Chang'E ascending to the moon. This serene and mystical image

Approaching the Moon Goddess Chang'E: Ancient Myths and Modern Pagan Connections

We are working with the goddess Chang'O (also known as Chang'E) in the MoonWise Membership this moonth. In this post, I'll explore her origins, variations in her mythology, her deep connection with the moon and the lunar hare, and how contemporary pagans can respectfully incorporate her into their practices. I will also provide historical context and reputable sources for further reading.

Chang'E on the Moon with the Jade Rabbit: Showing Chang'E in a serene pose on the moon with the Jade Rabbit beside her.

 

The Origins of Chang'E

Chang'E's story is one of the most famous legends in Chinese mythology, with various versions adding layers to her enigmatic (like the moon) character.

The most well-known tale speaks of her as the wife of Hou Yi, a skilled archer, who shot down nine suns, leaving only one to provide light and warmth. As a reward, he received an elixir of immortality, which Chang'O drank and ascended to heaven landing on, or becoming, the moon. Here is one version of her story...

The Legend of Chang'O

In the celestial realm, Chang'E (also known as Chang'O) and her husband, Hou Yi, lived as revered deities. They enjoyed the splendour and tranquility of the heavens, their lives intertwined with the divine order of the universe. However, from the heavens they witnessed that there were ten suns scorching the earth, causing great suffering to the mortal world below.

Hou Yi, known for his extraordinary archery skills, decided to save the earth from the blazing suns. He drew his mighty bow and shot down nine of the ten suns, leaving only one to provide light and warmth. His heroic act brought relief to the mortals, but it also incurred the wrath of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of the heavens.

Hou Yi with a powerful stance, drawing his bow as nine suns fall from the sky.

As punishment for altering the natural order, Hou Yi and Chang'E were expelled from the celestial realm. Stripped of their divine status, they were forced to walk the earth as mortals. Their divine powers diminished, they faced the hardships and challenges of mortal life.

Despite their fall from grace, their love for each other remained strong. Chang'E, yearning for the immortality they once possessed, persuaded Hou Yi to seek a way back to the heavens. Moved by her plea, Hou Yi embarked on a quest to find the elixir of immortality. After many trials, he encountered the Queen Mother of the West, who took pity on him and granted him a single vial of the precious potion.

The elixir, powerful enough to grant eternal life (though not enough to restore their divine status), was meant to be shared between them. They planned to drink half each, ensuring they would live forever together. However, fate had a different plan.

One evening, as Hou Yi was away, Chang'E found herself alone with the elixir. Consumed by a mix of curiosity and desperation, she made a fateful decision. Unable to resist the allure of immortality and a possible restoration of her divinity, she drank the entire potion.

The moment the elixir touched her lips, she felt its transformative power coursing through her body. Then Chang'E began to ascend, her mortal form becoming lighter and more ethereal. She rose higher and higher until she reached the moon. There, she found herself in a desolate yet serene landscape, her new home.

But her ascent did not go unnoticed. Hou Yi, upon discovering what had happened, was heartbroken and determined to follow her.

As Hou Yi approached the moon, the Lunar Hare, a mystical creature residing with Chang'E, sensed his arrival. The hare, loyal to Chang'E and aware of her solitude, intervened (in some versions of the story the Hare steps in to save Chang'E from a wrathful HouYi). With a powerful breath, it blew Hou Yi away, preventing him from reaching the moon. Thus, Chang'E remained safe but isolated in her lunar palace.

In her solitude, Chang'E's only companion was the Lunar Hare, who tirelessly pounded the elixir of immortality. While she was safe from the trials of mortal life, she was also separated from her beloved Hou Yi, destined to live in eternal loneliness on the moon.

Hou Yi, left on earth, would often look up at the moon, his heart filled with longing and sorrow. In her honour, to keep her memory alive, he laid out offerings and gazed at the moon each night. Over time, the people of China came to honour Chang'E as well, especially during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Families gather to celebrate, share mooncakes, light lanterns, and gaze at the moon, remembering the poignant tale of Chang'E's love, loss, and eternal solitude.

Historical Context

The legend of Chang'E can be traced back to the Warring States period (475-221 BCE), a time rich with myth-making and philosophical development in China. References to Chang'E appear in ancient texts such as the "Classic of Mountains and Seas" and later in the "Huainanzi," an ancient Chinese text from the Han Dynasty that compiles various myths and philosophical ideas.

In one version of the story, Chang'E, driven by curiosity or a sense of urgency, consumes the elixir and ascends to the moon, where she becomes an immortal goddess. In another telling, she drinks the elixir to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Regardless of the version, her transformation and subsequent solitude on the moon are central to her myth.

an illustration of the Lunar Hare, focusing on its role in Chang'E's legend

The Moon and the Lunar Hare

Chang'E's association with the moon is profound and multifaceted. In Chinese culture, the moon symbolises yin energy, mystery, and the feminine divine. Chang'E embodies these qualities as she dwells in her lunar palace. Alongside her is the Jade Rabbit (or Lunar Hare), who tirelessly pounds the elixir of immortality. This hare, a symbol of fertility and renewal, further enriches Chang'E's mythos.

According to legend, the Jade Rabbit/ Lunar Hare was once a selfless creature living on earth. One night, the Jade Emperor disguised himself as a hungry old man and approached three animals—a monkey, a fox, and a rabbit—asking for food. The monkey gathered fruit from the trees, and the fox caught fish from the river, but the rabbit, having nothing to offer, selflessly offered itself by leaping into the fire the old man had made. Touched by the rabbit's sacrifice, the Jade Emperor spared its life and elevated it to the moon, granting it immortality.

In its lunar home, the Jade Rabbit is often depicted as tirelessly pounding herbs with a mortar and pestle. This image varies slightly across different cultures. In Chinese mythology, the rabbit is said to be preparing the elixir of immortality for the gods. This constant activity symbolises industriousness and devotion, reflecting the rabbit's commitment to supporting the celestial beings.

Within the context of Chang'E's legend, the Lunar Hare serves several purposes:

  1. Companionship: The hare provides Chang'E with companionship in her otherwise lonely exile on the moon. Despite being separated from her beloved Hou Yi, she is not entirely alone.
  2. Guardian: The hare plays a protective role, as seen when it prevents Hou Yi from reaching the moon. This act ensures that Chang'E remains safe in her lunar palace.
  3. Symbolism: The Jade Rabbit embodies themes of sacrifice, renewal, and immortality. Its presence on the moon, working diligently to prepare the elixir, reinforces the connection between Chang'E and the celestial realm, even in her isolation.
  4. Cultural Significance: The hare's association with the moon is a recurring motif in Chinese folklore and is celebrated during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival itself is a time for families to gather, share mooncakes (often imprinted with images of the Jade Rabbit), and admire the full moon, remembering the legends of Chang'E and the hare.

    A Living Tradition

    While Chang'E's stories are ancient, it's crucial to acknowledge that she remains an important figure in Chinese culture and religious practices. For modern pagans and spiritual seekers from outside of this culture, it's vital to approach her with respect and mindfulness. Engage with her myth through respectful research and by honouring the cultural context from which she originates.

    Chang'E is central to the Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Moon Festival), celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, typically in September or October. This festival is one of the most important traditional holidays in Chinese culture. Families gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon and eat mooncakes, a traditional pastry. The festival is a time for family reunions and expressing gratitude, with Chang'E's legend adding a layer of cultural depth to the celebrations.

    Mid-Autumn Festival: A festive scene with families gathered under lanterns, sharing mooncakes, and gazing at the full moon

    Themes

    Chang'E's mythology offers timeless themes that can be relevant to our lives today:

    • Transformation: Her ascent to the moon symbolises profound change and potentially spiritual growth. She could be a companion for us as we embrace personal transformations and see challenges as opportunities for spiritual evolution.
    • Solitude and Reflection: Chang'E’s solitude on the moon invites us to find strength and wisdom in moments of solitude and introspection. In Kris Waldherr's Goddess Tarot Deck Chang'O is the goddess assigned to the major arcana card 9. The Hermit and aligns with the theme of withdrawal from the mundane world for a period of deep reflection. 
    •  Feminine Power: As a powerful, curious, and gentle goddess, Chang'O embodies the multi-faceted nature of the divine feminine. Honour the divine feminine within and around you, especially those more obviously "yin" aspects of softness and receptivity. 

    Connecting with Chang'E in Modern Pagan Practice

    Chang'E's rich mythology offers unique opportunities for deep, meaningful spiritual practice. Here are some ideas for how to connect with her during this Sagittarius Full Moon cycle, inspired by her story and symbols:

    1. Tracking Moon Phases and Social Engagement:

      • Lunar Journaling: Use your journal to track the phases of the moon and your corresponding moods, energy levels, and social inclinations. Reflect on periods when you feel more inclined to be social and when you feel the need to withdraw and reflect, drawing parallels to Chang'E's solitude on the moon.
      • Moon Meditation: During the new moon, focus on introspection and setting intentions. As the moon waxes, gradually increase social activities and projects. During the full moon, embrace full social engagement and celebrate achievements. As the moon wanes, slowly retreat and reflect on your progress.
    2. Working with Hare Energy:

      • Symbolism and Habits: Study the symbolism and natural habits of hares and rabbits. The hare is often understood as a symbol of fertility, rebirth, and intuition. Understanding its behaviour can provide insights into your own spiritual journey.
      • Jewellery: Wear jewellery or carry items that feature hares or rabbits to keep their energy close to you. This can serve as a reminder of Chang'E’s lunar companion and the qualities they embody.
      • Hare Meditation: Meditate on the hare’s qualities—its agility, intuition, and connection to the moon. Visualise the hare beside you, guiding you towards clarity and renewal.
    3. Using Specific Correspondences for Chang'E:

      • Crystals: Utilise moonstone, selenite, and clear quartz in your rituals and meditations. Moonstone is particularly resonant with Chang'E, enhancing intuition and connection to lunar energies.
      • Herbs: Incorporate herbs associated with the moon, such as jasmine, sandalwood, and mugwort, into your practices. Use these herbs in incense, teas, or as offerings as appropriate.
      • Lunar Elixir: Create a "lunar elixir" by charging water under the full moon and using it in your rituals, in a bath, or as a drink to embody lunar energy and connect with Chang'E.
    4. Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions:

      • Mooncakes and Offerings: Bake or buy mooncakes to honour Chang'E during the full moon. Offer them along with white flowers or other items that symbolise the moon.
      • Lantern Lighting: Light lanterns and place them outside or around your home as a symbolic gesture of illuminating your path and connecting with Chang'E’s light.
    5. Art and Poetry:

      • Creative Expression: Channel Chang'E’s story into your creative projects. Write poetry, paint, or craft items that reflect her journey and your connection to her.
      • Storytelling: Share Chang'E’s myth with others, perhaps during gatherings or online communities, to keep her legend alive and deepen your communal connection to her.
    6. Learning and Sharing:

      • Cultural Education: Educate yourself about Chang'E’s cultural heritage. Read books, watch documentaries, and engage with materials that provide deeper insights into her story and significance.
      • Community Sharing: Share your learnings and experiences with others in your spiritual community, fostering a respectful appreciation for Chang'E and her cultural context.
    photographic flat lay of the herbs and crystals associated with Chang'E. The composition includes jasmine, sandalwood, mugwort, moonstone, selenite, and clear quartz

    Sources for Further Reading

    To deepen your understanding of Chang'E and her cultural significance, consider exploring the following resources:

    1. Wikipedia Article on Chang'E - Has lots of interesting links between the Goddess Chang'E and modern culture including Sailor Moon and the Moon landing.
    2. China Highlights - Mid-Autumn Festival - An overview of the Mid-Autumn Festival, its history, and cultural significance. Has some nice ideas for activities.
    3. Myths and Legends of China by E.T.C. Werner - A book which includes translations of various Chinese myths, including the story of Chang'E. Unfortunately it also contains bigoted colonialist commentary from the author, but as they are now dead and don't benefit from the sale I'm still recommending it because it has a range of folk tales which are hard to find elsewhere. Ignore the commentary and just enjoy the stories. 

     

    I would love to hear how you plan to connect with Chang'E this moonth! Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

    If you’re looking to deepen your connection with the moon and explore more about lunar goddesses, consider joining our Moonwise Membership. Together, we journey through each lunar cycle, honouring different goddesses developing and deepening our spiritual practices.

    Lunar Blessings

    Jessica

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