Tea, Hot Water, and the Goddess
“A woman is like a tea bag. It’s only when she’s in hot water that you realize how strong she is.”
This quote, attributed to both Eleanor Roosevelt and Carl Sandburg, attracted my attention because I want to write a book on the Magick of Tea; so I collect information, lore, superstition and magical attributes of tea. If I had included it in the Crone posting, I’d be making smart-aleck remarks about old bags. Another day for that!
Tea & the Goddess
Tea is wonderful not only for its flavor, aroma and health benefits, but because its history is also so rich. The history of tea is full of legend, corruption, and political intrigue. The tea trade was enormously influential in the history of Europe and the history of its land of origin, China.
And always, when I’m researching something, I’m looking for the Divine presence in the lore and uses of it. For tea, topping the list is Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of mercy. Some people will be quick to correct you and tell you that She is not a Goddess. To me she is, and she has been revered in such a way, that she is a goddess. Her mercy and compassion speaks to everyone. The oolong tea, Tieguanyin Oolong Tea is named for her and is one of the most prized teas growin china.
How it became named for her is a beautiful story of devotion. Centuries ago, there was a tea farmer named Mr. Wei. He was very poor and worked very hard to create a living for his family. Each day, both morning and evening, he would pass a neglected temple, the Temple of T’ieh-Kuan-Yin. The degraded state of the temple awakened his devotion to Kuan Yin and he began to light incense and pray at the temple; each day doing a little clean-up and polishing of the temple and the statue of Her.
Moved by his devotion, Kuan Yin appeared to him in a dream. She said to him, “Beind the temple, deep in a cave is a treasure for you and the generations to come. You must share it with all of your neighbors.” Upon awakening, he rushed to the cave and searched and searched. He found nothing be a small sprig of tea. Unhappy that he did not fulfill Her instructions, he took the sprig of tea back to his home and planted in his garden. He tended it and it grew over the years into a bush. He noticed that as he created infusions that the fragrance was beautiful and long-lasting.
He began to cultivate the tea bushes and shared the shoots and seeds with his neighbors, naming the tea after T’hei-Kuan-Yin. The temple was repaired and funds were set aside for its perpetual upkeep. The region flourished as tea traders flocked to the region to buy this lovely tea.
Tiequanyin is also called Iron Goddess Tea and the less romantic researchers say that it is called this because of the appearance of its processed leaves, “dark as iron and heavier than other teash, but with the quality as pure and beautiful as Guanyin.” Well, maybe there is more poetry in that statement. [quote from All the Tea in China by Kit Chow and Ione Kramer]
Kuan Yin inspires devotion all over the world from traditional Buddhists to the pagan and Goddess communities. She is the embodiment of compassion (Karuna) and mercy. She is Mistress of the Southern Seas and is often depicted riding across the ocean either in a lotus or on a dragon. She holds a vase with the nectar of compassion and wisdom, and she is also shown with a Willow branch from which she sprinkles the divine nectar of life. She is the bestower of children and the dove is the symbol of her fecudity. She is also shown with a book or scroll of prayers, representing her mastery of dharma (teaching) and text (sutra). She is shown with a rosary which she uses to call on the Buddha for succor on behalf of all who call her name.
There is strong trust in her grace, mercy and healing powers that to call her name is to call her to you. Om Mani Padme Hum is her mantra and it means “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus.”
People tend to look at her as very holy and without fault since she is deserving of nirvana and chooses to stay and help others achieve enlightenment. She has been in my life since I was a girl. My great-aunt and my grandmother collected images of her, referring to her by one of her other names Mei-Ling. When my grandmother passed away, I inherited her collection of figurines along with her love of this wonderful Goddess. Whenever I do Reiki healing and teaching, Kuan Yin is the Goddess who appears. To me, though, there is an element of playfulness about her. She isn’t completely somber and serious. In my work with her, I’ve learned she enjoys a good joke, likes physical exercise and loves cats. Her mastery of dragons resonates with me and tells me that her strength comes not from holy stillness but an active, strong physical presence. She is vibrant and vital as she appears to me.
For my birthday, Mouse gave me a wonderful Kuan Yin pendant from Jane Iris [www.janeiris.com] that is shown in this blog entry. I love that she has perky breasts and tips her hip’ she looks saucy! A boddhistava that wants to have fun…..It shows me that Kuan Yin has her connection to the exuberant, ecstatic flow of energy in her being and she continues to communicate that fabulous energy to us. So every time you breathe in the delicate fragrance of Oolong tea, find the essence of the Goddess there as well.
There a lots of varieties of tea, and oolong is a delicate variety somewhere between black tea and green tea in its oxidation. The flavor is somewhere between black and green, favoring the green without the grassy taste of green tea. Oolongs flavor has many sides beginning with a strong almost bitter taste with an afternote of sweetness. The term oolong means “black dragon” or “black snake” because its leaves look like little black dragons when you pour hot water over them.
Oolong is said to enhance meditation. So settle back with a nice cup of tea and meditate on Kuan Yin in all her compassionate mercy and sassy rowdiness.
The Kuan Yin image is copyrighted by Jane Iris and used with permission. See their wonderful wares at www.janeiris.com