Beyond Primitivism: Indigenous Religious Traditions and Modernity

By Jacob K. Olupona | Go to book overview
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Chapter 14

The Earth Mother Scripture

Unmasking the neo-archaic

Whalen W. Lai

On the ninth day of the first lunar month in the ninth year of the reign of Ch’ing Emperor Kuang-hsu (1883) at the Earth Mother temple at Shensi, the Authentic Scripture of the Earth Mother was revealed during a “flying phoenix” (spirit writing) session. Some time later, the Wondrous Scripture of the Earth Mother was received. 1 Then, just this last year (1995), from the twentieth night of the eighth lunar moon (14 October) in Taichung in Central Taiwan, The True Scripture of the Earth Mother Universally Delivering All was revealed. As decreed by the Jade Emperor, the Vacuously Empty Earth Mother (and) Great Compassionate Worthy moved the brush that wrote it down. At the time of writing the present chapter, it was still being composed at the Wu-miao Ming-cheng Hall that Philip Clart has been studying since 1994. 2

In The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan, 3 a study of these pai-luan or plantchette societies in present-day Taiwan, Overmyer classifies the Earth Mother Scripture under “Liturgical Texts: Sectarian” and as one of the “Spirit-Writing Books from Modern Taiwan. Though it originated in the mainland, it is now found all over Taiwan, due largely to the Compassion Society founded in 1950 that distributes this text free along with a primer on the basics of Buddhism. A long poem in seven-character lines, it does not always conform to the standard format of the spirit-written genre. Overmyer’s summary assessment goes as follows:

The book appears to be an expression of an earth mother cult; its chief concerns are to stress the creative power of the Earth Mother and her ability to bring blessings to those who appeal to her and recite her scripture.

(The Flying Phoenix: 73)

The scripture may stand by itself or be paired to a number of other shorter works. 4 Though the Earth Mother goes back to the Great Mother of archaic times, she wears also the guise of the sixteenth-century sectarian cult figure known as the Eternal Mother. 5 The Eternal Mother inherited but also superseded the early Taoist cult of the Queen Mother of the West. 6 She continued but also overshadowed the Buddha Amitabha of the Western Pure Land. By Late T’ang, the paradises of the Queen Mother and of Amitabha had merged in popular perception. By the Sung, going to the “land of ultimate bliss” was synonymous with going to the “peach garden” or the “jasper pool. Under the Yuan (Mongol rule), Pure Land piety fused with the millenarian expectation of the coming of Maitreya. That precipitated the White Lotus rebellion that brought in the Ming dynasty. By Late Ming, the figure of the Eternal Mother appeared and called for a return of her


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