Jack of Many Trades

Spirits of Education

Originally posted: 2015-08-31

In response to my post asking for questions, Kaye wanted to know more about how education/teaching/learning are viewed and if there are any gods or spirits associated with education:

The teacher/student relationship is generally viewed as sacred, and historically is intertwined with not just the master/apprentice model but the ideas of fostering and chosen family. All of these relationships can be complicated, of course, and in the stories of the spirits there are many unhealthy relationships that hinge on the power imbalance of a teacher over a student. These stories are a kind of "what not to do" - to teach is a great responsibility because you are being trusted, either by students or their parents. Asking someone to teach you something is a high compliment; it's common in Mei Guo to say "you should teach!" if someone is good at a skill. As a profession, teaching is considered similar in prestige to medicine and religious life.

There are a number of spirits associated with learning, knowledge and education. I'm going to refer here to the two I can speak to best, but you could make a case for others as well.

The Dark Lady was originally known as Fate, and she oversees that which is unknown or forgotten. She's popular among University students because she knows what each of us has forgotten, not just what is universally known or unknown. It is common to see students carrying her blessing charms to exams, to assure that they can recall what would otherwise be forgotten. She is also a patron of archivists, librarians, and anyone else whose job is to protect and organize large collections of information that is otherwise overlooked. A very common symbol for her is a mantri, a game piece representing an advisor/minister/counsellor. (This is the ancestor of the queen piece is our modern, western chess, and the very first representation I had of the Dark Lady back fifteen years ago was a black queen.)

A favorite of teachers and researchers in Europe and the Anglo diaspora is Danec, known also as the Rivers, the Fresh Water, and Daughter of the Well. She is primarily associated with rivers, of course, but she also inherited her father's wisdom. There are stories of Danec taking human students who are overcome by the need to understand the world around them through study, and so she's considered a roll-model for teachers. With students, she is patient and devoted as long as the student is invested in learning from her. She is often depicted holding a book instead of or in addition to watery imagery. Carvings of her are often found in schools and private libraries in areas where she is popular, even when she is not actively worshipped.