The Girl with the Horse's Head or the Silkworm Goddess
In the dim ages of the past there once was an old man who went on a journey. No one remained at home save his only daughter and a white stallion. The daughter fed the horse day by day, but she was lonely and yearned for her father.
So it happened that one day she said in jest to the horse: “If you will bring back my father to me then I will marry you!”
No sooner had the horse heard her say this, than he broke loose and ran away. He ran until he came to the place where her father was. When her father saw the horse, he was pleasantly surprised, caught him and seated himself on his back. And the horse turned back the way he had come, neighing without a pause.
“What can be the matter with the horse?” thought the father. “Something must have surely gone wrong at home!” So he dropped the reins and rode back. And he fed the horse liberally because he had been so intelligent; but the horse ate nothing, and when he saw the girl, he struck out at her with his hoofs and tried to bite her. This surprised the father; he questioned his daughter, and she told him the truth, just as it had occurred.
“You must not say a word about it to any one,” spoke her father, “or else people will talk about us.”
And he took down his crossbow, shot the horse, and hung up his skin in the yard to dry. Then he went on his travels again.
One day his daughter went out walking with the daughter of a neighbor. When they entered the yard, she pushed the horse-hide with her foot and said: “What an unreasonable animal you were—wanting to marry a human being! What happened to you served you right!”
But before she had finished her speech, the horse-hide moved, rose up, wrapped itself about the girl and ran off.
Horrified, her companion ran home to her father and told him what had happened. The neighbors looked for the girl everywhere, but she could not be found.
At last, some days afterward, they saw the girl hanging from the branches of a tree, still wrapped in the horse-hide; and gradually she turned into a silkworm and wove a cocoon. And the threads which she spun were strong and thick. Her girl friend then took down the cocoon and let her slip out of it; and then she spun the silk and sold it at a large profit.
But the girl’s relatives longed for her greatly. So one day the girl appeared riding in the clouds on her horse, followed by a great company and said: “In heaven I have been assigned to the task of watching over the growing of silkworms. You must yearn for me no longer!” And thereupon they built temples to her in her native land, and every year, at the silkworm season, sacrifices are offered to her and her protection is implored. And the Silkworm Goddess is also known as the girl with the Horse’s Head.
Note: This tale is placed in the times of the Emperor Hau, and the legend seems to have originated in Setchuan. The stallion is the sign of the zodiac which rules the springtime, the season when the silkworms are cultivated. Hence she is called the Goddess with the Horse’s Head. The legend itself tells a different tale. In addition to this goddess, the spouse of Schen Nung, the “Divine Husbandman,” is also worshiped as the goddess of silkworm culture. The Goddess with the Horse’s Head is more of a totemic representation of the silkworm as such; while the wife of Schen Nung is regarded as the protecting goddess of silk culture, and is supposed to have been the first to teach women its details. The spouse of the Yellow Lord is mentioned in the same connection. The popular belief distinguishes three goddesses who protect the silkworm culture in turn. The second is the best of the three, and when it is her year the silk turns out well.
Notes: The Chinese Fairy Book contains 74 Chinese folktales, sorted into several categories.
Editor: Dr. R. Wilhelm
Publisher: Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York