3 sacred myths behind the Mid-Autumn Festival

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today Mooncakes are traditional Chinese pastries commonly enjoyed during the Mid-Autumn Festival. (Freepik pic)

As soon as advertisements for mooncakes start popping up on your Facebook feed, you know the Mid-Autumn Festival is right around the corner.

This festival has been celebrated for millennia now, and like any other festival, it has its fair share of myths tied to it.

Here are just three of the more popular ones:

1. The sacrifice of Chang’e

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today The moon goddess Chang’e, depicted on this elaborate lantern, is often seen on the traditional packaging of mooncakes. (Pixabay pic)

In the distant past, the Divine Archer, Hou Yi shot down nine out of ten suns, which were turning the world into a hot, barren wasteland.

Hou Yi and his wife, Chang’e, were then cast out of heaven, for the slain suns were actually the Jade Emperor’s unruly sons.

Left to wander the earth, the formerly divine couple fretted over their newfound mortality and so, Hou Yi travelled far west to seek help from the Queen Mother of the West.

She was sympathetic, and gifted him with an Elixir of Immortality, but warned him that the elixir was enough for one person only.

As neither Hou Yi nor Chang’e were willing to the other behind, they collectively decided to leave the elixir alone.

For a time, the couple grew used to mortal life, with Hou Yi becoming a hunter and Chang’e a homemaker.

One day, however, Feng Meng, Hou Yi’s apprentice, came to learn of the elixir and when Hou Yi was away, he broke into his home and attacked Chang’e, demanding to know the whereabouts of the elixir.

Realising that she was the only one who could stop the cruel Feng Meng from becoming a god, Chang’e sacrificed herself by drinking it herself.

With her divinity restored, she had saved herself and the world, but could no longer live on earth with Hou Yi.

Instead of returning to heaven, she made the moon her new home instead, to be as close as possible to her beloved.

In return, for the rest of his mortal life, Hou Yi would leave sacrifices of food for his wife, a tradition that would eventually give birth to mooncakes.

Chang’e remains a popular figure in Chinese mythology, with her appearance often featured on mooncake packaging. China’s lunar rovers are often named after her.

2. The Jade Rabbit’s selflessness

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today According to myth, the Jade Rabbit was granted immortality due to her selfless sacrifice. (Pixabay pic)

Alongside Chang’e, a rabbit is often featured on the packaging of mooncakes, and this is none other than the Jade Rabbit.

The story goes that long ago, the Jade Emperor wanted to see for himself the virtue of the animals on earth.

Disguising himself as a hermit, he descended to the mortal realm and found himself in a forest, where a fox, a monkey and a rabbit lived.

Asked to help the supposed hermit, the animals went their separate ways, with the fox catching a fish and the monkey plucking some fruit from the forest.

The rabbit, due to her size and demeanour, was unable to return with anything to give the hermit, a fact she was ashamed of.

After asking the fox and the monkey to fetch her some firewood, the rabbit lit a fire and told the hermit that since she could not help him like the others did, he could eat her instead.

As her body burnt in the fire, the impressed Jade Emperor finally revealed himself and expressed his admiration of her.

To recognise her sacrifice, he decided to resurrect her and place her on the moon, where mankind could admire her for all eternity.

The darkened spots on the moon are thus said to resemble the shape of the Jade Rabbit busy with a mortar and pestle, perhaps helping Chang’e out with her chores.

3. Wu Gang, the Chinese Sisyphus

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today Dark shadows on the moon sometimes resemble that of a man chopping down a tree. (Pixabay pic)

In ancient Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was cursed to forever roll a rock up a mountaintop, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom each time he reached the top.

Likewise, Wu Gang is a mythological figure, albeit from Chinese folklore, cursed to continue an endless task.

According to the story, Wu Gang was an ordinary mortal who had dreams of joining the immortal gods up in the heavens.

Hence, he sought the tutelage of an immortal being, seeking their guidance in gaining immortality.

There was just one problem: Wu Gang was quite a lazy and impatient fellow.

While the immortal tolerated his behaviour at first, eventually, he grew irritated at Wu Gang’s half-hearted attempts at completing his quest for immortality.

Tired of his hopeless pupil, the immortal finally brought Wu Gang up to the moon where a tree grew, telling him that if he successfully chopped the tree down, he would achieve immortality.

While Wu Gang took to his task with much gusto, the immortal left him, not telling him that the tree was magical and would constantly regenerate.

And there Wu Gang remains and if you look hard enough at the black shadow on the moon, you might just see him hard at work, still working away at chopping down the tree.

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