If you believe in true love (and especially if you’re fortunate to have stars in your eyes at this very moment), I ask that you do one thing:
On the seventh night of the seventh moon, pray to the gods for good weather.
And if you’re kind enough to do this one thing, perhaps you’d like to do one more:
Will you say a prayer for the Star Lovers? For it has been many moons since the Weaving Maiden last saw the Herd Boy of Heaven.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
Way back when, long before the Deity of Light reminded his obedient daughter that duty should be balanced by pleasure, the Weaving Maiden sat at her loom all day and all night. And when the sun rose the next morning, she was still sitting and weaving, all day and all night.
The maiden didn’t enjoy her work, but she feared what might happen if she stopped. After all, she’d heard a rumor:
Sorrow, age-long sorrow, shall come upon the Weaving Maiden when she leaves her loom.
And so, the girl spent her precious youth weaving garments for the gods (even though they had robes and gowns to spare).
That is, until one day, the Deity of Light came into her room and questioned his daughter. Why did she act as if she were bound to the loom? Why did she create divine costumes yet wear rags that were paper thin and devoid of color? He asked why someone who could fly amongst the stars chose to sit in her room, alone, without a person or a dream, to keep her company.
The Weaving Maiden didn’t understand.
“This is my duty,” she said.
The Deity of Light scoffed. “What does someone your age know of duty, or age-long sorrow?” he said. “Are we not gods?”
Without another word, he took her latest tapestry in his hands (which, like all her pieces as of late, was rather subdued) and rested it atop the loom.
With the loom out of sight, he took his daughter’s hands and led her to the great closet where the garments were stored. He told her to pick out the brightest dress she could find, and when she reappeared in a silver robe adorned with red stitching and golden flecks, he placed a flower garland atop her head to match.
The father and daughter walked arm in arm to her bedroom door, and imagine the maiden’s surprise when on the other side of the threshold stood the most beautiful human she’d ever seen.
The Herd Boy of Heaven.
And so, the Weaving Maiden and the Herd Boy of Heaven ran off into the celestial fields, where they lived as only gods could. No longer bound by the loom, the Weaving Maiden danced from sunup to sundown while she and her love moved the divine herd from one end of the Bright River to the other. The Maiden’s eyes grew stars, and her cheeks glowed pink. The Herd Boy of Heaven introduced her to other celestial youths, and together they danced and laughed and laughed some more.
And for a while, the Weaving Maiden forgot all about her loom.
But one day, the Deity of Light appeared as she was dancing with the herd. He and the other gods had been watching the girl and feared that she was becoming too free. Too careless. Too liberated.
“Your fun and games must come to an end,” he announced. “It’s time to return to your room.”
But the Weaving Maiden just laughed and said, “Your hand opened the door, my father, but surely, no hand, either of god or mortal, can shut it.”
The maiden, who for the first time had let heart weave something far greater than a garment, was not thinking clearly. Because if she were, she would have remembered that nobody, not even the daughter of light, should laugh at the gods.
The Deity of Light was not a patient man, and the gods needed new clothes. He snapped his fingers, and the Herd Boy of Heaven was no more. The maiden frantically searched the fields and the river, but now it was her father’s turn to laugh.
“The Herd Boy will no longer control these fields,” he said. “The boy and his animals are now on the other side of the Bright River, which, as you know, is only accessible by one bridge.”
This was no standard bridge, but one that had taken the lives of nearly all who tried to cross. It was not made of wood and steel, but from a flock of magpies that every great once in a great while, when on their way to the edge of the world, would fly across the river. There were so many magpies that when they came together, they created a bridge of glossy feathers. It was a frail bridge, unpredictable in many ways, and it only appeared on the seventh night of the seventh moon.
The Weaving Maiden and the Herd Boy of Heaven wept at what was destined to be their future. The pain and sorrow were more than any creature, mortal or divine, should be asked to bear.
The maiden, heartsick and miserable, returned to her room. She uncovered the loom and sat down at her stool. She wove and wept from sunup to sundown, wove and wept, wove and wept. Occasionally, she stopped to admire the bright colors flowing from her hands.
The rosy hue of the gowns resembled her flushed cheeks after dancing amongst the herd. The bright red stitching looked a bit like her lips after a day spent laughing and eating wild berries. She embroidered stars into everything, sometimes intentionally, other times because stars were all she could see. From sunup to sundown, her eyes glistened with memories of love and pleasure.
And although she wove and wept all day and all night, she was also glad. However badly her heart ached, she would never be as she once was. Back then, she did not love or weep, she was neither glad nor sorry. Now she loves and weeps, she is glad, and she is sorry.
The gods were overjoyed with their new rainbow-colored clothes, however strange they may have been. The Deity of Light was so impressed that he visited his daughter’s room to praise the fruits of her labor.
“Now this is my good child,” he said. “Quiet, dutiful, and happy.”
The Weaving Maiden laughed bitterly. “I am far from happy, father. I am the saddest girl in Heaven.”
“Tell me daughter,” said the Deity of Light, “what can I do to make you happy once more?”
“Give me back my lover,” said the girl.
Her father sighed. “That is impossible,” he said. “Once someone has been banished, they will never again be welcome in this kingdom.”
The girl’s face fell, and despite the tears threatening to escape, the stars in her eyes remained.
“But there is one thing,” the Deity of Light offered, “that I can do.”
The girl listened with great attention as her father explained her task.
“On the seventh day of the seventh moon, I will summon the magpies together from the ends of the earth, and they shall build a bridge over the Bright River of Heaven, so that you, the Weaving Maiden, may lightly cross to the waiting Herd Boy on the farther shore.”
And so it has been, that on the seventh day of the seventh moon, the girl stands on one shore, waiting for the birds. On these days, her heart flutters and her eyes well with stars. The magpies unite, creating a feathered bridge. Together, they carry her body, light as the wind they ride upon, across the river.
The Herd Boy of Heaven and all the animals are always waiting. They welcome the Weaving Maiden. They laugh and dance as if no time has passed.
But on days when the heavens clash and thunder rolls through the celestial valleys that make up the Milky Way, and when the clouds spit rain and hail, the Bright River rises and the magpies retreat. On these days, the Weaving Maiden sits at her loom, weaving herself into patterns that are both beautiful and filled with sorrow. Also pain. And joy. And love.
So if you believe in true love, and if you’ve ever heard that all work and no play makes the Weaving Maiden a sad, sorrowful girl, remember to do this one thing:
On the seventh night of the seventh moon, pray to the gods for good weather.
This retelling was adapted from the Japanese folktale, “The Star Lovers.“
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