To just shake things up a little, I’m going to reverse the order and begin with talking about Rei Hino, AKA Sailor Mars before going into her Chinese mythological equivalent–the warrior goddess and the nymph of bedroom affairs.
Rei Hino works in the Shinto Shrine and it is perhaps no surprise that her favourite subject was ancient writing while her least favourite is modern society. Because she works in the shrine, she’s also often spotted wearing a Shinto robe, which is extremely similar to Hanfu with the cross collar top and a pleated skirt. Something interesting about the culture of cross collar between Japanese and the Chinese culture is that while both cultures were quite particular about the fold of the collar–fastening the top piece on the right, the belief behind that was rather different. For the Japanese, only the dead would have their top blouse fastened on the left, whereas for the Chinese, they saw it as a sign of barbarism to fasten it on the left. Her love for ancient writing might have been explained by her frequent use of ofuda scrolls which are believed to have the power of dispelling evil spirits or offer protections.
Before the Mesopotamian astrology was introduced to China in the 8th Century, the Chinese assigned the planets nearer to earth according to the 5 main elements (i.e. Fire, Metal, Water, Wood, Earth). So Mars was assigned the Fire element, but it has another name–Yinghuo (熒惑) which literally meant “uncertain glow”. The ancient Chinese also saw it as a sign of great disaster (i.e. famine, war, death), quite similar to the western mythology of Mars being closely associated to the Greek God of war Ares.
As I shared in the previous article on Sailormoon, cultures tend to have similar references and explanations for the various natural phenomenon either as a cross-influence or independently developed since human nature and instincts don’t differ too much. In this case, the associate with war for Mars in ancient China was actually a foreign influence from Mesopotamian astrology in about the 8th Century, whereas the association with disaster was a parallel development that happened alongside with the West.
The erratic behaviour of Mars’ orbit and glow observed by both the East and the West gave rise to the same belief that Mars meant disaster, and once every 15+ years or so, there’s a special phenomenon where Mars (red planet) stays at/meets the bright red star Antares (荧惑守心) and that represents a change in government.
Similarly, in the case of Sailor Mars, her superpower is rather offensive and aggressive, and she has a powerful Mars Arrow. She’s also the more mysterious one amongst the earlier group of Sailormoon warriors, not unlike how the ancients viewed Mars. Of course with red being such a prominent colour so closely associated with the planet Mars, Sailor Mar is also famously dressed in red.
In the Sailormoon series, Sailor Mars was also given the title Guardian of Flame and Passion, which indicates her dual identity of being both a powerful and a passionate warrior. And this is where it gets interesting in the Chinese mythological goddess which I’m alluding her to–The Mysterious Goddess of the Nine Heavens (九天玄女 Jiu Tian Xuan Nü). The name doesn’t really mean much to most people so I’ve broken her identity up into two parts–the warrior, and the guardian of bedroom affairs.
Generally, the identity of this Nine Heavens Goddess is someone who could transcend the 9 heavens (the Chinese believe that there are 9 levels of heaven/existence and 18 levels of hell) into this blackhole of sorts (I know, I know, interstellar kinda idea). Xuan, in ancient Chinese referred to a black colour or the colour of the sky before dawn breaks (it also referred to the kinda black with a tinge of red at some point). Basically, the idea of Xuan is like a blackhole, that absorbs all light and swallows everything, and it was one of the 3 pre-heaven energies (yes, yes, big bang theory here)
So she was actually known as the only goddess between heaven and earth at the very beginning, but strangely she was said to have the head of a beautiful woman and the body of a bird. The Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) Chinese believed that they were born out of an egg of the black Xuan bird (associated with the Black
Widow Goddess Xuan nü), as such, they had bird totems in a lot the artefacts from that period.
Certain groups of Taoists also believed that the creation goddess Nü Wa is the same as the Nine Heaven Goddess, just different reincarnated forms. And Nü Wa was believed to be in the form of a maiden with snake body. Yes, the snake was also a popular totem in ancient societies because they were seen as symbols of power since men were fearful of snakes and their poisonous venom. By worshipping snakes and incorporating snake totems into their culture and daily lives, the ancients hoped that it would protect them against snakes and be gifted with the same power as snakes.
So back to the topic of the dual-personality of the goddess. On the more Yin/feminine/soft side, she was believed to be the creator of Incense burning–at that time used as a form of medicine NOT to be used as an aphrodisiac, but to treat her father.
Xuan nü was also said to have a twin sister called Su nü, and both of them were extremely knowledgeable and skilled *clears throat* in bedroom affairs. They imparted the knowledge in sexual affairs to Yellow Emperor (黄帝Huang Di, Singaporeans, no, don’t get started on the “叫我皇帝” joke however appropriate it is in this situation), and there were several volumes of what would probably be known as ancient China’s Kamasutra based on the two sister’s teachings (the original menage-a-trois maybe?). Xuan as we mentioned earlier, referred to the Black colour; Su, referred to the White colour. So sexual affair is also known as affairs of Xuan and Su, and in turn, the yin–yang affair. Yes, it’s all about balances.
Naturally, the multi-talented Xuan nü was also a powerful warrior goddess who imparted skills of war and battling to Huang Di! In ancient mythology, she advised and guided Huang Di to win the war against Chi You, the leader of another powerful tribe. In fact, she has more books on war than sexual affairs.
When the Chinese launched their first spacecraft to orbit around Mars, they named it Yinghuo-1 (萤火) which the same spelling as Mars’ ancient Chinese name but written slightly differently in Chinese characters. Perhaps if they had studied the ancient association of the name, they might have better luck with its orbit for this particular spacecraft (which was intended to orbit Mars for 2 years) was left stranded in orbit shortly after being launched and was declared lost. Eventually, it had a destructive re-entry into our atmosphere and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean. So… Mars, Yinghuo, destruction. This is somewhat a comic irony kind of situation.
Importance of knowing one’s own history 😛
[Special Thanks to Dr Jeffrey Kotyk for your patience in explaining to me on mesopotamian influence in Chinese astrology vs China’s own native belief in Mars and its associations]–If you want to geek out on medieval Chinese astrology, foreign influences in East Asian astrology etc. do follow his blog or read his papers! Very interesting research he has!
P.S. Was told that my ending’s really abrupt, but… hey, less is more right! Now hope you’re inspired to research more on your own while I work on the other content!
Summary in Chinese: