Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Part 1 of How NOT to Get a Wife: Stealing Wings

A recurring theme in myths and folktales from very different cultures is the earthly or mortal man acquiring a wife of non-human origin by stealing her property, deceptively withholding information from her or otherwise limiting her options. Four stories from Vanuatu, Philippines, China and Pakistan all share these elements:
  • An earthbound or mortal man.
  • Celestial women or fairies who come to earth to bathe.
  • The man steals the wings/clothing of one of the women, preventing her from returning to the heavens.
  • Lacking other options, she stays and becomes his wife.
  • The wife eventually returns to her home.
  • He finds a way to follow her. (Outcomes vary)

Region: Banks Island (Vanuatu)
The mythical hero Qat is the creator of seasons and tides, days and nights, amongst other things.1 One day, he saw a group of sky maidens bathing in a stream. Qat stole a pair of wings from among the women's belongings left by the stream. Ro-Lei, the victim of this theft, could not fly back home with her companions.2

Having no other choices, she eventually agreed to marry Qat. One day, the homesick wife cried so hard that her tears washed away the dirt at the spot where her husband had buried her wings.3 Another version of the myth attributes Ro-Lei's tears to a scolding by her mother-in-law.2 On finding her wings, Ro-Lei immediately flew home.
Qat, who could not fly, tied a rope to an arrow and shot it into the great banyan tree in the sky.2 A banyan root grew down the rope from the heavens, and Qat climbed up the rope. He found his wife and tried to forcibly carry her down to earth when the banyan root snapped.3 The sky woman flew back home while Qat fell to his death.
Region: Visayas (Philippines)
A mountain dweller named Magboloto saw three goddesses bathing in a stream. They had left their wings on the bank. Magboloto stole the pair of wings belonging to the youngest goddess Macaya. She was forced to remain behind while her companions flew back to the heavens. Magboloto approached her, feigning ignorance regarding her wings.
Macaya, having no other options, accepted his offer of marriage. Sometime after the birth of their child, Macaya discovered her wings hidden in a bamboo post. She immediately flew home. Magboloto followed her to heaven with the help of an eagle.
He found his wife's grandmother, who set him a series of impossible tasks as conditions for her granddaughter's return to Magboloto. Each time, the helpless Magboloto accomplished the task with the aid of a different animal ally. Macaya then returned to earth with him where they "lived happily."4
Region: China
The Cowherd Star (Altair) and the Weaving Maid Star (Vega) were deities in love with each other. Because relationships between star deities were forbidden, the Heavenly Empress condemned the Cowherd Star to be reborn on Earth as a poor mortal. Cowherd's only friend was an old ox who was the Golden Ox Star in mortal form.
One day, the ox told Cowherd to go to a lake where a group of celestial fairies were bathing, instructing him to steal the red dress from among the clothing that the fairies had laid on the bank. The red dress belonged to Weaving Maid, who was forced to remain behind when her companions donned their dresses and flew back to heaven. Cowherd than offered Weaving Maid marriage in return for her dress.5
After two children had been born to the couple, the Heavenly Empress learned of the matter and sent her soldiers to retrieve her granddaughter Weaving Maid. Before the old ox passed away, it instructed Cowherd to use its hide to fly to the heavens.
Cowherd, together with his two children, followed after his wife but the Heavenly Empress created the Milky Way to prevent him from reaching her. Magpies formed a bridge across the Milky Way to re-unite the famiy. The Heavenly Empress relented and allowed the family to meet on the magpie bridge on the 7th day of the 7th month every year.6
Region: Pakistan
A magical giant named Safeyd became enamored of a mortal prince and carried the youth back to his mountain palace. The giant hosted Prince Bairam royally and gave him access to the inner garden. There, the prince saw four doves fly into a tree. They then took the form of four fairies and removed their garments to bathe.
Prince Bairam stole the clothing of one of the bathers. The fairy Ghulâb Bâno, unable to change back into dove form without her magical clothes, was left behind when her companions flew away. The prince provided her with other clothes and she stayed with him in the garden.
One day the fairy asked to visit her parents, so Prince Bairam returned her fairy clothes. Ghulab Bano became a dove and flew away but she could not return because her parents, who grew angry on learning that she had married a mortal, imprisoned her in a subterranean city.
Prince Bairam resolved to go after his wife, and with the help of magical tools provided by the giant Safeyd, he was able to find Ghulâb Bâno and defeat her father's army. Gulab Bano and the prince went on to have other adventures in other lands.7
  1. Petra Press, Great Heroes of Mythology, p112
  2. Qat on Wikipedia
  3. Petra Press, Great Heroes of Mythology, p113
  4. Maxfield, Berton L. and Millington, W. H., "Visayan Folk-Tales," Philippine Folk Tales. 3 Jan 2015
  5. Legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl
  6. [传说]牛郎织女的故事
  7. Prince Bairam and the Fairy Bride

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