July 6, 2011
I presented a copy of this story in Korean today to my students. I was born on the 7th of July and always wanted to learn this story. The following is the myth of 직녀 (Jiknyeo) and 견우 (Kyeonu) translated by several students and pieced together as best I could:
Long ago in a place among the stars lived Jiknyeo. This beautiful princess was daughter to the King of the Sky. Jiknyeo was a talented weaver of hemp and could make all sorts of beautiful things. Her work ethic was second to none. The King despised idleness and was proud of his daughters diligence. One day, the Sky King recognized her beauty. He decided she must marry and began searching for a worthy husband. Soon after Kyeonu was chosen as her mate. Like Jiknyeo, Kyeonu was hardworking. Although a simple cow herder, his animals were always well tended. He was also a prince!
The couple married and continued to excel in their diligence and hardwork. They were the most famous couple in all of the universe and loved each other very much. As time passed they began to enjoy spending time together more than their work. They would lay together for hours on end and stare at the stars. Jiknyeo's loom became covered in dust. Kyeonu's cows roamed freely and even trampled the King's garden. Their laziness displeased the Sky King greatly.
The angry King chose to separate the couple. He sent Kyeonu to a distant land in the East to tend his herd and Jiknyeo to a remote land in the West to continue her weaving. The couple cried and cried. They wept so many tears that the King, moved by their affection, agreed to let them view each other once a year from opposite banks of the silvery river in the sky.
After a year of waiting the couple met alongside the river. The torment of seeing their love but unable to meet drove their weeping to torrents. They cried many tears which fell to Earth and flooded the planet. The inundation was so severe on Earth that the animals feared for their lives. The animals gathered together in search of a plan. A wise bear noted that if the rain was going to stop the couple must meet face to face. Suddenly a magpie came up with a plan. The bird asked all of his kind and all of the crow cousins to work in tandem and create a bridge over the silvery river in the sky. On the seventh day of the seventh month the birds flew off and turned the sky to blackness. With their wings spread these birds created a span over the river for the couples to meet.
The couple rushed toward one another and remained in embrace all night. They talked about the happy life they had and how painful it was to be separated. As dawn approached, they cried a few tears and walked back to the riverbanks.
According to the legend no crow or magpie has ever been seen since on July 7th. It is also said that after this day each summer you will notice many of the birds have fewer feathers on their heads due to the couple walking and resting upon them. There will also always be a sprinkle of rain as well from the lover's parting tears. Jiknyeo is the star Vega, Kyeonu is Altair, and the great silvery river is the Milky Way. On the night of July 7th these two stars are truly visible overhead on either side of the Milky Way!
I am aware that the original myth must have regarded the date as the seventh day and seventh month of the lunar calendar. However, July 7th is the day of the event in modern practice. There are also similar myths from China and Japan which occur on the same day. As in many items of mutual tradition, the original source is not known.