Lessons From The Moon Goddess

Fadó, fadó there lived a highly skilled archer named Hou Yi, and his wife, Chang’e. Well I say lived, they were in fact immortals taking up solace in heaven no less, the fortunate craters.

That was until one day, the ten sons of the Jade Emperor transformed themselves into ten suns, the bowsies. Of course the earth began to scorch as a result, and Hou Yi was called upon to sort things out. Being a dab hand with a bow and arrow, he took down 9 of the 10 burning suns with devastating accuracy.

In a cruel twist of fate though, Hou Yi was punished by the Jade Emperor for killing 9 of his heirs; he and his beautiful wife were banished to earth, where they would exist as mere mortals. This was much to the dismay of Chang’e, who had gotten quite used to her lavish life of perpetuity. And who could blame her, really.

Like any good husband, Hou Yi went on a long and gruelling quest in search of a remedy for his wife’s ailment, and perhaps to put a stop to her relentless nagging, one might imagine. Along the path he bumped into the Queen Mother of the West, who just so happened to have a spare drop of elixir in her possession, which would grant the partaker the gift of everlasting life upon consumption.

Upon returning though, not wanting to be parted from his wife, he hid the bottle away in a case. A thorough inquisition deemed fruitless upon his return, so Chang’e proceeded to turn the house upside down in a fit of paralysing curiosity; she came upon the case, and with the want of a weary traveller falling at the feet of an oasis, she downed the elixir without so much as a second thought.

As she began to float towards the moon, Hou Yi toyed with the idea of shooting her down with his bow and arrow; he decided against it, and instead watched on painfully as his wife disappeared from view through the clouds.

There are a number of different versions of this ancient myth, which is the basis of the age old tradition of moon worship observed during Mid-Autumn Festival, a national holiday here in China.

As part of the tradition, offerings are made to the lunar deity Chang’e, also known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The moon is a symbol of wholeness, and of unity, and it is at it’s fullest this time of year.

The making and sharing of mooncakes is another hallmark tradition of the festival. In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolizes completeness and reunion. Thus, the sharing and eating of round mooncakes among family members during the week of the festival signifies the completeness and unity of the family. It is customary at this time of year therefore, if at all possible, to return to your hometown wherever that may be, and reunite with family.

I took an extended leave to coincide with the holiday, and ended up having a two-week-long staycation right here in Shanghai. It wasn’t initially the plan, but of course plans change and unexpected events occur, so I took advantage of the time to retreat into myself; a potentially dangerous expedition admittedly, but it turned out to be incredibly nourishing.

In the spirit of the festival, and with many of my friends returning home to spend some quality time with their families, it really got me to thinking about my own situation. I don’t get to see my family as often as I’d perhaps like to, that’s for sure. There are indeed times where I’d wish for nothing more than to be able to call around to my parent’s house at my leisure, and join them at the kitchen table for a drop of tea, and a customary multidirectional, at times nonsensical, but always enjoyable conversation. I realise it’s not practical right now in my current situation, nor is it possible, and admittedly it perhaps appears more idyllic in my head than in reality, but it’s still nice to humour my imagination.

I then felt an incredible wave of gratitude; I’m so very lucky to have a supportive and loving family in my life. The fact that they are healthy, and happy, is as much as I could ask for regardless of where I lay my hat.

Perhaps it’s not always necessary to actually see each other in order to feel each other’s presence, to feel that connection, that supportive hand on the shoulder. I mean, my parents and brothers are always with me, in the face of a decision, or in fleeting moments of success, or whilst floating around in the depths of adversity, or whenever I feel the need; they are always there with an internal word of reassurance. I can always feel their presence right alongside me, encouraging me and guiding me along the path.

Regardless of physical presence, the bond between us continues to strengthen as we grow and develop as individuals. That unity is constant. That’s what family is all about.