Happy Tanabata! For those who are new to Shinto, Tanabata (七夕, “Evening of Seven”), also known as the “Star Festival,” is a Japanese festival held on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month (July 7th). It is based on an old Chinese legend of Orihime (the “Weaver Star,” called Vega in English) and Hikoboshi (the “Cowherd Star,” known as Altair), who were lovers. Unfortunately, their love distracted them from their duties, so the Emperor of Heaven, Tentei, separated them on either side of the Milky Way (Called “Amanogawa,” the Heavenly River, in Japanese). However, every July 7th, Tentei sends magpies to build a bridge across the Milky Way so that Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet. But if it’s rainy, it’s said that the magpies won’t come, so the lovers have to wait another year before they can be together again.
In Japan, Tanabata is usually celebrated by decorating bamboo with colourful decorations (in groups of 7, reflecting the 7/7 theme), as well as paper with wishes (tanzaku) written on them. Traditionally you are supposed to wish for good weather so that Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet, but these days, people generally wish for anything they like in their life. It really is Wishing on a Star!
As my marriage is less than a week away now, Tanabata has special significance for me. I see it as a celebration of enduring love, with Orihime and Hikoboshi representing the Great God and the Great Goddess, and as an opportunity to wish both for a happy and loving marriage, as well as good weather for the occasion (as we are having an outdoor Handfasting, this is particularly important to us!)
On my altar, in addition to the usual four elements and offerings to the deities, I placed two little handmade pictures of a Japanese Prince and Princess made of beautiful painted shells that a friend gave to me in Japan. These are actually designed for another Japanese festival, Hina Matsuri, but they seem to work well as symbolise both Orihime and Hikoboshi, as well as the Great God and the Great Goddess. At the beginning of the ritual, I put them on either side of a central pentagram, symbolising their separation by the Milky Way. I then made prayers to a number of deities – three Japanese deities that seemed suitable to the occasion (Tentei, Amatsu Mikaboshi the Star God, and Inari Okamisama), three deities of love and marriage (Juno, Cupid and Aine), and the seven deities upon whom we shall call on our Handfasting (Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Apollo). After praying for blessings on our marriage, I united the figures of Orihime and Hikoboshi on top of the pentagram.
After this, I purified seven tanzaku wishes that James and I had written earlier. We don’t have any bamboo in our courtyard; the best I could do was hang them on a tree just outside our house which is covered all over in vines (it looks a bit like Jack-In-The-Green!). Finally, I then hung a Teru-Teru Bozu I’d made under the vines in order to pray for good weather for our wedding. As you can see in the picture, he seems quite happy under his canopy of vines!