The legend of silk
Lei Zu was a Chines empress in the 227th century BC. She was the wife of the yellow emperor Huangdi. The legend of Lei Zu tells us that the empress was drinking tea in the palace gardens when a cocoon fell into her cup, whereupon the cocoon unravelled a silken thread. She wound the thread around her fingers and was surprised by its strength.
The empress was able to stretch the thread across the entire garden and it occurred to her that this thread of silk could be spun and woven. Lei Zu asked her husband to give her a grove of mulberry trees where she could grow the silk worms that created the magical fibre. Lei Zu is said to have invented the silk reel which joins the silk filaments into the silken thread used for weaving. Lei Zu wove these threads into magical, shimmering fabrics.
The production methods of silk were kept secret by China for thousands of years.
To this day Lei Zu is worshipped in China where she is known as the “Goddess of Silkworms”.
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The Legend of Silk
The Horse Headed Goddess
Once upon a time a man who was travelling disappeared. Nothing was heard of him for weeks. Then one day his white horse returned home, dirty and hungry.
The mans wife was heartbroken, their beautiful daughter was inconsolable. They cried and mourned his loss day and night. In her grief and desperation the mother promised the daughters hand in marriage to anyone who could bring her husband home.
When the horse heard this promise it became restless and wildly agitated, until eventually it broke free from its reins and ran off.
After a few days the horse returned with the injured man upon his back. His wife and daughter were overjoyed. They bathed, fed and cared for him until he was recovered. They then returned to their normal daily lives, the wife completely forgetting her promise.
Over the next few days the horse became more and more agitated, stamping at the ground, rearing up and became unrideable.
Soon the mother realised that she had not kept her word and ran to tell her husband that she had promised the hand of her daughter to whoever brought him home.
The man was furious at the thought of his daughter marrying a horse so he ran out into the yard and killed and skinned the horse.
The horses’ hide was drying in the yard and when the daughter walked past it, she kicked at the edge of the skin in disgust. Suddenly the hide sprang up enveloped her, and carried her off on the wind.
For days the man and his wife searched for their daughter to no avail.
After many days of searching, tired and hungry, they sat to rest under a mulberry tree.
After a while they heard a moaning sound coming from the tree. When they looked up there was their daughter, wrapped in the horse hide. She had been transformed into a horse headed silk worm.
From then on they returned every day to feed their daughter mulberry leaves.
They were wracked with guilt and shame for the curse that had befallen their beloved daughter.
Until one day, the girl floated down from a silken cloud, she appeared in a blaze of celestial light and told them that the Jade emperor, the ruler of all heavens, had become enamoured with her and taken her to become a court lady in the ninth palace of heaven.
She told them to no longer grieve for her, but they should return to the tree every day and feed the silk worms. In return the silk worms would reward them with a magical fibre, that when woven into clothes would bring them great wealth. She then ascended to the heavens upon the silken cloud.
To this day the horse-headed girl is worshipped in China as the patron saint of silk workers. She is usually represented as a beautiful young girl with a horses head.
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