Myths and Legends of China

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These two constellations are worshipped principally by women, that they may gain cunning in the arts of needlework and making of fancy flowers. Water-melons, fruits, vegetables, cakes, etc., are placed with incense in the reception-room, and before these offerings are performed the kneeling and the knocking of the head on the ground in the usual way.

The Twenty-eight Constellations

Sacrifices were offered to these spirits by the Emperor on the marble altar of the Temple of Heaven, and by the high officials throughout the provinces. Of the twenty-eight the following are regarded as propitious—namely, the Horned, Room, Tail, Sieve, Bushel, House, Wall, Mound, Stomach, End, Bristling, Well, Drawn-bow, and Revolving Constellations; the Neck, Bottom, Heart, Cow, Female, Empty, Danger, Astride, Cock, Mixed, Demon, Willow, Star, Wing, are unpropitious.

The twenty-eight constellations seem to have become the abodes of gods as a result of the defeat of a Taoist Patriarch T’ung-t’ien Chiao-chu, who had espoused the cause of the tyrant Chou, when he and all his followers were slaughtered by the heavenly hosts in the terrible catastrophe known as the Battle of the Ten Thousand Immortals. Chiang Tzŭ-ya as a reward conferred on Page 192them the appanage of the twenty-eight constellations. The five planets, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn, are also the abodes of stellar divinities, called the White, Green, Black, Red, and Yellow Rulers respectively. Stars good and bad are all likewise inhabited by gods or demons.

A Victim of Ta Chi

Concerning Tzŭ-wei Hsing, the constellation Tzŭ-wei (north circumpolar stars), of which the stellar deity is Po I-k’ao, the following legend is related in the Fêng shên yen i.

Po I-k’ao was the eldest son of Wên Wang, and governed the kingdom during the seven years that the old King Was detained as a prisoner of the tyrant Chou. He did everything possible to procure his father’s release. Knowing the tastes of the cruel King, he sent him for his harem ten of the prettiest women who could be found, accompanied by seven chariots made of perfumed wood, and a white-faced monkey of marvellous intelligence. Besides these he included in his presents a magic carpet, on which it was necessary only to sit in order to recover immediately from the effects of drunkenness.

Unfortunately for Po I-k’ao, Chou’s favourite concubine, Ta Chi, conceived a passion for him and had recourse to all sorts of ruses to catch him in her net; but his conduct was throughout irreproachable. Vexed by his indifference, she tried slander in order to bring about his ruin. But her calumnies did not at first have the result she expected. Chou, after inquiry, was convinced of the innocence of Po. But an accident spoiled everything. In the middle of an amusing séance the monkey which had been given to the King by Po perceived some Page 193sweets in the hand of Ta Chi, and, jumping on to her body, snatched them from Her. The King and his concubine were furious, Chou had the monkey killed forthwith, and Ta Chi accused Po I-k’ao of having brought the animal into the palace with the object of making an attempt on the lives of the King and herself. But the Prince explained that the monkey, being only an animal, could not grasp even the first idea of entering into a conspiracy.