The White Rainbow Spirit

In Ding Shuiqiao(丁水橋), a town in Tangxi(塘西鎮), Zhejiang(浙江), there was a boatman named Ma Nanzhen(馬南箴). One night, he was paddling a small boat on the river. On the shore, there was an old lady with her daughter, signaling the boat, requesting passage. Several passengers on the boat advised Ma Nanzhen to ignore her and refuse to ferry the old lady. However, Ma Nanzhen said, ‘It’s late at night, and they are women without a place to stay. Giving them passage can be considered accumulating some virtue.’ So, he invited the mother and daughter onto the boat. The old lady and her daughter boarded the boat silently, sitting in the cabin without saying a word.

It was early autumn at that time, and the handle of the Big Dipper pointed to the west. The old lady pointed to the constellation and laughed, saying to her daughter, ‘The pig-boy is pointing westward again. He seems to like following the trend so much?’ The daughter replied, ‘No, he has no choice! If he doesn’t keep indicating directions with the passing hours, people in this world might lose track of the seasons.’ The passengers in the cabin listened to their conversation, exchanging surprised glances, but the old lady and her daughter didn’t mind at all.

When the boat reached Beiguanmen, it was already dawn. The old lady poured out about a liter of soybeans from her bag to thank Ma Nanzhen. She also untied a piece of hemp cloth, wrapping the beans for him, saying, ‘My surname is Bai, and I live in Xitianmen. If one day you want to see me, just step on this hemp cloth, and you can ascend to the sky and find my home.’ After saying this, they disappeared.

Ma Nanzhen thought they might be monsters, so he scattered the beans they gave him in the fields. When he returned home and rolled up his sleeves, he found a few beans still there. Upon closer inspection, they turned out to be pure gold. Regretting his actions, he thought, ‘Could it be that I encountered immortals?’ He hurried back to the field where he scattered the beans, but they were gone, while the hemp cloth remained. He stepped on the cloth and felt clouds drifting around him, lifting him lightly. He looked down and saw clearly the residents and villages passing beneath his feet. He arrived at a place with magnificent buildings, and a woman in green clothes was waiting outside, saying, ‘Sir, you’ve finally come.’ The woman in green helped the old lady come out, saying, ‘I have an old bond with you. I promise my daughter to you.’ Ma Nanzhen was humble, saying he wasn’t worthy. The old lady said, ‘Worthiness or not, if there’s a bond, it’s enough. When I signaled you to ferry me on the riverbank, the bond began from my side; when you agreed to ferry me, the bond began from your side.’ As soon as she finished speaking, a feast was laid out, music played, and a wedding ceremony took place. Ma Nanzhen stayed for over a month. Despite the love between husband and wife and a life of luxury, he missed his hometown. He discussed with his wife, who taught him how to descend on the clouds by stepping on the hemp cloth again. Ma Nanzhen followed her instructions and finally returned to Ding Shuiqiao. People in the village gathered at Ma’s home, not believing he came back from the sky.

Afterward, Ma Nanzhen frequently traveled between heaven and earth, relying on a piece of hemp cloth as his means of transportation. However, his parents detested their son’s actions and secretly burned the hemp cloth. The aroma left during the burning lingered for a month. Nevertheless, Ma Nanzhen’s path to heaven was thus cut off. Some say the old lady who claimed her surname was Bai was probably the White Rainbow Spirit from the heavens.

Translated from 《白虹精》 in 《子不語》:

浙江塘西鎮丁水橋篙工馬南箴,撐小舟夜行,有老婦攜女呼渡,舟中客拒之,篙工曰:「黑夜婦女無歸,渡之亦陰德事。」老婦攜女應聲上,坐艙中,嘿無言。時當孟秋,斗柄西指,老婦指而顧其女笑曰:「豬郎又手指西方矣,好趨風氣若是乎!」女曰:「非也,七郎君有所不得已也。若不隨時為轉移,慮世間人不識春秋耳。」舟客怪其語,瞪愕相顧。婦與女夷然,絕不介意。舟近北關門,天已明,老婦出囊中黃豆升許謝篙工,并解麻布一方與之包豆,曰:「我姓白,住西天門,汝他日欲見我,但以足踏麻布上,便升天而行至我家矣。」言訖不見。篙工以為妖,撒豆於野。
歸至家,捲其袖,猶存數豆,皆黃金也。悔曰:「得毋仙乎!」急奔至棄豆處跡之,豆不見而麻布猶存。以足躡之,冉冉雲生,便覺輕舉,見人民村郭,歷歷從腳下經過。至一處,瓊宮絳宇,小青衣侍戶外曰:「郎果至矣。」入,扶老婦人出,曰:「吾與汝有宿緣,小女欲侍君子。」篙工謙讓非耦。婦人曰:「耦亦何常之有?緣之所在即耦也。我呼渡時,緣從我生;汝肯渡時,緣從汝起。」言未畢,笙歌酒肴,婚禮已備。篙工居月餘,雖恩好甚隆,而未免思家。謀之女,女教仍以足躡布,可乘雲歸。篙工如其言,竟歸丁水橋。鄉親聚觀,不信其從天而下也。
嗣後屢往屢還,俱以一布為車馬。篙工之父母惡之,私焚其布,異香屢月不散,然往來從此絕矣。或曰:「姓白者,白虹精也。」

🎨 《桃源仙境圖》仇英 明

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