The Purple Maiden

the Purple Maiden
The Purple Maiden (Zǐgū 紫姑) is a minor deity of Chinese Folk Religion mostly worshipped by women via a very peculiar possession cult: instead of possessing a medium, the Purple Maiden takes possession of her effigy during the night of her festival (the 15th day of the 1st month).

The effigy is thus swayed in various directions by the weight of the possessing deity; the movements of the effigy are then interpreted by the Ritual Master / Shaman / Spirit-Medium to divine about the prospects of the coming year in terms of silk output, or any other women-related produce.

As with most Chinese Folk Religion deities, the Purple Maiden is an apotheosised mortal. She was a concubine killed by the jealous wife of her master, close to the pigsty or to the latrine of the household. This is why her cult takes place next to the pigsty or latrine. An alternate (and possibly truer) hypothesis is that the stinking parts of the household were deemed inhabited by malevolent spirits, and a tale was fabricated to create a benevolent spirit guarding said parts of the household.

Whatever the truth, the cult of the Purple Maiden has been popular since the Táng dynasty. Under the Sòng, Zǐgū can be called upon even outside of her festival night via a small doll made of chopsticks and wicker, and animated by children. The doll traces lines on the ground, which are then interpreted for divination. This is probably the first instance of fújī (spirit-writing, see p94 of The Celestial Empire), the divination technique that became so popular from the Sòng dynasty on.

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