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Chinese painting of a man sacrificing to the moon

Heng O: A sacrifice to the moon

Who was Heng O?

Heng O was the Chinese goddess of the moon. In Taoist thought about yin and yang, Heng O is the symbol of yin – cold, dark, and female. Here’s one version of a story about Heng O (the story may have come from the Hindu story of Chandra):

The story of Chandra
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Heng O’s story

Heng O was married to the heavenly archer Shen Yi. Shen Yi was never going to die, because he had a magic drink of immortality. She wanted to live forever, like her husband, so she tried to steal the magic drink from Shen Yi. She took the potion and ran away with it, drinking as quickly as she could.

But Shen Yi still chased Heng O down and caught her before she could drink all of the magic drink. She had not drunk all of the magic drink, so she could not go all the way up to heaven with the other gods. But she had drunk enough of it to get to the moon. So there she sits forever on the moon.

Astronomy and the Moon

Chinese moon cakes - small round yellow caks with brown sugar on the outside

Chinese moon cakes for the New Year

Heng O and the Moon Festival

Starting as long ago as the Shang Dynasty, about 2000 BC, people mostly worshipped Heng O at the Autumn Festival or Moon Festival. The holiday falls around the time of the fall equinox.

Yom Kippur
Why are there seasons?

Like Thanksgiving, the Autumn Festival was a celebration of the harvest. As with Yom Kippur, about the same time of year, you were supposed to pay off all your debts and settle your arguments before the festival.

Moon cakes for the festival

People ate special moon cakes, a kind of fruitcake made of seeds, almonds, minced meat, bean paste, orange peels and lard. Everybody tries to visit their families, forming a whole family like the whole full moon.

More about Chinese families
A Chinese poet writes about the moon
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Bibliography and further reading about Chinese gods:

The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient China, by Leonard Everett Fisher (2003). . One page for each god, with lots of pictures and some historical context.

Five Heavenly Emperors: Chinese Myths of Creation, by Song Nan Zhang (1994). Stories .

Chinese Mythology A to Z, by Jeremy Roberts (2004).

Dragons and Demons : Myths of China, by Stewart Ross (1998). A few Chinese stories, retold .

Dragons, Gods and Spirits from Chinese Mythology, by Tao Sanders (1983). More of a child’s encyclopedia.

More about the Chinese gods
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