• Kara Newcastle

Myth Monday: Nu Wa, the Snake Mother (Chinese Myth)

Myth Monday: Nu Wa, the Snake Mother (Chinese Myth)

Nuwa and Fuxi, 1964

In the beginning, only two beings lived upon the newly formed Earth; the half-human, half-snake god Fu Xi, and his sister-wife, the half-human, half-snake goddess Nu Wa. Together they created the plants and the animals, and Nu Wa herself created ten gods from her own organs … but Nu Wa found herself to be strangely lonely. Feeling that she would feel better with a child, Nu Wa and Fu Xi attempted to create one, but their attempts only resulted in a formless lump of flesh. Nu Wa became so frustrated with her loneliness and inability to create life with her husband that she decided to travel the world to take her mind off of things … only to grow more lonely because the world was so empty.

One day, Nu Wa paused to rest beneath a tree beside the great Yellow River. Glancing down into the waters, she saw her own reflection and smiled at the pretty sight. After a moment, her eyes trailed down to the river’s banks, and she noticed the rich clay that had gathered there, deposited by the river’s currents. Her curiosity piqued, Nu Wa reached down and gathered up a handful of clay, kneading it between her fingers, working it into various shapes.

Looking back down to her reflection, Nu Wa studied her appearance, her human form as it was from the waist up.

“I wonder,” she said, turning back to the clay in her hands, “if I could shape this into a living being? Then I could have someone to talk to, and I wouldn’t feel so alone.”

Curiosity turned to excitement, and Nu Wa gathered more clay, working the formless lump into a figure, modeling its top half after her own appearance. As she moved below the figure’s hips, Nu Wa considered forming the bottom half into a serpent’s tail, much like her own, but then decided against it. She rolled out two appendages, things she called legs, then pinched the ends over, creating feet.

Delighted with her creation, Nu Wa set the figure on to the riverbank and sat back to admire it. As she smiled lovingly down on the figure, it slowly opened its eyes. It blinked, then took a deep, uncertain breath. Raising its head up, the new being saw Nu Wa. It smiled and held its arms out to her.

“Mother!” it joyously cried.

Jubilant with her success, Nu Wa scooped up more and more clay, fashioning more and more of the creatures—the first humans—as rapidly as she could. She created women and men, girls and boys, made some tall, some short, some thin, some large, gave them various features and different voices. Each of these humans adored Nu Wa, and she loved them all as her children.

In time, Nu Wa realized that she was beginning to tire. She had formed hundreds of these humans out of clay, and she was nearly overwhelmed with the need to make more, but the process was becoming more and more tedious. Still, it hurt her to not finish, to not make more children. She wanted more.

“Perhaps there’s a faster way to make them,” Nu Wa mused. Pivoting around atop her sinuous snake body, Nu Wa scanned the riverbank around her and her new children, searching for something that could assist her. Seeing a vine twisting its way around the tree she sat beneath, Nu Wa reached out and pulled it down. Dipping one end into the clay, Nu Wa then whipped the vine in the air over her head, spraying clay everywhere. Wherever the drops landed, new human beings sprouted. These humans became peasants, while the ones that Nu Wa created by hand became nobles.

Even this proved to be exhausting, and, lowering the vine, Nu Wa was struck with an incredible idea; instead of creating more humans herself, she would have her new creations make them for her! Nu Wa granted her new humans the ability to copulate and give birth, and taught her human children the institution of marriage, so that their children would grow safely and honorably.

Nu Wa remained in her children’s lives for many years, protecting them from the Yellow River’s floods, and teaching them how to build dams and irrigate their fields. She and her husband Fu Xi ruled the humans as queen and king, and after Fu Xi passed away, Nu Wa ruled on her own for many years longer, successfully defending her children from the malicious Kung Kung when he sought to overthrow her, and then using the five stones of the elements to repair a hole in the sky left by a bad-tempered dragon. When her time on Earth was complete, Nu Wa climbed a ladder into the Heavens and disappeared from sight, but she continues to watch over her human children, and the humans of China have never forgotten their beloved Snake Mother.

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