Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gods And Goddesses: Chang E

Chang E, also known as Chang O and originally as Heng E and/or Heng O but changed to what it is now due to a naming taboo against speaking or writing the names of exalted people in China. Chang E is the moon goddess who is said to live on the moon and whom the spacecraft Chang’e 1 was named after.

While Chang E represents the moon, her husband Houyi, or simply Yi, represents the sun. Chan Chu, also known as the Three-Legged Frog/Toad, represents Chang E and is said to live on the moon alongside with a rabbit that is a companion of Chang E. This rabbit, also known as the ‘Jade Rabbit’, is said to be constantly pounding a Elixir of Immortality for Chang E.

Worship of Chang E is most frequent around the Mid-Autumn Festival, with the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival considered the day of Chang E’s birthday. During the Mid-Autumn Festival alters are set up to Chang E with incense being burnt as an offering. It is also common to offer fruits, flowers and mooncake.
These alters that are set up tend to be facing the moon with items such as lotions, bath salts and make up are placed on the alter to Chang E. These beauty items are for Chang E herself to bless as it is said worshippers of Chang E will be endowed with great beauty.

Chang E also is mentioned in Journey to the West where it is explained that the greedy Zhu Bajie, while as commander of 80,000 heavenly warriors, got drunk at a party. Chang E was seen by Zhu Bajie who was captivated by the beauty of this goddess and tried to make advances on Chang E. These advances failed and Chang E reported Zhu Bajie’s behaviour to the Jade Emperor and it is said that since then Chang E has been reluctant to go to Heaven.

There are a couple legends involving Chang E that involve her husband Houyi. One legend starts with Chang E and Houyi living as immortals in Heaven. The ruler of Heaven, the Jade Emperor, had ten sons who decided to transform into suns that caused a scorching of the earth. The Jade Emperor ordered his sons to stop ruining the earth and failed, so Houyi was asked to help.

Houyi used his archery skills to shoot down  nine of the Jade Emperor’s sons, leaving one son to be sun. The Jade Emperor wasn’t pleased by this as nine of his sons were now dead so as punishment both Houyi and his wife, Chang E, was banished to earth to live as mortals.

Chang E was miserable over her lose of immortality so Houyi decided to quest for immortality both Chang E and himself. Houyi eventually got given a pill that would make people immortal by a goddess known as Queen Mother of the West, this pill also could be broken in half and make two people immortal.

Houyi took the pill home where it was stored in a case, warning Chang E not to open the case before leaving home. Chang E out of severe curiosity checked the case and found the pill as Houyi got back home, fear that Houyi would catch her with the case caused Chang E to accidentally swallow the pill. Chang E started to float to the sky and continued to float until she landed on the moon where she had company of the jade rabbit and Chan Chu.

The other legend of Chang E tells how she lived in Heaven and one day accidentally broke a precious jar. Punishment was banishment to earth and was allowed to come back to Heaven if she contributed a valuable service on earth.
Chang E on earth was transformed into a girl of a rich farming family. Chang E grew into a young beautiful woman and was spotted by a hunter from another village, Houyi, whom Chang E became friends with.

Eventually a strange event of ten suns coming into the sky rather than one, bringing the earth to an unbearable heat. Houyi with his bow and arrows shot down nine of these suns and became a hero ad eventually a king, marrying Chang E.

Houyi as a king turned both greedy and selfish, turning his sights onto immortality and ordered an elixir for the purpose of prolonging his life to be created. This elixir came in a form of a pill that Chang E came across that she either accidentally or purposely swallowed. Houyi was angered by this so Chang E fled, jumping out of a window of  a chamber at the top of the palace she lived within. Upon jumping out the window Chang E floated to the moon instead of falling to her death. Later, Houyi ascended to the sun where he built a palace.

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