil and return to righteousness.

Amanda: Wow, that's some hierarchy of needs shit.

Julia: I like that a lot.

Amanda: You know where you transcend the physical and you do the rest.

Julia: Then you can purge your body of evil or what have you.

Amanda: Wouldn't that be nice, to leave this flesh sack behind?

Julia: I mean, yeah.

Amanda: Or, selectively be able to be in it.

Julia: Oh yeah, astral projection kind of style.

Amanda: Yes, precisely.

Julia: I could get down with some astral projection.

Amanda: My god, so could I. We could be in the Bronx zoo right now.

Julia: We could. Let's just lay back and astral project over to the zoo.

Amanda: They have a herd of gazelle Julia.

Julia: I know.

Amanda: A herd of gazelle.

Julia: They have snow leopards, which are my favorites.

Amanda: So pretty. They have little baby, tiny, monkey friends.

Julia: Oh god. I'm just getting excited about the zoo now. We need to focus up. Okay.

Julia: Aside from war and magic she's also associated with sex and sexuality.

Amanda: I was going to say, we haven't really touched on that so far.

Julia: Yeah, a book from the Han Dynasty that bears her name in the translation to English, the mysterious woman classic, which sounds like a horse race a little bit.

Amanda: Sounds like a cocktail.

Julia: Oh man.

Amanda: Also sounds like a horse race.

Julia: And that's going to be our cocktail for this episode.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: I will come up for it later.

Amanda: I feel like lavender, earl gray vibes, but you do what you will.

Julia: No, I'm with you there.

Amanda: Okay.

Julia: Oh, yeah. That, with a little bit of floral gin.

Amanda: Oh yeah.

Julia: And then, maybe a dash of sake or something like that? Really like pop.

Amanda: Yeah, the floral note.

Julia: With a little hint of vanilla there. Okay. Moving on. So, this book, the mysterious woman classic is specifically a handbook in which, and it's in the form of a dialog about sex.

Amanda: Cool.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: I mean, it makes sense to me.

Julia: So, they were actually a pretty popular book. Most upper-class households in the Han Dynasty had this book in their libraries.

Amanda: Oh, my goodness.

Julia: A seventh century poet, Liu Zongyan wrote a book that contains descriptions of the sexual arts that he said were transmitted to him by Jiutian Xuannü herself.

Amanda: I mean, I respect it.

Julia: I'm not going to tell you you're wrong, buddy, but ...

Amanda: Listen, if that's where you learned your sexual arts from, I'm going to buy that book, you know what I mean? It's a good marketing strategy.

Julia: Yeah, you're not wrong.

Amanda: I'm just thinking about how good a book by Aphrodite about sex would be.

Julia: Okay, which god would you want to teach you about sex? Obviously not Zeus. That's not even a question.

Amanda: I don't know.

Julia: I'm thinking maybe Loki because it's like you're having sex, boom, I'm a snake. Yo, I'm a horse now.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: A lady horse.

Amanda: You're a horse. What? That would be scary.

Julia: No, that would not be good.

Amanda: Maybe Erzulie Dantur?

Julia: Oh, fuck yeah. That's it.

Amanda: Yeah, right?

Julia: Yeah, for sure. Any of the Erzulies, really.

Amanda: Seriously.

Julia: They're all pretty dope. Dantur would be like, "This man fucked you over, so we're going to kill him?" And you’d be like, "I don't know about that. I don't know that he's really dead."

Amanda: I'm just saying ...

Julia: Just, "Well, he's dead already."

Amanda: I'm just saying sex with a vengeance, that's a book title.

Julia: Yes it is. Write it right now. Anyway.


Julia: And this will tie into the last aspect we'll be discussing. The sexual practices that were associated with Jiutian Xuannü were compared to alchemy and practices commonly used for prolonging life. She even tells Huangdi in certain texts that her sexual practices are like, "The intermingling of water and fire. It can kill or bring new life depending on whether or not one uses the correct methods," which, god isn't that the fucking truth?

Amanda: Jesus.

Julia: Yeah. She's just dropping straight fire on us right now.

Amanda: Not wrong.

Julia: Damn, I want that in my tomb stone. That's my tomb stone quote.

Amanda: I'm not calling mine yet. I think I have quite some time to make some waitressing puns about death, but you know, but physical effects aside emotionally it's also true. Sex can deepen a bond or it can make you, feel really alienated. That, any kind of intimacy. It has that effect of either, "Yes, this risk was worth it and it either solidifies or proves something I thought, or maybe it reveals to you that you think differently, or weren't connected like you thought you were, or something different is important to you.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: So, as much as I giggled the first time around, there is some truth there as well.

Julia: No, there's definitely some truth there. Oh man, that just makes me sad, because I was thinking about the, like, Incel discussion that's been going on, on Twitter and the news lately and stuff like that, and sex is a very defining thing for a lot of relationships, especially now that we're very open about it, but I also don't think that anyone has the right to sex and, I mean, you do have the right to sex with yourself, but not with other people.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: Other people are not objects.

Amanda: It's like, you have the right to pursue happiness, you don't have the right to be happy. You have the right to pursue sex, but not the right to have it.

Julia: Right, exactly, which I believe that Jiutian Xuannü would agree with us.

Amanda: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julia: Now, there's this really interesting aspect that is associated with Jiutian Xuannü and it's basically this idea that the human body is a microcosm of the universe and because of this the gods are present within the human body.

Amanda: My eyes are very wide.

Julia: I know this is very cool.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: This is my favorite philosophical thing that I have ever read about anything in our research for these episodes.

Amanda: Whoa.

Julia: It's very cool because the gods are present within the human body, this term is physiological microcosmology. Yeah. I was going to let that sit there.

Amanda: Whoa.

Julia: Physiological microcosmology.

Amanda: I need to know everything please.

Julia: I got you. So, in this belief Jiutian Xuannü is located in the central median of the body and she is associated with the circulation of breath, which is said to nourish the spirit and provide longevity.

Amanda: Yes, also not wrong. I mean completely accurate. Good job.

Julia: So, for instance, one is instructed to send their breath down, meaning take deep breaths, so that it might enter the goddess's mouth inside them.

Amanda: Whoa.

Julia: Nourishing the goddess would mean elongating one's life span, or even achieving immortality.

Amanda: I mean, it's completely right. Think about the kinds of things that we do when we do deep breathing. It's about calming, and centering, and focusing, and drawing up a different strength within you. Feeling renewed. Completely accurate.

Julia: Oh god, it's like it's so freaking cool. So, for instance a text from the fifth century states, "Her pearl of great brilliance shines to illuminate the inside of the adept's whole body so that he can extend his years and not die.

Amanda: Yeah man.

Julia: Another text says that the mysterious women is the mother of the way of the void and nothingness and the way to call her is this, and I quote, "Close your eyes and meditate on a white breath between your shoulders. In its center is a white tortoise. On top of that tortoise is the mysterious woman."

Amanda: Wow.

Julia: Oh god, I just love meditation so much.

Amanda: I know and I bet there are a lot of modern practices that relate to or could be related to what we're talking about now so, listeners that do breath work or meditation, I'd love to hear some of your practices or visualizations. Ever since I saw Fight Club when I was a little kid and the sort of like go into your subconscious and visualize ...

Julia: Visualize your penguin.

Amanda: Exactly. That just really struck a cord with me. I don't know why. It's so fascinating. This is the kind of stuff that the human beings got pretty right, pretty early. That deep breathing, focus, it calms, it makes you feel more alive.

Julia: Yeah. You know who has some very good meditation practices on their podcast?

Amanda: Who?

Julia: Our good friend Zach Valenti on his Focus.AF podcast, he does a like, usually 5 to 10 minute segment at the end where he leads you through a guided meditation. It's very nice, and very cool, and I use it a lot.

Amanda: His voice is very calming.

Julia: He does have a very calming voice.

Amanda: When he's not yelling about space problems.

Julia: That's true. 100% true. She is also associated with alchemy, said to prepare elixirs for other deities and specifically with a process called Neidan or inner alchemy, which I know how much you love alchemy Amanda.

Amanda: I sure do.

Julia: So, I'm going to go a little bit into it. So basically, it's this physical, mental, and spiritual practice in Taoist tradition that is used to prolong life and create an immortal spiritual body that would survive after death.

Amanda: What is the practice?

Julia: I don't know really the specifics, but the basics of it are the human body becomes a cauldron in which essence, breath, and spirit are cultivated in order to improve physical, mental, and emotional health and eventually one becomes an immortal.

Amanda: Wow. That also tracks with, for me personally thinking about food as fuel for your body and not what I can or can't eat or what's good or bad, but what will fuel my body right now and make it be it's most functional and wholistic and good feeling.

Julia: Sure.

Amanda: Is, for me, a well adjusted and productive way to think about a thing that I have a complex relationship with.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: And, that is so true that you're ... I also often talk and think of myself as an ecosystem. My ecosystem is carefully calibrated and likes a certain temperature and a certain humidity, and needs more sleep sometimes, and more water, and more rest, and more social time, and when all these things are in balance then I'm primed and ready to go, but the leveling up of that mindset is like, "Oh, no," you could shuffle off this mortal coil and become completely immortal if it all goes correctly.

Julia: I mean, your internal ecosystem is very similar to the physiological microcosmology.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: Which I just like saying those words together because it's very cool

Amanda: I know, I feel like anytime someone will mansplain at a bar about finance I'll just be like, "Physiological cosmology. Get at me."

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: But, I mean so true. A, we're all star stuff, right?

Julia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda: The fact that all atoms in a body have been atoms of other things and we're born in stars. It's amazing. I would love to know anything else about the worlds, but it's fine.

Julia: I love it, it's very cool.

Amanda: And also as a hour experience of the universe is necessarily mediated and based obviously in our bodies and we are the thing around which everything else orbits, hopefully not because that's a very self-centered way to look at the universe, but literally that is true and the fact that you can draw that metaphor between, "I am the nucleus of my experience of the universe, but also that is true within me and I am one fraction of a molecule of the rest of the cosmos." I don't know, to me that puts a lot of things in perspective in a really good way.

Julia: Right, and I think it's that, in my head it's this telescoping thing. Like, is there a small you also existing within your physiological microcosm that feels the same way and also has their own physiological microcosm and so on and so forth.

Amanda: I mean there sort of is because I can think about my brain so, therefore what am I? What is the I that is able to think about my own brain, you know what I mean? So, there has to be something in there.

Julia: We're getting very philosophy 101 here, but I'm into it.

Amanda: I know. I don't know, when I first read about these things I was just like, "Oh man, I figured it out." It honestly blew my mind.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: And to be to revisit it and know that human beings have been thinking about these kinds of things for 1, and 3, and 5,000 years is the best kind of revelation for me.

Julia: But, I also like this idea of the internal alchemy. I am tending to my physical body, but I'm also tending to my emotional and mental health as well.

Amanda: Yes.

Julia: In order to just take care of myself and prolong my life and that's such a genuinely concept that we still struggle with today, and the fact that they're talking about it back then is kind of insane to me, but I love it, you know what I mean?

Amanda: It absolutely is and in the way that a modern version of that is the self care discourse.

Julia: Oh, yeah. Sure.

Amanda: Where, yes, there are ways that self care is commercialized and is economically privileged and stuff like that, but I really can jive with the ethos behind it, which is that the stuff you surround yourself with and the way you treat yourself is as or more important than anything else you can do in the world. That surrounding yourself, whether it's like, for me, having my house be reflective of my personality, and neat, and calming, and situated to my atmosphere, makes everything else possible in my life.

Julia: Yeah.

Amanda: Or maybe for others it's social time, or it's alone time, or it's the music, or books, or other, the foods that they eat, or stuff that makes them feel really well situated and that is the thing you need to take care of before you can level up into other stuff.

Julia: Exactly and just understanding, "Hey, we exist more than just as physical beings." We have to take care of those other things or else we're not going to live the most fulfilled life that we can.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: Oh man. And Jiutian Xuannü does a great job in just embodying all of that.

Amanda: Also, what fashion man.

Julia: Oh, so good.

Amanda: What statements. What powerful colors. I want a topknot of dragons.

Julia: It's almost as good as Inanna’s look. I would say they are on the runway together just posing.

Amanda: Oh yeah. I know we did our series of water spirit pins, but I feel like there could be a pin set of high femme goddesses.

Julia: Oh, I love it already. Someone pitch us those images because I want to see what those would look like.

Amanda: I love it.

Julia: Oh man. I want to just leave this one off in saying, once again, we found a goddess that I want to just embody in my everyday life.

Amanda: Yeah.

Julia: 100% I want to have that fearless military knowledge. The magic and mysteriousness to myself and then also just the emotional understanding like, "Hey, I'm more than just a physical being. I need to take care of the rest of myself. I need to take care of the universe that exists within myself."

Amanda: And therefore taking care of the universe. Righting your own wrongs and taking care of yourself is an act of goodness and of positive impact on the universe at large. Even though the idea of infinite mes all the way down within me that are universes within my universe, within my universe, I find to be ...

Julia: Kind of creepy.

Amanda: And also kind of cool.

[Theme music]

Julia: Spirits was created by Amanda McLoughlin, Julia Schifini, and Eric Schneider with music by Kevin MacLeod and visual design by Allyson Wakeman.

Amanda: Keep up with all things creepy and cool by following us on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram @spiritspodcast. We also have all our episodes, collaborations and guest appearances, plus merch on our website, spiritspodcast.com.

Julia: Come on over to our Patreon page, patreon.com/spiritspodcast for all kinds of behind the scenes stuff. Throw us a little as one dollar and get access to audio extras, recipe cards, director's commentaries, and patron-only livestreams.

Amanda: Hey, if you like the show, please share us with your friends. That is the best way to help us keep on growing.

Julia: Thank you so much for listening. Till next time.