Part 4: Magoist Origin of Immortals
“I maintain that Immortals originally refers to Mago’s descendants in Mago Castle, the Primordial Paradise. They are the primordial clan community of the Mago Species, comprised of the divine, demigods, and humans.”
[This is a translation and interpretation of the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City), principal text of Magoism. Read the translation of Chapter 1 of the Budoji.]
Magoist Origin of Immortals: All in the Mago Species are given the original nature of immortality or transcendence. Readers are advised to set aside the literal meaning in the English language of the words immortals or transcendents. Immortals is a translation of the East Asian term seon (仙, xian in Chinese). I choose the translation immortals over transcendents not because it is a better translation but because it is the most commonly used term by Western Daoist translators.[i] Although it is known as a Daoist term, I hold that it is pre-Daoist, namely Magoist, in origin. Primarily, it refers to the Mago Species (Mago and Her descendants) who dwelt in Mago Castle, the primordial home, to be discussed in detail in later chapters. Likewise, historical figures known as Immortals are Magoist rather than Daoist.
While the etymology of seon (xian, immortals) remains unknown in Chinese Daoist texts, the character 仙 is indicative of the Magoist cosmogony.[ii] As a compound of the radical in (人, persons) and the character san (山, mountain), seon suggests people of the mountain, namely, residents in Mago Castle, the highest place on earth.[iii]
The Magoist origin of Immortals offers a new way to interpret data that otherwise remain misconstrued or fragmented. For example, that Mago is favorably called Seon-nyeo (Female Immortal) in Korean folklore is a peculiar expression of ancient knowing that Immortals originated from Mago. The epithet Mago Seon-nyeo is a statement that Immortals are Magoist. Here and in other primary materials, Mago often stands for Magoism. Primary sources that I have documented warrant that, when people interpolated the word Mago, they meant the mytho-historical-cultural context of Magoism. The term Mago is equated with the bygone gynocentric era, governed by Magoist female sovereigns, prior to the establishment of patriarchy in China. Nostalgic sentiments harboring the name Mago should not be taken as a heterosexual romantic fantasy for male adepts. Such, although a standard Daoist interpretation, proves to be reductionist, further mystifying the identity of Mago as the Great Goddess.
More conspicuously, the Magoist origin of Immortals is implied in the place-names and folktales that depict Mago as Seon or Seon-nyeo. Such examples include Mago seongyeong (Scenic view of Immortal Magu), Xiangu-dong (Cave of Immortal Goddess), and Mang-seon-gyo (Bridge of Anticipating Immortal) in China, and Biseon-dae (Precipice of Ascending Immortal) and Waseon-dae (Precipice of Lying-down Immortal) in Korea. Above all, the fact that the Shenxian-zhuan (Biographies of Immortals), hagiographies of Immortals, written by Ge Hong (283-343), begins with the Magu-zhuan (Biography of Magu) attests to the paramount significance of Mago, which suggests that She precedes the forthcoming Immortals. The primacy of Mago in the pantheon of Immortals is also expressed in literature and art. Mago is depicted as a leading Immortal followed by a troupe of Immortals in procession or as a goddess who, like a crane, transports adepts to the land of paradise.
Who are Immortals? Given that Magoism is written out of history, scholars have perforce defined an immortal within the Doaist context. Edward H. Schafer, renowned Daoist scholar, defines xian as “transcendant, sylph (a being who, through alchemical, gymnastic and other disciplines, has achieved a refined and perhaps immortal body, able to fly like a bird beyond the trammels of the base material world into the realms of aether, and nourish himself on air and dew).”[iv] Schafer’s definition is, albeit derivatively, evocative of the Magoist Species in Mago Castle, forgotten but euphemized as Daoist demi-gods. I maintain that Immortals originally refers to Mago’s descendants in Mago Castle, the Primordial Paradise. They are the primordial clan community of the Mago Species, comprised of the divine, demigods, and humans. In short, the term Immortals, like the Magoist Species, seals the divide between deities and humans, a linguistic legacy of Magoism. In historical times, humans are the representative of Immortals. As Magoist luminaries, they have achieved the equivalent of paradisiacal living, a legacy which has produced its own complex and enduring discourse associated with Daoism.
[i] Russell Kirkland, Daoist scholar, discusses the issue of correct translation of xian and chooses transcendents. See Russell Kirkland, Taoism: The Enduring Tradition (Routledge, 2004).
[ii] The Budoji does not mention the term seon (xian). Nonetheless, we should not conclude that it was unknown to Koreans in ancient times. The retinue of pal-seon-nyeo (eight immortal women) in Korean folklore and Shamanism, when regarded as the precursor of pal-seon (eight immortals) in Daoism, lends credence to the idea that the term seon was first used among Koreans.
[iii] However, that is only one interpretation of seon. As the character 仙 is also written as仚 (variant of 仙) and 僊 in ancient Chinese texts, it is complex and fluid in meaning, see Zhuangzi (Chapter 11, tr. Burton Watson, 1968:122-3).
[iv] Schafer, Edward H. (1966), “Thoughts about a Students’ Dictionary of Classical Chinese,” Monumenta Serica 25: 197-206, 204.
[Author’s Note: This and subsequent essays are part of the forthcoming book tentatively entitled, The Magoist Cosmogony from the Budoji (Epic of the Emblem City), Translation and Interpretation, Volume 1, that I am currently writing. I am indebted to Harriet Ann Ellenberger, who has given me her prompt feedback and editorial advice in a most supportive manner. I am thankful to Dr. Glenys Livingstone, who has inspired me to write this book sooner than later. I am also grateful for Rosemary Mattingley, who has provided copy-editing of my essays in Return to Mago Webzine.]
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