Chang-O© by the most fabulous Lisa Hunt
The garden is very still, It is dazed with moonlight, Contented with perfume, Dreaming the opium dreams of its folded poppies.
— Amy Lowell, The Garden by Moonlight
In addition to the Eleusinian Mysteries, this week’s Autumn Equinox Full Moon marks the Chinese Moon Festival. Taking place all over China and Hong Kong, this is the equivalent to the West’s Harvest Moon and is one of the most beautiful and important celebrations of the year.
It marks the beginning of the yin part of the year, when the dark takes precedence over the light. The Moon is a symbol of yin energy, which also includes water, women and night. In the old Chinese agrarian system, autumn and winter were the women’s seasons.
One legend of the Moon Festival concerns the Lady (no, not the Man) in the Moon, whose name is Chang Er, or Chang-O. There are several variations of this story, some dating as far back as 2170 BCE.
Once upon a time, the earth had ten suns circling over it, and each took its turn to illuminate to the earth. But one day all ten suns appeared together, scorching the earth with their heat.
The earth was saved by a strong, talented archer named Hou Yi. He succeeded in shooting down nine of the suns, after which he set himself up as a king. For his deeds, he was given an elixir of immortality, which he saved for when he would need it. However, over time he became more tyrant than hero. In order to save the people from her husband’s eternal rule, Hou Yi’s beautiful wife Chang-O drank the elixir of life.
After drinking it, she found herself floating up and up until she flew all the way to the Moon. Hou Yi loved his divinely beautiful wife so much, he didn’t shoot down the moon, and all the people were saved. Eventually he became a Sun God, and so he and Chang-O both meet in heavenly union once a month at the New Moon.
During the Moon Festival, people eat special yuek beng (moon cakes) – made of all sorts of delicious ingredients – from ground lotus and sesame to all kinds of sugary fillings. Along with these cakes, shops sell colored paper lanterns, traditionally in the shapes of animals and, more recently, planes and space ships.
The Moon Festival is a romantic one. Lovers spend the night together sharing moon cakes and wine while watching the Full Moon. Even couples who can’t be physically together can still enjoy the night by watching the Moon at the same time, united together under the magical Moonlight.
Families, too, celebrate. Parents allow children to stay up late and take them to high vantage points to light lanterns and watch the huge autumn Moon rise, before eating their moon cakes. Throughout Chinese neighborhoods everywhere, public parks are ablaze with many thousands of lanterns in all colors, sizes and shapes.
Although this year’s Full Moon has passed, it is still quite beautiful this week. I invite you to spend some time out of doors if you can, with your own family, sharing legends and poetry together, offering one another treats, and sending your good wishes to all who gaze upon the lovely Lady in the Moon.