Altair and Vega, The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, an analysis of a living sky myth
This paper seeks to unpack the elements that comprise the ancient Chinese Legend of The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, a mythic tale that is not only played out against a cosmic background, but whose narrative has its basis in the astronomical cycle of the stars, Altair and Vega. Their stellar descent and subsequent ascent into the skies sets up a cosmic interplay, creating interaction between the mythic and the mortal, the heavens and the earth, the divine and the human. This presentation will also discuss the cosmological symbolism of textile production that is central to the myth's storyline, whereby weaving is a means of manufacturing the cosmos and of colouring the heavens.
The legend can perhaps be considered living myth, in that it gives rise to contemporary festivals in several cultures in the Far East, which are inspired by folklore and traditional customs. Themes, such as love, weaving, and the movement of the stars, that are central to the myth's narrative, are acknowledged and celebrated in these festivals, themselves survivors of an earlier lunar-solar calendar system. The paper will also explore hypotheses concerning this ancient myth's origin and a possible connection to Indo-European mythological traditions.
Morag Feeney-Beaton has recently graduated from the Masters programme in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology through the Sophia Centre at the University of Wales Trinity St. David. Her research focuses upon textiles, more specifically upon the cosmology within the creation of textiles, and is particularly directed to what she calls 'the anthropology of the everyday', about how ritual and symbolic elements are manifested within daily life. Her background is costume and theatre, and she is in charge of the Fabric Stockroom at the Royal Opera House in London.