A few mornings ago I woke up and felt inspired to pick up my Llewellyn 2016 Witches’ Spell-a-Day Almanac, and that’s when I realized that July 7th is the holiday Tanabata. It is a traditional Japanese holiday also known as the Star Festival and was inspired by a Chinese folk story. This festival has magickal elements easily adapted to pagan practice, which you know is a pet project of mine. Below is the history of Tanabata and suggestions for how you can adapt this festival to your own pagan practice.
If we were in Japan, the July 7th this year Google doodle would look like this:
Tanabata occurs every year on the seventh day of the seventh month (July 7th) and commemorates the day that two long-separated lovers – the stars Vega and Altair – are briefly reunited. If it sounds like a familiar the story, it was referenced on Big Bang Theory in the form of Raj’s “romantic Astronomy” discussion (Season 7 Episode 19 specifically). The Chinese myth that inspired the festival is called “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl,” which you can read in full right here (it also has a Japanese equivalent, but with different names). This festival (or matsuri) day is also called the Qixi Festival in China or The Festival to Plead for Skills.
In the folktale, two lovers are torn apart and then reunited, only to be separated yet again. The evening of July 7th is the only day of the year that the lovers can be together. On this day it is traditional to create a tanzaku (also called wish paper), which is a wish written on colorful paper that is tied to a bamboo tree. At midnight or on the next day in the morning, the tanzaku is then burned.
One local example of tanzaku in action is the “wish tree” outside of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Patrons write their wishes on their wrist bands and tie them to long, green strips hanging off of the tree. I have wished on it once before and it absolutely came true! It’s not surprising that it did, considering the power of all that hope in one place. My partner recently tied a wish to it on my behalf, though I’m not sure if wishes-by-proxy come true. Just like with magick, I don’t believe in doing “wishes” for other people, as they are a type of spell work.
For this year’s Tanabata, I made tanzaku papers for my partner and myself out of things that I found around the house. Origami, a start shaped hole punch, and cooking twine were conveniently located and assembled into what you see above. I took a quick photo before writing my wish, which was related to the “plea for skills” from the Chinese festival. I don’t know if it resonates with everyone, but once the magick has started, I don’t take photos, though I am okay with showing my prep work. The next morning we burned the wishes in our cauldron and released them to the Universe. You can burn wish papers at midnight as well, but we don’t stay up very late. I think that burning the papers at midnight would have a really beautiful resonance with the story, since that’s when the lovers are reunited, but burning the wish as they part at dawn also works.
Below is my list of supplies and instructions so you can have a magickal Tanabata. I hope you enjoy! If you have any suggestions I would love to hear from you in the comments. Also please share how you celebrated Tanabata this year.
Tanabata Wish Spell
String, twine, or ribbon
Pencil or pen
Tree or plant, bamboo preferred
Lighter or matches
“The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” folktale (optional)
On the day of July 7th, create your wish papers (tanzaku) by cutting strips of colorful paper and folding them in half. You can chose not to fold them and leave the back exposed, but I like to keep what I write to myself because I feel that it makes the spell more powerful. Punch a hole in the top of the tanzaku and create a loop with the twine or thread. Meditate on what you want to improve about yourself. As the festival was traditionally to plead for skills, something skill based would be excellent (ie: to get better at calligraphy, knitting, clay sculpting, wood working, cooking, etc.) but is not necessary. Write your request on the tanzaku and hang it on the bamboo plant (or other plant if you don’t have bamboo).
After allowing your tanzaku to sit all day, you may remove it from the bamboo either at midnight or on the morning or July 8th (dawn in the best). If you like, this would be a lovely time to read the folktale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” to yourself or out loud. Light the tanzaku and burn it in your cauldron (remembering to practice fire safety at all times). As your tanzaku burns, visualize it being released to the Universe.