I came across some lovely Moon Lore a couple of weeks ago, a Victorian collection of superstition and mythology, written just eighty-four years before man set foot upon it. How sadly serendipitous.
Neil Armstrong passed away today. Imagine. Most of us have only one moment when we leave this world and step into the dark unknown. Imagine looking back on a life that contains intimate memories of the moon.
I don’t think I can.
The moon is as incomprehensible to me now as it was to those who watched, transfixed, that giant leap of discovery and investigation in 1969. Perhaps one day it will seem as common as a spoon, but I doubt it.
I like to think that we won’t ever know so much that we can completely disregard these gorgeous myths and legends and fancy. These are some I especially like, mostly from Moon Lore (1885) but some other places too.
The Man in the Moon
I was surprised to see how many cultures share a concept of the Man in the Moon.
Many myths originated biblically, says author of Moon Lore, Timothy Harley.
A French superstition regarded the man in the moon as Judas Iscariot, transported to the moon for his treason. And, the Jewish have a Talmudic tradition that Jacob is in the moon, though the Hebrew Scriptures make no mention of the myth.
“The Chinese ‘Old Man in the Moon’ is known as Yue-lao, and is reputed to hold in his hands the power of predestining the marriages of mortals–so that marriages, if not, according to the native idea, exactly made in heaven, are made somewhere beyond the bounds of earth.”
“Among the Khasias of the Himalaya Mountains “the changes of the moon are accounted for by the theory that this orb, who is a man, monthly falls in love with his wife’s mother, who throws ashes in his face”
For the aborigines of New Zealand, it is quoted from D’Urville by De Rougemont in his Le Peuple Primitif as follows:
“Before the moon gave light, a New Zealander named Rona went out in the night to fetch some water from the well. But he stumbled and unfortunately sprained his ankle, and was unable to return home. All at once, as he cried out for very anguish, he beheld with fear and horror that the moon, suddenly becoming visible, descended towards him. He seized hold of a tree, and clung to it for safety; but it gave way, and fell with Rona upon the moon; and he remains there to this day.”
The Man in the Moon? She is Woman, non?
“In English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, the moon is feminine; but in all the Teutonic tongues the moon is masculine. Which of the twain is its true gender?”
“The moon, it has been said, was viewed as of the masculine gender in respect of the earth, whose husband he was supposed to be; but as a female in relation to the sun, as being his spouse.”
“The woman in the moon as a myth does not obtain to any extent in Europe; she is to be found chiefly in Polynesia, and among the native races of North America.”
“In Samoa, we are told that the moon came down one evening, and picked up a woman, called Sina, and her child. It was during a time of famine. She was working in the evening twilight, beating out some bark with which to make native cloth. The moon was just rising, and it reminded her of a great bread-fruit. Looking up to it, she said, ‘Why cannot you come down and let my child have a bit of you?’ The moon was indignant at the idea of being eaten, came down forthwith, and took her up, child, board, mallet, and all. The popular superstition is not yet forgotten in Samoa of the woman in the moon. ‘Yonder is Sina,’ they say, ‘and her child, and her mallet, and board.”
One thing is for certain though:
The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret
“Several astronomers assert the absence of water in the moon; if this be the case, what is the poor man to drink?”
“The man in the moon drinks claret,
But he is a dull Jack-a-Dandy;
Would he know a sheep’s head from a carrot,
He should learn to drink cyder and brandy.”
Ah, I love it!
The moon, of course, has endlessly fascinated and inspired us. There is so much more written besides and beyond Reverend Harley’s Moon Lore, though I think it is a wonderful source.
Some caution against its exploration:
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous” – Thomas Merton.
But I prefer those – like Carl Sandburg who often turned to the moon as muse – who regard it in whimsy and wonder through the eyes of a child:
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, “See the moon!”
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.