Xiwangmu and Fangshi

I explain here who Xiwangmu is, and provide a historical context for “fangshi.”

By the way, did you know China experienced periods of mass hysteria over alleged soul-stealing incidents, somewhat similar to the Salem, Mass., witch trials? Click here for details.


Xiwangmu, or Queen Mother of the West, is known by many other names, including “Infinite Mother” and “Divine Mother.” Her roots are ancient, and she is the most powerful goddess in the Chinese pantheon. She predates organized Taoism in China, appearing in early texts as a mountain demon with wild hair, tiger teeth and a leopard’s tail. She was known for causing diseases and cataclysmic disasters.

In time, however, Xiwangmu was said to renounce her evil ways and become a benevolent deity. She is now closely associated with Taoism. She is married to the Jade Emperor, the supreme ruler of Heaven. She tends to the Peaches of Immortality in their palace gardens, and determines the lifespan of every living thing.


Cricket describes himself as a “fangshi” in The Soul Stealer. Translations of the term include “gentlemen with magic recipes,” “masters of recipes,” or “masters of methods.” Basically, fangshi were the alchemists, wizards, magicians, diviners, prognosticators, occultists and mystics who proliferated in China from the 3rd century BCE to the 5th century CE.

Fangshi practiced the occult arts. They enjoyed the patronage of emperors who wanted the key to immortality.