Full moon with star-crossed lovers

Tonight is the full moon — always a good omen for lovers — and this full moon happens to fall on Tanabata, the Japanese Festival of Stars.

The sky emperor Tentei (known to us as Polaris) has a daughter whose skills at the loom are unsurpassed. Her name is Orihime (we call her Vega), and she weaves the finest and most beautiful cloth ever seen. From it she fashions exquisite clothing and Tentei will wear nothing that is not made by her hands.

Once long ago, Orihime grew sad when she realized that she spent so much time at her loom and needle that she would never meet someone special and marry. Upon learning of his daughter’s grief, Tentei arranged for her to meet Kengyuu (Altair to us), who cares for the cattle of heaven. The two fell in love and were soon happily married — too happily, as it turned out.

Besotted with one another, the lovers neglected their duties. The celestial cattle repeatedly turned up in all sorts of places they didn’t belong, and the sky emperor himself began to look a bit shabby as his clothing began to show signs of everyday wear and tear and he had nothing with which to replace it. Tentei felt he had no choice but to separate the pair so he placed them on either side of the great river of the sky (the Milky Way).

If Orihime and Kengyuu attend to their responsibilities with diligence, Tentei permits them to spend one night together each year: the seventh night of the seventh month. On that night, the boatman of the moon will ferry Orihime across the great river to her beloved. If, however, either of the lovers has not performed his or her duties as expected, Tentei may cause it to rain, flooding the river and making it impassable. When this happens, magpies, harbingers of joy and symbols of marital bliss, flock together to form a bridge of their wings and bodies so that these most ardent of lovers will not be denied their one night together.

Love does indeed conquer all, even the dictates of the emperor of heaven. May we remember this and pursue those passions that enliven and inflame us to the neglect of all else.

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