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 star shaped hole punch, and cooking twine were conveniently located and assembled into what you see here. 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 I 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 it. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear from you in the comments.
Tanabata Wish Spell
This spell is used to plead for skills using traditional elements like tanzaku paper. Some ideas for skills would be anything art or craft related such as calligraphy, knitting, sculpture, painting, sewing, or writing. Anything that needs practice to perfect would work for this spell as well. The spell below is written in a ‘recipe’ style so that it can be easily transferred into your Book of Shadows or Grimoire.
Cauldron or fire-proof container
Lighter or matches
Pencil or pen
Story of “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” (optional)
String, twine, or ribbon
Tree or plant, bamboo preferred
On the day of July 7th, create wish papers (called tanzaku) by cutting colorful paper into strips. Cut long strips in half or fold them in half for privacy. Punch a hole in the top of the tanzaku and create a loop with the twine or thread. Think about a skill that you have that you want to improve, or a new skill that you would like to learn. Write your request on the tanzaku and hang it on the bamboo plant (or other plant if you don’t have bamboo).
After allowing the tanzaku to sit all day on the 7th, remove it from the bamboo either at midnight or on the morning of July 8th (dawn is best). Optional: read the folktale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” or another version of the Vega and Altair story to yourself or out loud. Light the tanzaku and let it burn completely in the cauldron. As the tanzaku burns, imagine the smoke to be your plea being released to the Universe.
“Tanabata, a love story that is celebrated nation-wide” on Japan Info
Qixi Festival on Wikipedia
Stock image by Ghost Presenter