This week on #VNmyth will cover thần Kim Quy (lit: Golden Turtle God), a significant deity in Vietnamese mythos that still has shrines dedicated to him across the country.
I. His roles and missions
In most cases, he appeared as a messenger god (or more like aid and secretary) who carry out the will of the Ruler of the Water Realm, which–in later depictions–primarily refers to Lạc Long Quân (Dragon King of Lạc, ancestor to the Vietnamese people).
He sometimes was known as Thanh Giang Sứ Giả (the Messenger God of Clear River).
There were a total of three stories featuring him from the Kinh ethnic (majority of Vietnamese) legends and one lore of a minor ethnic, which had a character bearing a resemblance to him, but might or might not have actually been him.
_ Earliest case: He appeared during the 300-200 BCE, during the era of emperor An Dương Vương, one of the first known Rulers of Vietnam, after the Hùng Kings. The lore told that the emperor was building a new capital city, but the walls would crumble every night due to the intervention of a White Rooster Demon. The Golden Turtle God appeared to eliminate the beast and lent the emperor one of his claws as a parting gift.
Said claw was turned into the trigger of a crossbow, whose full name was Linh Quang Kim Quy Thần Cơ (lit: Holy Light Golden Turtle Crossbow of God). According to legend, this crossbow could shoot hundreds to thousands of bolts in one go, wiping out an entire army with just one shot. The parts of the story that followed were a cautionary tale, so maybe another time?
_ The second case: this time, instead of creating a weapon of mass destruction, the turtle was sent to retrieve such an artifact. It was during the period of 1417-1427, when the Ming Dynasty invaded the country, that Lê Lợi – a Mường leader – rebelled against them. He got his ass handed to him for most of the war’s first half. His family was captured. His army was backstabbed and oftentimes reduced to a mere hundred of men. He had to survive on dews and tree barks for days during the advance of the Ming’s army. In short, tough time.
But one day, he discovered a hilt of a sword, with Thuận Thiên (順天, lit: Heavenly Will or according to heaven’s will) etched on it while hiding in the jungle. One of his official – Lê Thận – fished out the blade from a river. Attaching the two parts together, Lê Lợi called this sword Thuận Thiên and used it in battle. With every swing, a whole army was decimated, and before long, peace returned to the land. One day, as King Lê Lợi was taking a ride on the lake, the golden turtle arose from the depth, knocked on the side of his boat, and demanded the sword to be returned to the Dragon Emperor (Lạc Long Quân) now that the country had found peace.
And the King obliged.
_ The third case: Long Quân had a daughter, and he was beyond thrilled (had to, the man had 100 sons in one go already, story for another time if you haven’t already heard it). The egg that contained the daughter was brought onto the land, and a fisherman living nearby was chosen to be her caretaker. The golden turtle gave the fisherman one of his claws and said:
“Should a problem you cannot handle come to pass, put it in your ears and ask for help. I’ll do the rest.”
Basically, it was the hotline to a god. The fisherman was modest and knew his limit. He first asked for a shelter to move in near the egg. Then, he had the golden turtle wipe out a gang of bandits trying to break the egg since some god-knows-why reasons the egg emitted light like gemstones. The third time, his house was burnt down by some bastards, and the golden turtle made a cave in the egg for him to stay in. And, the first thing the old fisherman did after entering the cave, I kid you not, was falling asleep for around a decade.
Right as he started his slumber, the mountain-sized egg finally hatched a girl in the same cave, and milk flew from the cracks of rock to feed her. Before long, she had grown up, made friends with all the animals (who fed and raised her as her adoptive human father was in his deep slumber), and studied human manners under the guidance of the fisherman when he eventually woke up. As she reached adulthood, she became a miracle healer who helped everyone who lived nearby. Her most impressive feat was creating a new type of medicinal herb by tying rocks and pebbles together and burying them underground.
Her reputation got the Crown Prince’s attention, and he sent an envoy to ask for her hand in marriage. After she left to get married, the fisherman followed the golden turtle to live down in the Water Realm.
_ The 3.5 case: this time, the story belongs to the Bahnar people and is titled “Lưỡi dao thần” (the Celestial Blade). Remember the typical swan maiden stories? Or perhaps you’re more familiar with the story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. Yeah, the story was basically a blend of those, but the peeping Tom was killed, his corpse left to rot. Then, when a maggot fell from the corner of his mouth into a river. A golden turtle, whom he had saved from a trap years ago, surfaced to repay his debt. He revived the dead peeping Tom, gave him an herb of immortality, told him what to do, and left. The story proceeds just as other swan maiden stories would. But after the *equivalence of swan maiden* found her magic scarf and left, the golden turtle returned, gave the man and his son some red pills and a dagger to set out on a journey to find their wife and mother. Ehm… let’s just say the beams of sunlight reflected off the blade wiped out the whole fairy army under the swan maiden’s father so he could take his wife back. Well, at least when she was returned to the peeping Tom, he revived everyone.
_ As you can see for yourself, the wikipedia page, as well as other English resources do not have all the links to all the stories and myths we shared in this post. This is because Vietnamese myths do not have a clear structure, nor are they well-documented and well-translated.
_ The lake, where Lê Lợi supposedly returned his legendary blade is in the heart of Hanoi and named Hồ Gươm (Blade Lake) – or Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (Lake of Returned Sword), with a tower built in the middle of the lake called Tháp Rùa (Turtle Tower). People believe, to this day, that the soft-shelled turtles in this lake are descendants of the golden turtle god and often refer to them as cụ rùa – the great-grandpa turtle. Rumors had it that when they surfaced, the country would go through massive changes. Currently, the lake site is still a tourist attraction and a site frequent by families, friends, couples, and senior citizens of the Capital.
_ The city which the turtle helped building is called Cổ Loa Citadel – an actual historical site that people can visit in Hà Nội. While missing 6 out of 9 layers of walls, the remaining 3 is still a maze will disabled deadly traps in every corner.
_ While all Kinh Vietnamese consider ourselves descendants of Lạc Long Quân, The Hùng Kings by lore are his direct heirs. An Dương Vương, by historical records, was the Emperor to defeat the last Hùng King (who was father-in-law to two of Vietnamese Four Immortals). So, in a sense, the story of An Dương Vương struggling to build his citadel until he had help from Lạc Long Quân could potentially be a metaphor for the Ancient Vietnamese people finally accepting him as their new ruler.
_ The egg-turned-mountain of the Dragon’s Daughter is now known as Ngũ Hành Sơn or Mount Ngũ Hành (The Mountain of Five Elements). It’s a tourist attraction in Quang Nam Province – Danang (Quảng Nam, Đà Nẵng) by the name of the Marble Mountains.
_ In some versions of the Celestial blade, the fairy wife/mother wanted to return to her husband and child after revisiting her family but wasn’t allowed. In others, she hid their existence from her father’s family. Some versions didn’t clearly state whether or not the husband actually revived his in-laws after killing them all.
_ The legendary Thuận Thiên Sword was the name and premise of one of our old works being reworked. Lạc Long Quân and Kim Quy are supporting characters in another, also under reconstruction. They may also appear in Half-Alive and Half-Dead if circumstances ever align.
As per usual, if you enjoyed what you’ve read, like and share. See you next week!