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Chinese Mythology

Celestial Myths

One of the principal myths involving stars is that of the Zh Nü 織女(Weaving Maid) and the Ni Lng 牛郎―(Herdboy), associated with the stars Vega and Altair. It is mentioned as early as the Book of Odes (of the 12th to 7th centuries BC) but does not appear in detail until the Han period. In one version, the Weaving Maid was the daughter of the Emperor of Heaven and wove brocade clouds to clothe the sky. Seeing that she was lonely, the Emperor of Heaven arranged for her to marry the Herdboy from the other side of the Milky Way. However, the Weaving Maid then neglected her work and so the Emperor of Heaven ordered the Herdboy to return to the east of the Milky Way. They were allowed to meet only once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month, when magpies formed a bridge for them to cross the Milky Way. An alternative version has the Herdboy as a human who sees the Weaving Maid bathing with her sisters in the Milky Way. Advised by his ox, he steals her clothes and refuses to give them back until she agrees to stay and marry him. She agrees, they marry and are very happy, but her grandmother, the Queen Mother of the West, finds out and has the Weaving Maid dragged back to Heaven. The Herdboy, pursuing her, discovers that the Milky Way had been transported to Heaven but with the oxs help is able to follow her there. The Emperor of Heaven and the Queen Mother of the West take pity on them and allow them to meet once a year.