As a Goddess-centric Witch, I am always looking for new ways to connect with the myriad of global goddesses. Even though I know that I can have powerful relationships with different goddesses from the comfort of my home, I’ve also got a bit of a travel bug, so when I am wandering in new places, I try to hold myself open to spiritual experience and divine intervention. Sometimes, though, I only realize how magical the experience was after the fact. I'll be exploring these different experiences and goddesses on this blog.
Quan Yin’s Quiet Presence
The first time I left the North American continent, I didn’t really plan things well. I had a friend who was teaching in China, and he’d often told me that if I bought a plane ticket, he’d show me around. After a particularly rough semester at college, I was checking travel sites for air fare late one night (something I still do regularly, fueling my wanderlust), and I found the cheapest ticket to China I’d ever seen. I bought it on the spot, and it was only after my purchase was confirmed that I thought to let my friend know that he’d soon have company. Luckily, the stars were aligned; my unplanned visit would coincide partially with his spring break, so we’d be able to travel a bit and see the countryside.
Through another bit of poor planning, I ended up landing in Beijing on a national holiday. The entire country was traveling, and I hadn’t yet secured a ticket to fly from Beijing to the coastal city of Qingdao, where my friend was living. No stranger to airports, I assumed I’d be fine once I landed, but I was soon close to tears. No one in the airport seemed to speak English, and I hadn’t been able to make any headway after an hour of standing in lines (that really weren’t lines at all) and trying to talk to three different ticket agents. A kind woman saw me about to implode, and she asked me what I needed. In no time at all, she had made her way to the front of the clump at a ticket window, and she reported back to me that I could try to standby twelve hours later, or I could buy a ticket leaving the next night.
I was ready for a full-blown freak out, but the woman compassionately calmed me down, helped me get both a standby ticket and a confirmed ticket for the next night, and showed me where I could book a hotel if I ended up stranded. She even offered to let me stay with her family that night, but I didn’t want to intrude more than I already had. We parted with an embrace, and I proceeded to spend the next twelve hours in the airport, tired and frustrated. I didn’t make the late night standby, so well after 10 o’clock that night, I hurried to the hotel counter and asked for a room.
Eventually, I made it to Qingdao and my Mandarin-speaking friend, and we were able to travel inland to Xian, home of the famous Terracotta Soldiers and the Taoist holy mountain, Hua Shan. Throughout our travels and back on the coast in Qingdao, one thing typified the trip: the kindness and joy of total strangers. The woman in the airport had only been the first of many to step in and offer hospitality and assistance to me while I was there; on the train to Xian, we met a three-generation family traveling together, and they tucked us into their tour group moments after meeting us. Because of their kindness, we saw far more in Xian than we’d been planning; pagodas and temples, the old city wall, and, of course, the breathtaking stone army.
When we parted with the family, even though we’d only known them for three days, it was like leaving old friends. The only two members of the family who spoke English were the teenaged siblings, but that didn’t stop the mother, aunt, and grandfather from talking to me constantly. They made sure we tried the best food (and the worst beer), and they sheltered us, making us feel like members of their clan rather than two very out of place Americans who stuck out visually everywhere we went.
Even in a country where religion is no longer dominant, Quan Yin’s gentle presence continues to be offered through her people. This bodhisattva-turned-goddess of compassion has a strong place in the hearts of the Chinese, even though I only found two images of her while I was there.
Whether they know it or not, the people I met in China embodied the qualities that make Quan Yin so beloved; her compassion, her patience, and her trusting, open heart. The story goes that Quan Yin reached enlightenment, but instead of exiting the Wheel of Life, she chose to stay on earth until all suffering could be ended. Her compassion and open heartedness make this goddess/guru/saint a deeply beloved figure, and her energy still permeates the people of China.
I am so thankful that I was able to experience her living presence, and I am grateful to the countless people I met in China who showed me compassion and love. Despite the poor planning and transportation hiccups, I experienced a quiet kind of magic in China. I’d love to return there someday to explore more of this vast, ancient land.
All images by Jen McConnel
Stone, Merlin. Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: A treasury of goddess and heroine lore fromaround the world. 1990. Boston: Beacon Press.
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