The Chinese myth of the immortal white snake – Shunan Teng

The Chinese myth of the immortal white snake – Shunan Teng

September 12, 2019 100 By William Hollis


The talented young herbalist named Xu Xian
was in trouble. It should have been a victorious moment– he had just opened his very
own medicine shop. But he bought his supplies from
his former employer, and the resentful man
sold him rotten herbs. As Xu Xian wondered what to do with this
useless inventory, patients flooded into his shop. A plague had stricken the city, and he had nothing to treat them. Just as he was starting to panic, his wife, Bai Su Zhen, produced a recipe
to use the rotten herbs as medicine. Her remedy cured all the plague-afflicted
citizens immediately. Xu Xian’s former boss even had to buy back
some of the rotten herbs to treat his own family. Shortly after, a monk named Fa Hai
approached Xu Xian, warning him that there was
a demon in his house. The demon, he said, was Bai Su Zhen. Xu Xian laughed. His kindhearted, resourceful wife
was not a demon. Fa Hai insisted. He told Xu Xian to serve his wife realgar
wine on the 5th day of the 5th month, when demons’ powers are weakest. If she wasn’t a demon, he explained,
it wouldn’t hurt her. Xu Xian dismissed the monk politely, with no intention of serving
Bai Su Zhen the wine. But as the day approached,
he decided to try it. As soon as the wine touched
Bai Su Zhen’s lips, she ran to the bedroom,
claiming she wasn’t feeling well. Xu Xian prepared some medicine
and went to check on her. But instead of his wife, he found a giant white serpent with a
bloody forked tongue in the bed. He collapsed, killed by the shock. When Bai Su Zhen opened her eyes, she realized immediately what
must have happened. The truth was that Bai Su Zhen was
an immortal snake with formidable magical powers. She had used her powers to take a
human form and improve her and
her husband’s fortunes. Her magic couldn’t revive Xu Xian, but she had one more idea to save him: an herb that could grant longevity
and even bring the dead back to life, guarded by the Old Man of the South Pole in the forbidden peaks of the
Kun Lun Mountains. She rode to the mountains on a cloud, then continued on foot passed gateways
and arches until she reached one
marked “beyond mortals” hanging over a silver bridge. On the other side, two of the Old Man’s disciples
guarded the herb. Bai Su Zhen disguised herself as a monk and told them she’d come to invite
the Old Man to a gathering of the gods. While they relayed her message, she plucked some leaves
from the herb and ran. The servants realized they had been
tricked and chased her. Bai Su Zhen coughed up a magic ball
and threw it at one. As the other closed in on her, she put the herb under her tongue
for safekeeping, but its magic forced both of them
into their true forms. As the crane’s long beak
clamped around her, the Old Man appeared. Why, he asked, would she risk her life
to steal his herb when she was already immortal? Bai Su Zhen explained
her love for Xu Xian. Even if he didn’t want to be with her
now that he knew she was a demon, she was determined to
bring him back to life. The two had a karmic connection dating
back more than a thousand years. When Bai Su Zhen was a small snake, a beggar was about to kill her, but a kind passerby rescued her. Her rescuer was Xu Xian in a past life. Touched by her willingness
to risk her life for him, the Old Man permitted her to leave the
mountain with the immortal herb. Bai Su Zhen returned home
to revive Xu Xian. When he opened his eyes, the terrified look frozen on his face
became a smile. Demon or not, he was still happy to see his wife.