Chinese Mythology

The Folk Gods and Spirits of the Middle Kingdom


Chinese Silkworm Goddess

Also known as Can Mu, Mat'ou Niang, Matou Niang, Sien Tsan, Sien Tsang, Sien-T'sang, Ts'an Nü, Xian Can

Picture of the Chinese Silkworm Goddess Can Nü from our Chinese mythology image library. Illustration by Chas Saunders.

The Silkworm Maiden

This is a surreal and quite horrifying legend involving a beautiful human girl and a scary lovesick horse. One day Can Nü’s father disappeared. Her mother was so devastated that she offered her own daughter Can Nü in marriage as a reward for his safe return.

As soon as she said this, their horse unexpectedly bolted off. It returned a few hours later bearing the missing father. Hooray, he was back! The mother was overjoyed at his return – but there was a problem. The horse was now trotting around with a very expectant gleam in its eye.

Yes, the horse had the hots for Can Nü, but she was not really into it. The girl spurned the horse, the horse sulked, the father skinned the horse, and the girl laughed at the remains of the horse.

As she was teasing the dead animal, the horse skin rose up in a truly horrifying manner, grabbed her and whisked her off.

The father later found both girl and horse dangling from a mulberry tree wrapped in a mummifying cocoon. This, according to the legend, is where silkworms come from. We will never touch silk again.

Meanwhile Can Nü became a proper Silk Goddess. As well as weaving silken robes she might even have woven the very clouds themselves. She is known as the Horse-Head Lady due to silkworms having extremely horsey faces. Silky but not sulky we hope.

She also seems to be mentioned in a few obscure places under various (possibly mangled) names such as Sien Tsan. This could be a case of mistaken identity with Can Nü or Leizu due to pesky Wade-Giles translations. Anything is possible when the computer crashes while you’re writing up your notes.

Can Nü is also sometimes mentioned as the wife of Shennong. We are taking all these notions with a pinch of silk. It was hard enough swallowing the love-sick horse.

Can Nü Facts and Figures

Name: Can Nü
Pronunciation: Coming soon
Alternative names: Can Mu, Mat'ou Niang, Matou Niang, Sien Tsan, Sien Tsang, Sien-T'sang, Ts'an Nü, Xian Can

Gender: Female
Type: Goddess
Celebration or Feast Day: Unknown at present

In charge of: Silk and Silkworms
Area of expertise: Silkworms

Good/Evil Rating: NEUTRAL, may not care
Popularity index: 6507

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Article last revised on April 21, 2019 by the Godchecker data dwarves.
Editors: Peter J. Allen, Chas Saunders

References: Coming soon.

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