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Mazu the Taiwanese Goddess That Protects Fishermen and Ocean Lovers

Mazu or Matsu is the most commonly worshipped deity in Taiwan. She is considered the goddess of the sea. Temples dedicated to Mazu can be found all over Taiwan. One of the largest religious festivals in the world is dedicated to Mazu. The Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage lasts for 9 days and 8 nights. It starts from the Dajia Temple in Taichung and goes down to Fengtian temple in Chiayi before coming back.

These Mazu temples act as local centers of faith. Apart from celebrating Mazu’s birthday, the most common Mazu worship activities are offering incense at temples, and Mazu pilgrimages.

Who is Mazu and Where is She From?

Mazu Tainan
Mazu in a temple on Penghu

According to folk legends, Mazu is a native of Meizhou Island in Fujian Province. She was originally born Lin Mo Niang (林默娘). Lin Mo Niang was very intelligent and savvy as a child. At the age of thirteen, an old Taoist monk named Xuan Tong came to her house for almsgiving. Seeing that Lin Mo Niang was special he taught her the “Xuanwei Secret Method,” which gives you the ability to treat and heal countless people.

Lin Mo Niang Park
Lin Mo Niang Park, Tainan, Taiwan

When she was sixteen years old, her father and brother went out to sea to fish while she weaved at home. In the evening, when her mother saw her motionless in front of the loom, she woke her up. “Ah”, she cried and said, “My father and brother were killed at sea. I went out to rescue them and grabbed my father with one hand, and bit my brother’s clothes in my mouth. Just as I opened my mouth, my brother fell into the sea.” The next day her father came home, and he brought back the news that his brother had fallen into the sea.

There is a legend that Lin Mo Niang saw a young girl being carried on a sedan chair as a sacrifice. It turned out that there were two big demons in a nearby mountain village. Lin Mo Niang offered herself to be replaced with the girl and was carried to the sacrifice. The two big demons were overjoyed when they saw Lin Mo Niang’s beauty. Unexpectedly, she was not afraid, and solemnly said to them: “You must abandon evil, return to the correct path, and no longer harm the people.”

The two demons saw that the girl was sincere and kind, but she was only a girl, so they ignored her. When Lin Mo Niang saw these two demons, she challenged them. She asked them to perform some demonic magic tricks. The two demons were burly and powerful, and they had been demons for a long time. Unexpectedly, only a few of their spells were cast, all of which were countered by Lin Mo Niang.

Moreover, Lin Mo Niang’s magic was extremely powerful. The two demons saw that something was wrong, and wanted to make an escape plan. But it was too late. Lin Mo Niang pointed her finger to the sky and a huge rock weighing several thousand kilograms flew straight down and hovered over the heads of the two demons. After this, the two demons knelt down and begged for mercy. Willing to repent for their sins and return to good, the two demons swore always to accompany Lin Mo Niang. They swore to be her eyes and ears and act together for heaven. These two demons are known as Qianliyan (千里眼) or All-Seeing and Shunfeng’er (順風耳) or All-Hearing who are currently enshrined besides Mazu. 

Qianliyan (千里眼) or All-Seeing
Qianliyan (千里眼) or All-Seeing

Living on Meizhou Island, most of the residents made their living by fishing. Large waves and strong winds occurred from time to time and countless fishermen died at sea. Lin Mo Niang knew the heartache of the fishermen, so she would come to their aid. In the eyes of the fishermen, she seemed to be a guardian angel that could protect them. The legends suggest that Lin Mo Niang knew where the shipwrecks were due to Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er’s ability to see and hear in the vast sea. Making it possible for Lin Mo Niang to help those lost at sea.

As she grew older, Lin Mo Niang desired a more simple life. She preferred the quiet of the mountains. She expressed her sadness and desire to no longer live in this earthly realm. Some histories suggest that Lin Mo Niang was still upset over her brother’s death.

On September 9, when Lin Mo Niang was twenty-eight years old, she took a boat back to Meizhou Island and climbed its highest mountain. At its peak, she and her two generals ascended into heaven.

Tainan Anping Mazu Temple
Anping Mazu Temple

After her death, Lin Mo Niang was deified. Ordinary people often saw a red-clothed and red-shirted goddess flying in the sea to assist in rescues. As immigrants began moving from China to Taiwan they would often take a statue of Mazu to protect them on their treacherous journey across the Taiwan Strait. After arriving safely, they would dedicate a temple to Mazu. Thus after more than 300 years of immigration, Taiwan has many beautiful Mazu temples.

Mazu Statue Penghu
Mazu Statue Penghu