When he lived in heaven, Yi had always ridden in the empress’s chariot or straddled the tails of sky dragons to reach the Western Paradise, but now that he lived on earth, he had to walk.
He crossed burning deserts, forded cold streams, and trekked over high mountains for thousands of miles.
Finally, Yi arrived at his destination and was greeted by Hsi Wang Mu. When Yi told her that his wife wanted a dosage of the elixir of immortality, Hsi Wang Mu could only sigh.
Unfortunately, she told Yi, the gods and goddesses had just feasted on the last batch of peaches. The next peach crop would not ripen for another three thousand years.
When Yi continued to implore her, Hsi Wang Mu took one leftover, very imperfect dried-up peach, pounded some herbs and powders, and stirred them together into an elixir.
Then the Queen Mother poured the precious liquid into a small vial. "This potion will take both of you to the heavens. But make sure you take it on a clear night, or you could be trapped halfway between earth and heaven," she warned.
Carefully, the Archer placed the vial in his leather pouch and knotted the bag tightly around his waist. Again, Yi trudged over the same high mountains, forded the same cold streams, and crossed the same burning deserts to return to his wife.
When he lived in heaven, he had not cared about its comforts and luxuries. Because of his status there as a mortal who served the gods, Yi, too, had been invited to sumptuous feasts and had eaten the peach of immortality.
The magical potion had enhanced his already powerful body and made him invincible. Now on earth, however, he felt his power slipping day by day. Although Yi did not resent his banishment to earth, he was beginning to resent his decaying mortal body.
When at last the Archer returned home and presented the precious elixir to his wife, Chang-O was delighted. She burned with the anticipation of returning to her sisters in the sky.
The goddess begged him to take the medicine immediately, but her husband refused, remembering the warning he had been given by the Queen Mother. Yi said, "I have undertaken a long journey to fulfill your deepest desire. We must be patient and wait for a clear night when the stars can guide us homeward."
Chang-O agreed with her husband’s clear reasoning, but her desire to be reunited with her sisters was far stronger than her appreciation of his logic. When her husband left for his daily hunt, the goddess stared at the elixir.
As the day and night wore on, Yi did not return. As was often the case, Chang-O spent the lonely night waiting for her husband’s return. The Archer often stopped to chat with his neighbors to whom he gave generous portions of deer, rabbit, quail, pheasant, and duck from his hunt.
Chang-O sighed. The goddess knew by its smell that the elixir was already diluted. The dosage was so weak, she reasoned, that the Archer would probably never recover his full strength by drinking his portion, and she would probably never regain her full beauty by drinking hers. Furthermore, they might never even reach heaven.
With these fears in mind, the goddess developed a plan. She would drink both of their portions so that she could return to heaven first, and beg the sun god to forgive her husband for his brashness in having shot down the nine suns.
Then she and her sister goddesses could borrow some sky dragons to visit the Queen Mother of the Western Paradise. There, they would persuade her to mix up another dose of the elixir solely for the Archer so he could join his wife in heaven.
As she swallowed the elixir, Chang-O felt its bitterness burn her throat. Immediately, her body became lighter, and she felt dizzy. As she ran out into the night, her body floated upward to the stars. Unfortunately, the night was not clear. Chang-O wandered among the stars and lost her way. She finally came to rest, trapped in the cold moon.
The Archer Yi was just returning when he saw his wife drifting up to the sky. He called out to her and ran after her shadow, but she was too far away to hear him. Yi was heartbroken and wept for days. No one could console the grieving hunter.
The gods took pity on the Archer. Yi had served the gods well and always did their bidding faithfully. The Archer never complained about the countless petty tasks assigned to him by the lesser gods of heaven. Furthermore, Yi had saved the earth from droughts and monsters when the gods could not be bothered.
Therefore, once a year, the gods grant the Archer the right to ascend to the skies to be with his wife. On that one night, the harvest moon shines the brightest and fullest of the year, reflecting the Archer Yi’s love for Chang-O.
Label: chinese mythology