Xuan Wu (god)

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Xuan Wu
Amulets that were blessed under Xuan Wu

Xuan Wu (玄武, lit. "Dark" or "Mysterious Warrior") is one of the higher-ranking Taoist deities. He is revered as a powerful god, able to control the elements and capable of great magic. He is particularly revered by martial artists and is patron saint of Hebei, Manchuria and Mongolia. As some Cantonese and Min Nan speakers (particularly Hokkien) fled into the south from Hebei with the Song dynasty, Xuan Wu is also widely revered in Fujian and Guangdong as well as among the Chinese diaspora.

Since the usurping Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty claimed the help of Xuan Wu during his successful Jingnan Campaign against his nephew, he had monasteries constructed in the Wudang Mountains of Hubei, China. where Xuan Wu allegedly attained his immortality.

Other Names[edit]

Xuan Wu is also commonly known as the Northern Emperor (北帝, Modern Pinyin Beidi, Cantonese Pak Tai) and Imperial Lord (帝公, Modern Pinyin Digong, Hokkien Teh Kong).

He is sometimes referenced as the Dark or Mysterious Heavenly Upper Emperor or God (玄天上帝, Xuantian Shangdi) and as the Truly Martial Grand Emperor (真武大帝, Zhenwu Dadi).


The original story[edit]

One story says that Xuan Wu was originally a prince of Jing Le State in northern Hebei during the time of the Yellow Emperor. As he grew up, he felt the sorrow and pain of the life of ordinary people and wanted to retire to a remote mountain for cultivation of the Tao.

Qing Dynasty's version[edit]

Another says that Xuan Wu was originally a butcher who had killed many animals unremorsefully. As days passed, he felt remorse for his sins and repented immediately by giving up butchery and retired to a remote mountain for cultivation of the Tao.

One day while he was assisting a woman in labor, while cleaning the woman’s blood stained clothes along a river, the words "Xuan Tian Shang Di" appeared before him. The woman in labor turned out to be a manifestation of the goddess Guan Yin. To redeem his sins, he dug out his own stomach and intestines and washed it in the river. The river turned into a dark, murky water. After a while, it turned into pure water.

Unfortunately, Xuan Wu did indeed lose his own stomach and intestines while he washing them in the river. The Jade Emperor was moved by his sincerity and determination to clear his sins; hence he became an Immortal known with the title of Xuan Tian Shang Ti.

After he became an immortal, his stomach and intestines after absorbing the essences of the earth, it was transformed into a demonic turtle and snake which harmed people and no one could subdue them. Eventually Xuan Wu returned to earth to subdue them and later uses them as his means for transportation.

Generals Wan Gong and Wan Ma[edit]

Zhenwu (Xuan Wu) with the two generals, and the Snake and Tortoise figures at his feet. Wudang Palace, Yangzhou

Xuan Wu is sometimes portrayed with two generals standing besides him, General Wan Gong (萬公) and General Wan Ma (萬媽). Most temples that are dedicated Xuan Wu also have Generals Wan Gong and Wan Ma, especially in Malaysia. The two generals are deities that handles many local issues from children's birth, medication, family matters as well as feng shui consultation. The Malaccans particularly in Pokok Mangga and Batu Berendam County have deep faith in the generals due to their much good deeds and contribution to the local villagers.



Xuan Wu is portrayed as a warrior in imperial robes, his left hand is in the "three mountain hand seal", somewhat similar to Guan Yu's hand seal, while the right hand holds a sword, which is said to have belonged to Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals.

Another legend says that he borrowed the sword from Lü Dongbin to subdue a powerful demon, and after being successful, he refused to bring it back after witnessing the sword's power. The sword itself would magically return to its owner if Xuan Wu released it, so it is said that he always holds his sword tightly, and is unable to release it.

He is usually seated on a throne with the right foot stepping on the snake and left leg extended stepping on the turtle. His face is usually red with bulging eyes. His birthday is celebrated on the third day of the third lunar month.

Xuan Tian Shang Di in Indonesia[edit]

In Indonesia, almost every Taoist temples provides an altar for Xuan Tian Shang Di. The story states that the first temple that worshiped him was a temple at Welahan Town, Jepara, Central Java. And the temples that was built in honor of him are the temple at Gerajen and Bugangan, Semarang City, Central Java. His festival is celebrated annually every the 25th day, 2nd month, of Chinese calendar.[1] The worshipers of Chen Fu Zhen Ren, especially at De Long Dian Temple, Rogojampi, Banyuwangi Regency, East Java, believes that Xuan Tian Shang Di is their patron’s spiritual teacher. That’s why they put his altar at the right side of Chen Fu Zhen Ren’s altar, in the middle room of the temple which is always reserved for the main deity of klenteng (a specific term for Chinese temple in Indonesia.

Popular culture[edit]

  • In the classic novel Journey to the West, Xuan Wu was a king of the north who had two generals serving under him, a "Tortoise General" and a "Snake General". This king had a temple at Wudang Mountains in Hubei, thus there is a Tortoise Mountain and a Snake Mountain on the opposite sides of a river in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei.
  • In recent times, Xuan Wu is a central character in the popular urban fantasy series' by Kylie Chan: The Dark Heavens Trilogy and the Journey to Wudang Trilogy.

See also[edit]

  • Black Tortoise or Turtle, the Chinese mythological figure and astronomical symbol known by the same name


  1. ^ Buddhist Temple Jin De Yuan Jakarta. 2012. Taken= March 14th, 2013. Hian Thian Siang Te – Dewa Langit Utara

External links[edit]