The thing that people don't seem to get about reincarnation is that people aren't always people. The Creation Goddess Nǚwā was only ever a human for a times in her life, at the very beginning. In between, she had been everything from a tree, a snake or a fly.
When she was a tree, the sky would gleam with distant glee, happy that she wouldn't bother them for a few hundred years until she had grown tall and wild. She was small yet headstrong as a seed, growing from the concrete of a prison where human skulls pile up like layers of a sweet potato. She would dance in the blazing wind, as moldable and soft as clay. Until she had enough of it as they scratched her trunk repeatedly till her trunk is as hard as stones. She waved her hand at the birds heading south for the winter, she gazed at the mountains at the end of horizons. Her multitude expanded as far as her imagination, manifesting as branches that hosted homes for insects, birds and squirrels. She was the food, the shelter and the mother of them all. That was the longest form she took in any reincarnation, it lasted a thousand years. She was the origin of the tale of the Millenia Tree, until humanity struck her down as if nature itself thought she needed a break or maybe a pat on the shoulder.
She would have gladly remained a tree, since then she wouldn't have to deal with any other living creatures. No reason to make noises as an attempt to communicate. Every soul left the Tree alone. As a tree, no one required anything from her. The woodpeckers don't expect an answer or a reward as they took away the worms that were eating away at her heart. The flowers and grass stayed away from her shade because she blocked the sun, but they never blamed her for her tall frame or large leaves. She was simply a tree standing observant at the edge of time, unchanging yet content. Until the First Emperor of Qin wanted to find a cure for immortality. She would have been quite happy to hear that the asshole died of lead poisoning.
When she was a snake, she had slithered across vast lands despite them never belonging to her habitat. It was the form she was the most comfortable in, just wiggling around and swallowing stuff twenty-times her size. She was as flamboyant as the rising sun, a shade of red that was so blatant that rendered her venomous nature obvious to everyone to see. She remembered shedding her skin again and again, like trying on a new floating dress or a head-piece every spring or autumn. When she slept, she dreamed of the sky with a hue that was the same as her scale. She would eat rats or elephants indiscriminately, but she'd always spit out the remains as a tribute to the soil and its many spirits. She was never a greedy creature, she never hid her nature from the world. Everytime the sun is up, you'd find her curled up under the light to absorb the heat it radiates. She'd flick her tongue out, as cosy as a drunk mortal and inhale the light as if it was her delight. Until one day humans arrived and hunted her down for the radiance that cloaked her existence for more than a normal snake's lifetime.
She hated humans then, how hypocritical they were. They built shrines for her and the sky she replenished, yet couldn't respect the simple life of a reptile that was half of her true self. No matter how many incense were burned in her name, she could never forget the same people who bowed their heads and muttered their wish were the same ones who crushed her kin in search of their skin. It would have been okay if it was fear that drove them into doing all the killing, the primal nature surrounding snakes and their potential risks. Yet it was the skin of such creatures the humans sought, as their dead and dry lined up in their shops in all different colours, ready to be made into belts and handbags.
She had many lives as a fly, every single one short and unassuming. She was eaten by frogs, drowned in the river and sometimes squashed by cows who swayed their tails. She'd cramp where things were rotten and decaying, the last wailing of the dead as they were dragged back into the Cycle of Reincarnation to begin another turn of life. There were always so many of them, they'd gather together in tens of thousands and discuss their dreams. "I'd want to fly to see where the Earth Patron had fixed the sky," one would say, even though their small wings had not been able to fight against a single sneeze. "I bet the stones are shining even after millenia of use."
"Don't be stupid," she'd replied impatiently as a fly. "The stones are part of the sky. It's like this piece of garbage we're surrounding, nothing more than a necessity that functions as part of the universe."
All the other flies had looked at her oddly and stayed away from her a bit further away. She'd rolled her eyes. Speaking in terms like these often could get you ostracised by creatures large and small. No one wanted to be reminded of their own mortality, no matter how little their lives mean to the grander scheme of things, no matter how much they were told they'd come back again and again as was designated by the Laws of Reincarnation. Creatures struggle to survive every minute of every day, based on nothing but the instinct of having to stay. It was laughable and arrogant, to think one's existence serves a purpose to the larger world as a whole. They were all nothing but a tiny piece of mud being ripped apart in the River of Life, stuffed into different shapes until they found some contentment in themselves so they could reach Nirvana.
She didn't mind being a fly, even though it was a tedious existence. If the humans didn't come along and slaughter each other in droves. She'd see her fly community grow in size and proportion, as the food source grew. Men in different shades of green, trying to blend in with the jungle and earth that surrounded them. Men whose hands were stained red and whose scarlet inners were spilled in return before they turned back into dust. Dust to dust, dirt to dirt. That's what the humans say on her earth, because that's all they come to know. The humans who send their children away to die in fighting for stuff they'd never get to keep. The dying murmurs of souls speaking of their parents, lovers or children. Millions and billions of them lying on top of each other, in graves unmarked or on fields no one had tread since. So very predictable, war was a chore humans went through every other decade, more uneventful than a fly's life.
She'd side eye them disapprovingly as she swallowed their remains.
The Creation Goddess Nǚwā has only ever been a human once upon a time, in the very beginning when she till played with toys made from Earth.
There was a time she was nothing but a girl.
There were legends of how she was born, but they were nonsense as she didn't even remember her own parents. She had a best friend and a brother. They were lost children of a different world, stumbling upon the lands that yet lay unclaimed as the prize of any man. The mountains she'd witness in the distance as a tree, the trees she'd lay on lazily as a snake and the fields where she'd eaten corpses as a fly. None of them were corrupted by the existence of human beings.
The human scholars of modern age would argue that The Creation Goddess Nǚwā was never a goddess to begin with, they'd say that she was just a merely human tribal leader of the ancient times when women still held the mantle of lineages. They'd be half-right.
The Creation Goddess Nǚwā was once a human girl, as clumsy and fearless as the rest of them. She, Shen-nong and Fu-xi had been escaping a gigantic flood. As you see, the ancient times are the times of nature, nature meant change and disruption and never-ending horror. However, it was only as nature was meant to be. The temperment of a beast that was untamed and uncaged.
"We should stop running," Shen-nong said, her best friend was fascinated by the flowers of spring that he almost drowned because he tried to eat a mushroom that was poisonous red. "The plants here are rife and plentiful; if we set our roots here, we'd grow as the soil is steady and filled with gifts."
"No, we should continue." Fu-xi, her brother who wanted to scourge every last piece of the world until he reached the edge. "Only when we had conquered everything that could be seen by our eyes, could we truly be safe."
"You're both idiots," she had said to them as she rested under a tree with a massive shade and closed her eyes, feeling the sun dripping on her forehead. "No matter where we go or where we settle, we'd forever be alone if we don't create some of our own. An existence without people like us, can you imagine that? Just the three of us is less than nothing at all. I can't be stuck with you guys for eternity."
"Fine, you came up with a better idea." Fu-xi kicked a rock towards her.
"What do you suggest?" Shen-nong asked her, eyes filled with curiosity and possibility.
"Hmmm," she thought with her face turning towards the sky. The white clouds began to gather and water droplets rained down like a piece of sky was threatening to crush them. They all stopped to argue and looked at each other. "I think I have an inspiration."
Fu-xi and Shen-nong blinked at her with equal fascination and dread, as she gathered a handful of the soil that would one day host the thousand types of herbs Shen-nong would taste and span across the thousand acres of land Fu-xi would explore.
She cupped the dirt in her hand gently, as soft as a whisper and as quiet as a promise. The rain melted into the dry land and gave it properties of water. She played with it a couple of times, trying to envision herself, her best friend and her brother. The curiosity of Shen-nong, the spirit of Fu-xi and the heart of her own. A statue that would be all of their best qualities. An art piece. An experiment.
"There you go," after an eternity, she held up her creation with the proud smile of a mother and the naivety of a young girl. "Aren't they beautiful?"
The first humans of Hua Xia. The mould that all of them will take after. She could still see it in every single face of theirs. The dark eyebrows and hair with the deep colour of soil after the rain and the sleekness of waterfalls. The shape that came from willow trees. The moist smell of life and opportunities.
Humans would come up with so many justifications for their foolish tendencies, claiming she had created the first humans with pale porcelain features and smooth carvings as marbles. There were no crafting tools or pure white porcelain at the beginning of the world, there was only the unchangeable Earth with its unchartable soil. The nobility of the Middle Kingdom for millenia to come would like to believe they were different from their own, so they say they were hand-selected by her, that the ones further down the human hierarchy came from the whip of her rod once she got bored making so many of them.
That was ridiculous, of course, she put thought into every one of her figurines. However, they were all made of dust and dirt. Insignificant and inpermanent, doomed to fall apart as the land dried off.
"That was so very sad," Shen-nong would lament when she told them of her creation. "Don't you want them to stay a bit longer? Maybe incorporate some of the herbs into your design to mend their surface, and others could crack them further."
"What's the point of them not last?" Fu-xi pouted. "At least some of them should be special, the ones who do not need to remain here. Maybe you can make them fly?"
"This isn't a group project," she'd wave her hand but secretly take note of those ideas. "They are mine. They come from my hand and will return to me. Whatever tricks you want to put in them are your business, but wait until I have enough of them so I don't feel alone anymore."
"Sure." Shen-nong and Fu-xi said. Both of them were assholes, as they'd tempered with her children afterwards. Shen-nong who made medicine that determined the time-span of life and death, Fu-xi who gave them invisible aspects that could ascend to godhood if given they achieved something extraordinary.
She should have stopped them. Manoeuvring those things into creation who came from dust and dirt was the worst idea ever. The figurines wanted to prolong their existence by exploring the Earth's every hair and string, regardless of what they desecrated in the process. They try to one-up each other, wage wars and build shrines dedicated to every other human who slightly killed more of each other, all in the hopes that they would one day be remembered as the gods themselves.
They thought they'd become immortal by keeping dust and dirt together like Shen-Nong wanted, or have their names being spoken by generations to come in the hope of godhood like Fu-xi promised. Hence the Cycle of Reincarnation was created, due to the never ending hope and wish of dirt and dust wanting to remain on earth a little bit longer.
The origin of all the pain and suffering was because they just wanted more. She would know, she created them.
The humans declared the three of them as the Patrons of Hua Xia, the Founding Emperors, the Potencies of craft. Slowly, Shen-nong, Fu-xi and her drifted apart, they became three different concepts that kept the world running instead of actual beings, let alone humans.
They ascended, a human would say, but did they really? All she remembered of her best friend and brother was that after a fall-out, they carved between themselves the three Realms that were no longer even their own as more humans got shrines and became gods. Fu-xi took the sky, the Heavenly realm where he resided as the true supremacy even as the Heavenly court of the Jade Emperor took over the actual function. In her brother's realm, a day is the length of a human year. The only resemblance he kept as her brother from the same blood was their aspect of having replaced their lower torso with ones of snakes, the humans like to put them together as a couple as if playing matchmaking in stories - it would never happen, she really wasn't into her brother that way despite how little humans cared.
Shen-nong, her best friend, on the other hand, had grown so attached to humans, he dedicated his whole being into helping them. That being swallowed so much poison for humans in order to discern what could be used as medicine, it was almost fitting he had taken an ox head because of it, because it surely was scatter brain behaviour. He occupied the domain of the humans, the Patron of Humanity.
They both would like to say they knew what humans are like, despite neither of them having created the figurines themselves. She was left alone, the Patron of Earth, she existed with the trees, the snakes and the flies. The Mother Goddess who mend what was broken, even if it was the sky. The story the humans tell each other the most was the one of her stopping the flood by using pieces of colourful stone to fill the holes, all to keep humanity safe.
For her effort, she was repaid with cruelty and callousness. The humans trample over their own very being, they loosen the soil they came from until they used up all of Shen-nong's herbs, they desolate the sky Fu-yi was in until there were no more clouds to form rain.
They buried plastic bags and waste into her belly and hair. They cut open her skin and destroy the sinew of her protruding bones that gave them oxygen. They put each other into her mouth with screams of the dead unending. Nothing could stop them.
The destiny of dust and dirt was nothing but dust and dirt. They were nothing to begin with and they are so determined to reduce each other into nothingness.
She used to cry so much, her wails could be heard by all the hungry ghosts and gods in the mountains. Until one day even her arrogant and estranged brother couldn't bear to watch.
"Would you like to take a break in the Cycle of Reincarnation?" Fu-yi asked with uncommon sincerity and concern. "Might do you some good."
"Okay," she sighed as she watched her creations rolling through the Cycle of Reincarnations like waves of autumn breeze. "Maybe if I stayed long enough, they'd become different."
They never did. She had been in the Cycle of Reincarnation for thousands of years. Humans did not change at all. Cycle after cycle, she watched in agony as they repeated the destiny of dust and dirt. Floating and unsettled, forever caught in the loop of their own making.
Nǚwā's children are nothing but dust and dirt.