This legendary woman who was later declared as the Goddess Lady Linshui in the 13th century was born in the 700s as Chen Jinggu. A short time before Her conception and birth, the prefect of a district near Quanzhou tried to build a bridge across dangerous waters. Many travelers had drowned there every year, but where the bridge was most needed, it was most difficult to construct. The district’s prefect prayed to the Goddess Kuan Yin for help with his construction project, as it would certainly be very expensive. Kuan Yin heard his prayers and appeared in a boat in front of the fishing village. Kuan Yin told the gathering crowd of devotees that She would marry whoever could throw a coin and touch Her. Hundreds of silver coins were thrown at Her, but all missed and fell into the boat She was standing on. The fund-raising worked well until a vegetable seller threw a handful of silver powder at the Goddess, touching a strand of Her hair.
Immediately, Kuan Yin disappeared but the vegetable seller, eager to claim his prize, hurled himself into the sea to chase after Her and drowned in the violent waters. Kuan Yin then reappeared before the people, and having compassion on the drowned man, She sent his soul to be reborn as a scholar in Gutian by biting her finger and spitting the blood from the wound into the water. She then plucked out the silver hair from Her head and cast it into the sea, which became a magical sea snake. Kuan Yin’s blood washed downstream into the lower ford of the Min River, where Lady Ge, a barren woman, swallowed the blood. The sacred blood instantly impregnated Lady Ge, who gave birth to Chen Jinggu nine months later amidst perfume and music that filled the air.
From an early age, Chen Jinggu showed signs of powerful clairvoyant abilities and an intense devotion to Her Heavenly Mother, Kuan Yin. During Her teenage years, Chen Jinggu set out to learn shamanism and martial arts from a well-known shaman on Mount Lu, quickly surpassing Her teacher and becoming a master in both. These skills would aid Her greatly in Her fight against the magical snake. She mastered every magical art except for childbirth, which She didn’t bother with considering that She had no desire to get married.
Upon returning home, Lady Ge tried to find her daughter a husband, but Chen Jinggu rejected all of her efforts. Instead, Chen Jinggu set up practice as a professional shaman, performing everything from demon exorcism to spirit summoning. She also trained two other women, Lin Jiuniang and Li Sanniang, who together formed a sister-shaman trio.
Chen Jinggu rode into Her first battle against the magical snake, armed with a sword formed from the stars of Ursa Major and a serpent-headed whip. During Her first battle against the magical snake when it attacked the king’s palace, She and Her fellow sister-shamans managed to drive it away only after it had already eaten the king’s consorts. Another time it attacked the vegetable seller’s reincarnation, a handsome young scholar named Liu Qi. After a fierce battle, Chen Jinggu managed to save him. The two fell in love and sealed their great affection for one another with formal matrimony.
Chen Jinggu became pregnant shortly after the couple’s marriage. During this time, the kingdom suffered from a severe drought. The king called upon Chen Jinggu to invoke the rain, but as rain invocation required incredibly strenuous dancing, She could not perform the dance due to being pregnant. However, the rain invocation could not be delayed, so Chen Jinggu aborted the child from Her womb, magically sealing it inside of the placenta to keep it hidden safe inside of Her mother’s home. While She was ritually dancing to summon the rain, the snake slipped into Her mother’s home and ate the child. At that very moment, Chen Jinggu began to severely hemorrhage. Realizing what had happened, She went to confront the magical snake and managed to kill it with the last of Her strength. Chen Jinggu then collapsed to the earth and passed away at the young age of 24.
In spirit form, She returned to Her teacher at Mount Lu and finally learned the magical art of childbirth. She took the spirit of Her unborn child and transformed him into the child-god San Sheren, and She in turn received the title Lady Linshui. The first temple built in Her honour was constructed in 792 in the village of Daqiao. Her mummified body now rests here together with the remains of the magical snake.
Lady Linshui was first recognized in the Emperor’s Register of Sacrifices around the year 1250. Her shamanic lineage, known as the Sannan Lüshan, continued to practice exorcism, healing, and various other magical arts over the centuries following Her death. Her temple in Daqiao burned down in 1875 but was carefully restored. During the Chinese Communist takeover that began in 1949, Her statues were defaced and Her worship was suppressed by laws against “feudal superstition.” However, many local woman continued to honour their traditions and values despite the anti-religious sentiments of the times, and in the 1980’s with the relaxation of strict Communist laws Her temples were restored and expanded.
Today, Her most famous site of worship is the Lady Linshui Temple in Tainan, Taiwan, which was originally constructed as a straw hut in 1736, only later being built in solid form in 1886 and renovated to its current state in 1983.
Inside the temple, Lady Linshui is depicted as one of the Three Ladies (Sannu Jiao). She is supported by three assistants for every month of the year for a total of thirty six in all, which are displayed by month in glass boxes along the sides of the hall.
“Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines” by Patricia Monaghan