Once there was an old man named Meng who lived with his wife in the southern part of China. One spring, Meng sowed a seed of calabash in his yard. The bottle gourd grew little by little – its vines climbed over the wall and entered his neighbor Jiang’s yard. Like Meng, Jiang had no children. Jiang became very fond of the plant. He watered it and took great care of it. With the tender care of both men, the plant grew bigger and bigger and showed a beautiful calabash in autumn. Jiang plucked the calabash and the two old men decided to divide it by half. However, when they cut it, they found a pretty little girl lying inside. They decided to raise the child together and named the girl Meng Jiang – a combination of both their names.
As time went by, the little girl grew up to become a beautiful young woman. Smart and industrious, she looked after Meng and Jiang’s families, washing the clothes and doing the house work. One day while playing in the yard, Meng Jiang saw a young man hiding in the garden. The young man’s name was Fan Qiliang. At that time, Emperor Qin Shihuang made the announcement to build the Great Wall. Many poor young men were caught by the federal officials to work on the wall. Fan Qiliang escaped to Meng’s house to hide from the officials.
Meng and Jiang liked this handsome, honest and well-mannered young man. They decided to wed their daughter to him and the young couple got married several days later. However, three days after their marriage, officials suddenly broke in and took Fan Qiliang away to build the wall in the north of China.
Meng Jiang missed her husband and cried nearly every day. She sewed warm clothes for him and decided to set off to look for him. Saying farewell to her parents, she started her long journey. She climbed over mountains and went through the rivers. Walking day and night, slipping and falling, Meng Jiang finally reached the foot of the Great Wall at the present Shanhaiguan Pass.
Upon her arrival, she eagerly asked about her husband. However, Fan Qiliang had already died of exhaustion and was buried into the Great Wall. Meng Jiangnu collapsed to the ground – she cried and cried. Suddenly, with a tremendous noise, a 400 kilometer-long section of the wall collapsed over her bitter wail. Emperor Qin Shihuang, who happened to be touring the wall at that exact time, he was enraged and ready to punish the woman who caused this misfortune.
The Emperor became attracted by her beauty. Instead of killing her, the Emperor asked Meng Jiang to marry him. Suppressing her anger, Meng Jiang gave him three conditions: first, the Emperor had to find the body of Fan Qiliang, the second was to hold a state funeral for him and the last one was to have the Emperor attend the funeral in person. Emperor Qin reluctantly agreed. After all the conditions were met and the Emperor was ready to take her to his palace, Meng Jiang suddenly jumped into the nearby Bohai Sea.
In memory of Meng Jiang, later generations built a temple at the foot of the Great Wall in which a statue of her is located.
A solar creation myth from Japan contains a reference to a floating cloud in the midst of infinite space, before matter had taken any other form. This also nicely describes the original nebula from which scientists say the solar system was evolved. The legend says that when there was no heaven, earth, sun, or moon, there was only the Invisible Lord of the Middle Heaven existing in an infinite space. With him there were two other gods. Between them, they created a floating cloud in the midst of which was a liquid formless and lifeless mass from which the earth was evolved.
After this, seven generations of gods were born in heaven – the last and most perfect were Izanagi and Izanami who went on to become the parents of the world and all that is in it. After the creation of the world of living things, Izanagi bathed his left eye and sprang Amaterasu, the great Sun-Goddess. Izanagi rejoiced and put a necklace of jewels he around her neck. He said to her, “Rule thou over the Plain of High Heaven.” Thus Amaterasu became the source of all life and light worshipped by mankind. Then Izanagi he bathed his right eye, and there appeared Tsukuyomi,the Moon-God. Izanagi said, “Rule thou over the Dominion of Night.”
In Norse mythology, Odin arranged the periods of daylight and darkness, and the seasons. He placed the sun and moon in the heavens, and regulated their respective courses. Day and Night were considered mortal enemies as light came from above, and darkness from beneath. However, there is another version which says that the sun and moon were formed from the sparks from the fire land of Muspelheim. The father of the two luminaries was Mundilfare, and he named his beautiful boy and girl, Maane (Moon) and Sol (Sun). The gods took his children from him and placed them in the heavens, where they permitted Sol to drive the horses of the sun, and gave over the regulation of the moon’s phases to Maane.
Among the Eskimos of Behring Strait, the creation of the earth and all it contains is attributed to the Raven Father. The Raven Father came from the sky after a great deluge. He made the dry ground and created human and animal life. But mankind threatened the animal life, and this so annoyed the Raven Father that he punished man by taking the sun out of the sky, and hiding it in a bag at his home. The people were frightened at the loss of the sun, and offered rich gifts to the Raven Father to appease him. So he relented somewhat, and would hold the sun up in one hand for a day or two at a time, so that the people could have sufficient light for hunting, and then he would put it back in his bag again. This arrangement, though better than nothing, was not satisfactory to people. The Raven’s brother took pity on them, and thought of a scheme to better human conditions. He faked his death, and after he had been buried and the mourners had gone away, he came forth from the grave, and turned himself into a leaf which floated on the surface of a stream. Later, the Raven’s wife came to the stream for a drink and, dipping up the water, she swallowed with it the leaf. The Raven’s wife soon after gave birth to a boy who cried continuously for the sun. To silence him, his father often gave him the sun to play with. One day, the boy flew away with the sun and placed it in its proper place in the sky. He also regulated its daily course, making day and night, so that the people always have the constant light of the sun to guide them by day.
The ancient Peruvians believed that the god Viracocha rose out of Lake Titicaca, made the sun, moon and stars, then regulated their courses. The Muyscas, who inhabited the high plains of Bogota, was said to have lived in a state of savagery before the arrival of an old bearded man from the east named Bochica (the Sun) who taught them agriculture and the worship of the gods. However, his wife Huythaca was not pleased with his attentions to mankind and caused a great deluge which drowned most of the inhabitants of the earth. This, of course, angered Bochica. He drove his wife away from the earth by turning her into the Moon. He then dried up the earth, and once more made it habitable for mankind to live in.
According to Mexican tradition, Nexhequiriac was the creator of the world. He sent down the Sun-God and the Moon-God to illuminate the earth, so that mankind could see to perform their daily tasks. The Sun-God went on his way without delay, but the Moon-God, who was hungry, saw a rabbit and started chasing it. This, of course, took some time. After he caught and ate the rabbit, the Moon-God looked up and found his brother, the Sun-God, had outdistanced him. The Sun-God was, in fact, so far ahead, so that thereafter the Moon-God was unable to overtake him. This is also the reason why the sun always appears to be ahead of the moon, and why the sun always looks fresh and red, and the moon sick and pale. Those who gaze intently at the moon can still see the rabbit dangling from his mouth.
According to the Tonga tribe, of the South Pacific Islands, before there was any light upon the earth, Vatea and Tonga-iti argued about which one of them was the parent of a child. Each was confident the child was his and to end the dispute they decided to share it. The infant was then cut in two. Vatea took the upper half as his share, and squeezing it into a ball tossed it up into the sky where it became the sun. Tonga-iti allowed his share, the lower part of the infant, to remain on the ground for a day or two, but seeing the brightness of Vatea’s half, he squeezed his share too, and threw it up into the dark sky when the sun was absent in the underworld, and it became the moon. Thus the sun and the moon were created, and the paleness of the moon is due to the fact that all the blood was drained out of it when it lay on the ground.
Kelea was the beautiful sister of Kawao, king of Maui who, at the age of twenty-five, succeeded to the sovereignty of that island. Brought up in the royal court at Lahaina, Kelea was uncommonly beautiful. But she never cared about marriage. She loved the water and became the most graceful and daring surf-swimmer in the kingdom. Frequently, when the waters of Auau Channel surged wildly under the south wind, Kelea would plunge into the sea with her surf-board, and ride the waves that those who watched and applauded her were half-inclined to believe that she was the friend of some water-god, and could not be drowned.
When her brother spoke to her of marriage, Kelea gaily answered that the surf-board was her husband. The brother frowned at the answer, as he had hoped, by uniting his sister to a principal chief of Hana, to more thoroughly incorporate that portion of the island to his kingdom.
“Do not frown, Kawao,” said Kelea, coaxingly; I may marry some day, just to please you; but remember what the voice said in the wave at the last feast of Lono.”
That voice from the wave that Kelea heard was prophetic. It says that while Kelea continued to ride the waves at Lahaina, a husband, of the family of Kalona-iki of Oahu, was looking for her.
At that time at Lihue, on the island of Oahu, lived a chief named Lo-Lale. He was handsome, but he never married. Some years before, a beautiful chiefess whom he loved and was about to marry died by drowning. After that, he hated the sea, and was content to remain at Lihue, beyond the sound of its surges.
As his family wanted him to marry so that the family authority might be strengthened, Lo-Lale finally yielded and started to look for a wife from among the royal families of the other islands. Accordingly, a large koa canoe was fitted out at Waialua, and with trusty messengers despatched to the nearby islands in search of a wife for Lo-Lale. Among the chiefs selected for the delicate mission was Lo-Lale’s cousin, Kalamakua, a noble of high rank, whose lands were on the coast of the Ewa district.
Amid a chorus of alohas! the canoe dashed through the breakers and out into the open sea, holding a course in the direction of Molokai. Reaching that island early the next day, the party landed at Kalaupapa. They were informed that a large number of chiefs had accompanied the moi to that attractive resort, and that Kelea, sister of the king, and the most beautiful woman on the island as well as the most daring and accomplished surf-swimmer, was also there.
The party re-embarked and arrived the next morning off Hamakuapoko, just as Kelea and her attendants had gone down to the beach to surf. Swimming out beyond the breakers, and oblivious of everything but her own enjoyment, Kelea suddenly found herself within a few yards of the canoe of the Oahuan chiefs. Presuming that it was her own people, she swam still closer, when she discovered, to her amazement, that all the faces in the canoe were strangers to her. Kalamakua rose to his feet, and invited her to a seat in the canoe, offering to ride the surf with it to the beach.
The language of the chief was so gentle that the invitation was accepted, and the canoe mounted one of the great waves successively following two of lighter bulk and force, and was safely beached. The achievement was greeted with applause on the shore, and when the proposal was made to repeat the performance Kelea willingly retained her seat. Again the canoe successfully rode the breakers ashore, and then, through her attendants, Kalamakua discovered that the beautiful swimmer was none other than Kelea, the sister of the moi of Maui.
But when the wind ceased and the skies cleared, late in the afternoon, the canoe was far out at sea and beyond the sight of land. It was turned and headed back; but as there was no wind to assist the paddles, and the waters were still rough and restless, slow progress toward land was made; and when the sun went down Kalamakua was undecided which way to proceed.
Kalamakua, taking advantage of a squall which blew the craft out to sea, abducted Kelea to take her to Oahu. During the voyage, Kelea learned that she was to be the wife of Lo-lale, the high chief of Oahu. Needless to say Kalea was surprised and rather angry.
Later Kelea remembered the prophecy she heard and soon became the wife of Lo-lale. However, the marriage was doomed to fail. Lo-lale disliked the sea and preferred to live inland at Lihue. Kelea, confined in Lihue far from the sea, longed to return to the surf and was only happy on her occasional visits to the seashore at Ewa where she surfed in the company of Kalamakua. Finally, she vowed to return to the shores of her native island and left Lo-lale forever. However, on her way to Maui she stopped at Ewa and there accepted a proposal of marriage from Kalamakua, the chief who had abducted her. In the end, the prophecy was still correct: Kelea’s husband, of the family of Kalona-iki of Oahu, was looking for her.
We often hear something being dismissed as “just a myth” to imply that it is not true. In fact, “myth” and “truth” are often seen as opposites. If it is not analysed, written down in reports and be seen or heard, then it is a myth (“pics or it didn’t happen!” as young people like to say). For many, mythology is the study of old, meaningless and untrue stories. Some people, repelled by the myths’ more incredible elements and contradictions, see them as fabrications to be discarded because we like to think that we are too “sophisticated” to believe in something so ridiculous. But mythology’s enduring worth is never in its possible historical or scientific accuracy. When recitals of data and observable facts miss the point completely, some things can be dealt with adequately only in poetry or mythology. Love, hate, empathy, aversion, hunger, greed, altruism and all the other positive and negative aspects of being human are also facts. To ignore them by putting everything into numbers is to treat people as insensate objects and their lives as mechanical conditioned responses. This is a statistical perspective and it is as much a distortion of reality as any other limited point of view.
Every culture’s pantheon of mythical characters was the family into which every person of that culture was born, as these creatures were as familiar as their parents, grandparents or siblings. Therefore, a myth is also not a simple proposition that can be judged as true or false. Rather, a myth attempts to make sense of our perceptions and feelings within our experience of the world in a narrative format long before art, language or the written word.
Of course, there are certainly many aspects of myths are not literally true. However, we understand the stories about the Greek gods because they share some of our emotions and ambitions – two things we cannot measure even if we tried. The stories of Icarus, for example, resonates with us because we have all experienced within ourselves tendencies to fly too high or to force things only to crash and burn. Although no myth can completely represent all of human experience as human experience is so multidimensional and varied, a myth still captures some important aspects of the domain of human experience which it is meant to represent. It is like a map which captures only important features of the terrain but not every detail of the terrain it represents. Just like looking at maps, we learn through imagination, as we feel and visualize the colorful adventures of the deities or heroes. Although mythology is not a literal description of a culture’s history, we can still use myths to explore the culture itself and address some of our fundamental and difficult questions that human beings ask – who am I, where did I come from, why am I here, how did it all begin?
Truthfully, human beings are never meant to be totally rational. We therefore crave a bit of mystery to counter our apparent understanding and mastery of the world. To lend this comfort of mystery, humanity have had deities for many aspects of life. The Egyptians had more than 2000 deities while the Hindus have 333 million. The Irish honored both the goddess of rivers (Boann) and the goddess of the Lagan River (Logia). There are deities for cities (such as Athena for Athens), mountains (Gauri-Sankar for Mount Everest), lakes, tribes, plant species, temples, constellations, and many more. Deities governed not only major phenomena such as agriculture, love or the sun, but also such common matters as leisure, the kitchen stove, politics, prostitution, singing, doors, virginity, gambling, drunkenness and the toilet. Deities have governed virtually every possible activity, object and emotion, lending a bit of their magic into what would have been rather mundane and tedious interactions.
Myths also bring out our sense of protectiveness. Mistakes in relating mythological stories may meet with sneers or even anger. Much like a family member being misunderstood or criticized, we stand by our myth because we know that it is our root, the culture from where we came.
Like the lack of sense of family or community, a lack of myths can cause a sense of meaninglessness, estrangement and cold brittleness of a life devoid of reverence and awe. As myths are necessary, and we neglected to preserve most of the ancient ones, our modern society develops its own myths. Now our “modern” myths seem to rest on certain concepts (such as “progress” or “freedom”) and in larger-than-life celebrities. The media enlarges certain people to mythical proportions and we project the “hero” archetype onto other people. We revered Mother Teresa for her compassion and Albert Einstein for his intellect. Marilyn Monroe was a “screen goddess” with the alluring qualities of Aphrodite while Muhammad Ali called on the aggression of Ares when he stepped into the boxing ring. Through all these reverence, we somewhat conveniently leave out the fact that Albert Einstein failed every exams he had ever attempted in his school days, Marilyn Monroe was ultimately a lonely figure and Muhammad Ali was a peaceful man off the ring – in short, they were all human: complicated, vulnerable and fragile. But to understand and relate to them, we amplify aspects of them that are easiest for us to understand.
There is a myth in every group and our mythology changes as our culture changes. We each have our own mythology which we create. We have things and people which are important and valued to us personally. We are heroes in our “mythical journeys” by which we romanticize our various passages through life. The truly satisfying and exciting myths are those which arise from our own passions and our own visions. It just so happens that those myths have existed since the ancient times one way or the other.
A beautiful girl, Psyche, is born after two older sisters. People throughout the land worship her beauty so deeply that they forget about Venus, who is supposed to be the most beautiful being ever. Jealous, Venus plots to ruin Psyche. She instructs her son, Cupid, to pierce the girl with an arrow and make her fall in love with the most hideous man alive. But when Cupid sees Psyche, he shoots himself with the arrow instead.
Meanwhile, Psyche’s family become worried that she will never find a husband, for although men admire her beauty, they always seem content to marry someone else. Psyche’s father prays to Apollo for help, and Apollo instructs her to go to the top of a hill, where she will marry not a man but a serpent. Although this is not the most appealing offer in the world, Psychefaithfully follows the instructions. She waits until she falls asleep on the hill. When she wakes up, she discovers a stunning mansion. Going inside, she relaxes and enjoys fine food and luxurious treatment. At night, in the dark, she meets and falls in love with her husband.
After that, she never sees him in the light. But she lives happily with him, until one day he tells her that her sisters have been crying for her. She begs to see them, but her husband replies that it would not be wise to do so. Psyche insists that they visit, and when they do, they become extremely jealous of Psyche’s beautiful mansion and lush quarters. They deduce that Psyche has never seen her husband, and they convince her that she must sneak a look. Confused and conflicted, Psyche turns on a lamp one night as her husband lies next to her.
When she sees Cupid asleep on her bed, she immediately realizes what she has done. Cupid awakens and leaves her because Love cannot live where there is no faith.
Adonis is a young man renowned for his beauty. But he is not interested in love and only wants to go hunting. When Venus sees Adonis, she falls in love with him and comes down to earth where she encounters him setting out on a hunt. She asks him to get off his horse, and speak to her,but Adonis does not want to talk to any woman, not even a goddess. So she forces him to listen. She lies down beside him, gazes at him, and talks of love. He manages to get away and goes to get his horse.
At that moment, Adonis’ horse becomes enamored of another horse and soon the two animals gallop off together, which keeps Adonis from going hunting. Venus approaches him, and continues to speak to him of love. He listens for a bit, then turns away scornfully. This pains her and she faints. Afraid that he might have killed her, Adonis kneels to stroke and kiss her. Venus recovers and requests one last kiss. He reluctantly gives in.
Unsatisfied, Venus wants to see him again. But, Adonis tells her that he is going to hunt the wild boar. Venus desperately warns him that if he does so, he will be killed by a boar. She then flings herself on him, tackling him to the ground. Adonis pries himself loose and, after lecturing her (the goddess of love) on the topic of lust versus love, he leaves, leaving the heartbroken Venus behind.
The next morning Venus roams the woods searching for Adonis. Hearing dogs and hunters in the distance, she thinks back on her vision that her beloved will be killed by a boar. Afraid, she hurries to catch up with the hunt. Soon, she finds Adonis, killed by a wild boar.
Devastated, Venus decrees that love will henceforth be mixed with suspicion, fear, and sadness.
In Plato’s Symposium (c. 385–370 BCE), Socrates mentions that, in his youth, he was taught “the philosophy of love” by a woman named Diotima, a priestess from Mantinea. She taught Socrates the concept of love as a means of ascent to contemplation of the divine, arguing that the goal of love is immortality, either through the creation of children or beautiful things. This is an ancient concept. So ancient, in fact, that there are many love stories that were so great that they gave birth to changes in the world and new knowledges that we take for granted today.
The First Winter: Adonis and Aphrodite (Phoenician)
Adonis was born a most beautiful child. Aphrodite placed him into a coffin which she entrusted to Persephone, goddess of the Underworld. When Aphrodite returned to retrieve the coffin she discovered that Persephone had opened it and claimed the handsome child for herself. The dispute became so nasty that Zeus had to intervene. He then decided that Adonis should spend half the year on earth and half in the Underworld.
In another version of this myth Adonis was a hunter. Because Aphrodite loved Adonis, she tried to persuade him to give up the dangerous sport. Adonis refused and was killed by a wild boar. This myth actually came before the Ancient Greek version. In the sixth century the Phoenician name for this character was discovered. He was the agricultural divinity named Eshmun, which explained the 6 month alternation between the earth and the underworld.
Eshmun was known at least from the Iron Age period at Sidon and was worshipped also in Tyre, Beirut, Cyprus, Sardinia and Carthage where the site of Eshmun’s temple is now occupied by the acropolium of Carthage. Damascius stated that, “The Asclepius in Beirut is neither a Greek nor an Egyptian, but some native Phoenician divinity. For to Sadyk were born children who are interpreted as Dioscuri and Cabeiri; and in addition to these was born an eighth son, Esmunus, who is interpreted as Asclepius.”
Photius summarizes Damascius as saying further that Asclepius of Beirut was a youth who was fond of hunting. He was seen by the goddess Astronoë who so harassed him with amorous pursuit that in desperation he castrated himself and died. Astronoë then restored the youth to life from the warmth of her body and changed him into a god. A village near Beirut named Qabr Shmoun, “Eshmoun’s grave,” still exists.
The First Cesarean Section: Zal and Rudabeh (Persian)
Zal, son of a Feridun chief named Sam, was born with snow white hair. This curious condition aroused fear that he might be a son of a devil, and Sam was forced to abandon the boy on a mountaintop. A simurgh, a bird with magic powers, snatched up the crying baby and raised him with its own nestlings.
Upon dreaming that his son still lived, Sam prayed to be reunited. The simurgh instructed Zal that he must return to his father, but gave him a feather that would ensure Zal’s safety if he were ever in danger. Sam welcomed his son and eventually put him in charge of Zabulistan where he performed his duties well. Zal decided to visit other places including Kabul. The chief of Kabul was a descendant of Zohak, an enemy of Zal’s father Sam and the king of Persia. Zal knew that the smart thing to do would be to avoid contact with the chief, but he wanted to meet the chief’s daughter Rudabeh who was described as “fair as the moon with ringlets of dark hair that reached her feet and whose presence made men think of heaven.” Rudabeh in turn had heard of Zal, and invited Zal to her palace retreat. The two realized their great love for each other, but feared their families’ enmity.
When Zal confessed his love for Rudabeh to his father, Sam consulted astrologers, and found out that the offspring of the two lovers would become a great conqueror. He sent Zal with a letter for Rudabeh’s father asking his permission for the marriage. The king received the same sign from the astrologers and consented. Rudabeh and Zal married, and the two kings made peace.
When Rudabeh was ready to give birth, she became gravely ill. Zal placed the simurgh feather on the fire. The simurgh appeared and instructed that Rudabeh be drugged with wine. Her side was opened, her child drawn out, and the incision rubbed with an herb and another feather from the simurgh’s wing – the world’s first cesarean procedure. The child named Rustam revealed himself immediately to be a hero and the fulfillment of the simurgh’s prophecy.
The First Embalment: Osiris and Isis (Egyptian)
Osiris, son of Earth and Sky, was the husband-brother of Isis, goddess of the earth and moon. Set, the god of darkness, trapped Osiris in a coffin and threw him into the Nile. Grief-stricken Isis found the coffin and retrieved her husband’s body, but inspite of her attempts to hide it in Egypt, Set found it again and cut it into fourteen pieces which he scattered throughout the land. Isis searched again. When she found the parts, she rejoined the fragments, and restored the god to eternal life with the first use of the rites of embalment.
The First Dynasty: Sakuntala and Dashyanta (Indian)
Sakuntala was abandoned in the forest where she survived on food brought by birds. She was discovered by the sage Kanva who raised her as his own daughter at a hermitage. One day King Dushyanta was hunting in the forest, and having caught sight of Sakuntala, fell in love. He persuaded her to marry him and gave her a ring of commitment when he departed. Unfortunately, Sakuntala, upon returning to the hermitage, mistakenly offended the irritable sage Durvasas. He cast a curse that she would be forgotten by her husband forever unless King Dushyanta spied the ring he had left with her.
Eventually it was time for Sakuntala to find her husband and she left the hermitage. When she stopped to bathe in a sacred pool, Sakuntala dropped the ring. In accordance with the curse, Dushyanta did not recognize her when she arrived at the palace and denied their marriage, although he did feel sorry for the grief-stricken girl about to give birth to a child. Sakuntala sadly withdrew from the palace only to be whisked away to a sacred grove by an apparition. There she bore a son named Bharata.
When a fisherman later found a ring inside a fish, he was taken before Dushyanta as a suspect of theft. Upon seeing the ring Dushyanta realized his vow to Sakuntala and anxiously sought her. The god Indra appeared in his chariot and carried Dushyanta to the sacred grove. There Dushyanta and Sakuntala were reunited and rejoiced in the heroic destiny of their son Bahrata who later gave his name to the dynasty of which he was the founder. It was in Bharata’s dynasty that later the Pandavas of the epic Mahabharata were born
The First Milky Way: The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl (Chinese)
The Vega and the Altair Stars were in love. However, it was forbidden for the stars to fall in love. The Celestial Queen Mother and the Heavenly Emperor heard of their love and became furious. Despite the other stars’ protestations on behalf of the two lovers, the Celestial Queen Mother banished the Altair Star down to earth. The Vega Star was punished to weave the clouds in the sky for all eternity. Because of this, she became known as Zhinu (“the Weaver Girl”). Clouds in the skies were weaved by the Zhinu with celestial silk.
On earth, the Altair Star was reborn into a farming family. After his parents passed away, he stayed with his brother and sister-in-law, who treated him badly. Eventually, he was chased out of their home with only an old ox and a broken cart. He and his ox were inseparable, plowing and working hard to make ends meet. Because of this friendship, the people in the village came to know him as Niulang (“the Cowherd”).
One day, the Heavenly Maidens, servants of the Celestial Queen Mother, requested her permission to descend to Bi Lian Lake in the mortal world. They took pity on the heartbroken Weaver Girl and requested for her to be allowed to join them on the trip. The Celestial Queen Mother granted their request.
Unbeknownst to Niulang, his old ox was the reincarnation of the Golden Ox Star Jinniu, one of the stars who dared speak against the Celestial Queen Mother in his defense. One day, the ox suddenly spoke to him, “Go to Bi Lian Lake today. You will find the coats of heavenly maidens by the rocks, while they are bathing in the lake. Take the red coat and the maiden will become your wife.”
Niulang obeyed. He hid near the lake and, true to the Ox’s words, heavenly maidens gracefully danced down from the sky. The maidens placed their dresses by the rock and stepped into the Lake. Seeing his chance, Niulang took the red cloaks. The maidens were frantic to find there was man near them. Putting on their cloaks in haste, they flew back to heaven. Only one heavenly maid was left in the lake, Zhinu.
Niulang stepped forward and asked Zhinu to be his wife. At this moment, Zhinu recognized him as the Altair Star whom she still loved and happily became his wife. She lived with him on earth and bore him a son and a daughter. However, their joy did not last, as when the Celestial Queen Mother soon deployed heaven guards and soldiers to bring Zhinu back to the sky.
Back on earth, the old ox was dying. He asked Niulang to keep his ox hide well, so that one day Niulang will be able to make a cape of the hide and fly into the sky. Sadly, Niuland and Zhinu peeled the hide and gave the ox a burial. Suddenly, the heavenly soldiers came and took Zhinu away. She could do nothing except to be taken back to the clouds and skies with the soldiers. As she was flying, she heard a voice, “Wife, wait for me!” It was Niulang. Looking back, she saw him flying behind them, wearing the magical ox hide, holding a basket with their two children in it. Soon, she could see the faces of her children and hear their cries for her. When they were almost reunited, the Celestial Queen Mother appeared and with a wave of her hairpin, created the Milky Way between them, separating them forever.
The couple and their children gazed tearfully across the Milky Way at each other. All the stars and gods in heaven cried with them, pained that a loving family had to be separated. Soon, even the Heavenly Emperor felt sorry for them. He allowed the family to stay in the sky and remain as stars, permitting them to see each other once every year on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that day, magpies formed a living bridge to reunite the Cowherd, the Weaver Girl and their two children in the skies.