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The Eight Pillars also known as Eight Pillars of the Sky are a concept from Chinese mythology. Located in the eight cardinal directions, they are a group of eight mountains or pillars which have been thought to hold up the sky. They are symbolically important as types of axis mundi and cosmology. Their functions in mythology ranged from pillars which functioned to hold apart the Earth and the Sky (or Heaven), as ladders allowing travel between the two, and as the location of various paradises or wonderland with associated magical people, plants, and animals. The Eight Pillars are a central aspect to Chinese mythology, and also have been used extensively in poetic allusion. Some variations exist, such as only having four pillars.


Various mythological geography is associated with the Eight Pillars, including the eight mountain pillars themselves along with surrounding or intervening terrain, such as the Moving Sands. The eight mountain pillars include Kunlun, Jade Mountain, Mount Buzhou, and five more (Yang Lihui 2005: passim). Kunlun functions as a sort of ladder which could be used to travel between earth and Heaven. Accordingly, any person who succeeded in climbing up to the top of Kunlun would magically become an immortal spirit (Yang 2005: 160–162).

Buzhou Mountain

Main article: Mount Buzhou

Buzhou was the defective mountain pillar. Having been damaged by Gonggong, it no longer separated the Earth and the Heaven for the proper distance. Bu-zhou was the northwest one (Hawkes, 1985 (2011): 94–95, 135–136, 323).


Main article: Kunlun

Kunlun Mountain has been described in various texts, as well as being depicted in art. Sometimes Kunlun appears as a pillar of the sky (or earth), sometimes appearing as being composed of multiple tiers (Yang 2005: 160), with the commonality of "mystery, grandeur, or magnificence" being emphasized in the mythological descriptions. The base of the Kunlun Mountain is said to penetrate as far into the earth, as its above-ground part proceeds towards the sky (Christie1968: 74). As the mythology related to the Kunlun developed, it became influenced by the later introduction of ideas about an axis mundi from the cosmology of India. The Kunlun became identified with (or took on the attributes of) Mount Sumeru. Another historical development in the mythology of Kunlun, (again with Indian influence) was that rather than just being the source of the Yellow River, Kunlun began to be considered to be the source of four major rivers flowing to the four quarters of the compass (Christie 1968:74).

Jade Mountain

Main article: Jade Mountain (mythology)

Another of the Eight Pillars was Jade Mountain.

Associated geography

Various other mythological geography is associated with the Eight Pillars. This includes the four rivers flowing from Kunlun Mountain and the Moving Sands.


Various activities took place at the eight pillars. For one, they were often thought of as reaching from Earth to Heaven; thus, climbing one of the pillars would allow one to reach Heaven from Earth.


The eight mountain pillars were favorite places for all sorts of characters to visit or dwell. This includes various deities, immortals, and shamans.


Various deities inhabited or visited one or more of the eight mountain pillars. These include Xiwangmu and others on Kunlun.

Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu)

Although not originally located on Kunlun, but rather on a Jade Mountain neighboring to the north (and west of the Moving Sands), Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of Meng Hao in the West, in later accounts was relocated to a palace protected by golden ramparts, within which immortals (xian) feasted on bear paws, monkey lips, and the livers of dragons, served at the edge of the Lake of Gems. Every 6000 years the peaches which conferred immortality upon those who ate them would be served (except the time when they were purloined by Monkey King). Originally a plague deity with tiger teeth and leopard tail, she became a beautiful and well-mannered goddess responsible for guarding the herb of immortality (Christie 1968: 78–79).

Xian (Immortals)

Further information: Xian (Taoism)

The immortals, or xian, were Daoist immortals (humans who had metamorphosed into superhuman form). The xian were often seen as temporary residents, who visited by means of flying on the back of a magical crane or dragon.

Wu shamans

Further information: Wu (shaman) and List of wu shamans

The Wu or shamans were people that practiced divination, prayer, sacrifice, rainmaking, and healing, generally through the use of spirit flight. They generally seem to have become immortals.


The Eight Pillars are a subject of poetic allusion from the ancient poems "Li Sao" and "Heavenly Questions" by Qu Yuan; and, on through later times, in Classical Chinese poetry. The immortals, or xian, were Daoist immortals (humans who had metamorphosed into superhuman form), which was presided over by Xiwangmu. The xian were often seen as temporary residents, who visited by means of flying on the back of a magical crane or dragon.


See also

References cited

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