Storytellers explore Asian legends and star lore

Also known as tanabata, meaning ‘evening of the seventh’ in Japanese, the Star Festival is an ancient Asian celebration of star lore and legends. Held in Japan, Korea and China on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month – this year, Monday 8 August – the festival stems from ‘The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd’, one of China’s best-known folktales, which tells of star-crossed lovers allowed to meet only on the seventh night of the seventh month.

On Monday 25 July, a trio of local storytellerswill introduce the Star Festival to Edinburgh, each incarnating different characters from star lore. Mio Shapley tells a Japanese version of the story, in which the weaver girl (representing the star Vega, from the constellation Lyra) and the cowherd (symbolizing Altair from Aquila) are banished to opposite sides of the Silver River, or the Milky Way. They meet once a year on a bridge made of magpies, following the stars of the constellation Cygnus, the swan.

This leads us to tales of mute swans from the Celtic tradition, carrying forward the inherited lore of the great Traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson, told here by his long term collaborator and friend David Campbell. Finally, Linda Williamson explores eagle lore, inspired by the Aquila constellation, accompanied throughout by Mio Shapley on the Scottish clarsach – a nod to Lyra, the harp.

In Japan, many people celebrate the Star Festival by writing a wish – sometimes in the form of a poem – on a small piece of coloured paper called tanzaku and tying it to bamboo. From 15 July, a bamboo tree will be placed in the Centre’s Storytelling Court, allowing visitors to attach their own wishes on origami birds, representing Vega and Altair’s magpies, to be carried off to the stars!

Visitors should also make sure to see artist Marie-Alice Harel’s exhibition Omoiyari, a beautiful collection of sketches and portraits created during live storytelling events. Exploring where stories come from, many of the pieces have been strongly inspired by Japanese aesthetics and folklore, inviting the viewer to reflect on the wonder of storytelling.

See The Star Festival at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Monday 25 July at 7.30pm. Book tickets.