A (somewhat queer) re-telling of the mooncake mid-autumn festival

Budaya, Words

A long time ago, when the earth was new, there were 10 suns. Sometimes only one sun rose and set, and sometimes all 10 would rise. This happened in one especially harsh year, bringing too much fire for tender
plants to grow, and those who tended to rice and food tasted the burn of despair in their mouths. Hou Yi was one such person.

They* decided to do something simple but brash about it, and asked to borrow the gentle might of darkness summoned by the moon to collect 9 out of the 10 suns. Hou Yi was lucky as the moon was compassionate that day, and agreed. And through that, Hou Yi was able to help quell the heat, and planted the 9 suns into the earth (and this is why we have magma and volcanoes, for the 9 suns are also proud and will not be stemmed for long. but that is another story, for another time).

[* funfact: queer community has more frequently use the pronoun “they/their” to subvert the binary cis-genderedness of her/his. but it does make storytelling a little confusing sometimes]

Because humans are silly and can only see other humans, the people celebrated Hou Yi. But because Hou Yi was a simple person who sees things with the clarity of poets, they remained quiet about it and
responded to all with the diffusion of gratitude.

This act of grace caught the attention of Chang’e. Chang’e was a warrior, whose weapons were primarily wisdom and kindness that had the weight and boundaries of oceans. She (for yes, in a world that is queer, cis-gendered embodiment is allowed ;)) has cultivated her craft  through journeying across many landscapes of conflict and inattention, and held spaces where discord could find a thread of shared resonance. In fact, Chang’e was traveling to that mountainous region to negotiate with the 10 suns for a more considerate dance, and was already contemplating Hou Yi’s instinct to borrow from the moon.

Chang’e consulted with Xi Wang Mu – the goddess of the west who at times devoured life with the teeth of tigers and who at times brought the gift of immortality through the patience of turtles – about the wisdom of
this act. Xi Wang Mu smiled with a face full of mystery, and handed Chang’e a small dark ball made of earth. “This is an elixer of immortal life. Give it to Hou Yi. Their decision will show which way the river
flows.”

Chang’e took the ball and met Hou Yi on a shared pathway, two-thirds up the mountain. She held it up in the palm of her left hand, and Hou Yi closed her fingers around it. In that moment, love was sown.

But the moon was playful that night, and presented to both Chang’e and Hou Yi two dreams. One where Hou Yi would age into a selfish, callous ruler. One where Chang’e would stumble in a significantly
consequential barter with a coveter. Both involving the consumption of the gift of immortality, and the need to make a choice. For the moon is not just a maker of illusions, the moon is also a diviner of truths.

They awoke with grief in their hearts, arriving at the same seed of knowledge on what must be done. Chang’e swallowed the ball of immortality – for only through this they are able to prevent an eternal
embodiment of all-consuming envy or cruelty.

Once swallowed, Chang’e became immortal, and could no longer reside in the place of humans. In an act that folded in rage and love, she choose to reside on the moon. To affect and remind people, land, water and the space between beings with the rhythmic force of yield and yearning. And after one almost full circle of the earth, Hou Yi walked into the silhouette of her on a full mid-autumn harvest moon, reflected in the lake at the top of the mountain.

And the silly humans who witnessed this story felt their hearts crack open. And made together a ritual of remembering and honouring the things known, unknown, as yet unknown, and that cannot be known. And this included baking moon cakes made from seeds of the lotus flower from the lake, with a full egg-yolk sun embedded in their hearts. To gift and consume both the heady sweetness and the earthy saltiness that comes with this story. And to light lanterns throughout that night, and every year since, to be reminded of the shadows that can be cast from the light of the moon, and the pleasure that can be gained through fire in darkness. But mostly, it’s to disperse gratitude, for another harvest, and to hold in some ways, a story about the many rivers of love.

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from procrastination and the failure to find words for another story that needs to be told