Moon Superstitions - Explore Lunar Myths and Legends
Do you ever find yourself outside on a dark, clear night gazing up at the Moon? That mysterious disk of light which waxes large then wanes over the course of the month, charting her unchanging journey across the heavens? We now live in a world where man has landed on the Moon, and science has discovered many of her secrets, but how do you think our ancient ancestors viewed her? What myths, traditions and moon superstitions did they create, what stories did they tell around their camp fires, to explain her nightly odyssey?
I am referring to the Moon as a ‘she’, because she has always been associated with the feminine, with feelings, and for the depths of human emotion. Although she is so radiant in the sky, our Moon does not actually produce any light of her own, it is all reflected from the sun. Moonlight creates strange shadows which sometimes hide more than they reveal, cloaking the true nature of reality, bathing our planet in a numinous, other-worldly glow. Although the full moon would have made nocturnal activity and travel possible for our ancient ancestors, the shadows cast may have seemed to have been filled with fairies, goblins and other supernatural denizens of the night.
Because the waxing and waning of the Moon followed such a regular, predictable pattern, many ancient cultures began to create calendars based on these lunar cycles. While a year is generally determined by the annual passage of the Earth around the Sun, our ancestors started to use the lunar cycle to segment time into days, weeks, and months, associating the seasons of nature to certain periods on their calendars. Some of these old traditions still survive today, as some important religious festivals are still determined by the phases of the Moon. For example, the Christian feast day of Easter is still celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon which falls on or just after 20th March each year, the spring equinox.
Names of the Full Moons:
January – Wolf Moon
February – Snow Moon
March – the Worm or Lenten Moon
April – the Pink Moon
May – the Flower Moon
June – the Strawberry Moon
July – the Buck Moon
August – the Sturgeon Moon
September – the Harvest Moon
October – the Hunter’s Moon
November – the Beaver Moon
December – the Cold Moon
The new moon, being the first lunar phase, has long been associated with new beginning, the start of a new cycle and a time to sow seeds and plant crops. A new moon was regarded as being very lucky, so people wanting to make a wish would show their respect by bowing down before her and then turning themselves around either three or nine time. Because of its colour silver is thought to be the Moon’s precious metal, so if you had silver coins in your pocket at the time of the new moon you would turn them over before you made your luck. However, the new moon could also be unlucky, as if you saw it through a window the obstacle the pane of glass represented could stop any flow of lunar bounty coming your way.
It must have been during antiquity that farmers and gardeners started sowing and planting their crops just before the new moon. They did this because they believed that moonlight would help their plants to grow, that the moonbeams were some kind of celestial fertiliser radiant with the energy crops needed to grow and thrive. Then, when the light of the moon began to wane, so would this lunar energy begin to decline. So if you planted anything under a waning moon, it was far more likely to fail to grow or, if it did, be spindly and weak. However, traditionally crops are harvested when the Moon is waning, as the lunar energy drops.
The new moon was also thought to help human relations, as relationships, marriages and business deal were all thought to be more likely to prosper if they were started as the Moon began to wax and grow. The time of the full moon was thought to have an especially powerful affect on human behaviour, causing moods to fluctuate wildly and people to behave in strange, out of character, ways. It was even thought that it could induce madness in susceptible souls and the modern word ‘lunatic’ is derived from the Latin word ‘luna’ or the later word ‘lunaticus’ which literally means moon-struck. Going to sleep outside in the moonlight was regarded as especially dangerous, as it could send you mad. Even worse, it was thought you could be blinded by a moonbeam or your face could be damaged and perhaps even permanently disfigured. Even the usually practical, prosaic Victorians introduced a Lunacy Act in 1842 making it very clear that a lunatic was a ‘person afflicted with a period of fatuity in the period following after the Full Moon.’
Most months have a full moon, but occasionally there is not one in February, so either the month of January or March have two. Therefore, generally each of the seasons has three full moons, but the timings of these can change in a year due to twenty nine day lunar cycle. Then there is four in one season and this is what is called a Blue Moon. In ancient China they believed there were actually twelve different moons which were made up of water. They also thought there were ten different suns which appeared on each of the ten days which made up one of their weeks. The mother of all these moons and suns was the Chinese lunar goddess Heng-O, who would take her celestial children on a month-long journey in a chariot from the western side of the world to the eastern.
The Moon was also thought to influence the physical body, especially if you were a woman. Lunar cycles were closely associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle and could even help her to conceive. The Full Moon could also be instrumental in causing a complete physical transformation, as men were said to be turned into werewolves at this time, loping through the forests of the night looking for the blood of their next victim. Fairies were also believed to be active at this time, dancing in forest glades and creating mischief in the lives of men. Probably the most famous of these fairies were fictional; with William Shakespeare featuring in his play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ the fairy king Oberon and his queen, Titania.
Many people also used to think they could see images and faces on the Moon. These differed from culture to culture, but in the West the most common is probably the Man in the Moon and in Asia they see a rabbit or a toad. This phenomenon is called lunar pareidolia and we humans conjure these images out of the ‘seas’ or dark areas on the Moon’s surface. Another animal associated with the Moon is the hare. There is a tradition that Buddha once transformed himself into a hare as a sacrifice for the god Indra, jumping fearlessly into a fiery inferno. As a reward for this voluntary immolation, the grateful deity placed him in the night sky to live forever as the Moon. Somewhat unkindly, it was often said of simple, credulous folk that they believed the Moon was made of green cheese.
In mythology lunar deities were often feminine. In Ancient Greece, she was the goddess Artemis who as well as the Moon ruled hunting, wild animals, remote, wild places, chastity and childbirth. She was often shown carrying a bow, with a quiver full of arrows thrown across her back. She was the twin of the masculine, solar deity Apollo and the divine pair was born in a cave on Mount Cynthus on the sacred island of Delos, where they were known locally as Cynthus and Cynthia. The Romans called this goddess Diana and other lunar goddesses were Astarte in Mesopotamia, Chia in Colombia, the Etruscan deity Artume, and Chang’e in China. However, there were some male lunar deities.
There were male lunar deities and in Ancient Egypt these were Khonsu and Thoth. In the ancient world triads of gods containing a father, mother and infant were widespread, and Khonsu was worshipped in ancient Thebes as the child of Amun and Mut. He was often depicted with a crescent moon on his head supporting a full moon. Khonsu’s name means ‘traveller’, tying him to the daily journey of the lunar disk across the sky. The Egyptian’s believed he influenced women’s fertility and that when the crescent moon shone they became pregnant, cattle were easily put into calf and everybody’s nose and throat were filled with life-giving air. The other Egyptian lunar deity, Thoth, shared the honour with Khonsu of being responsible for noting the passage of time. He is sometimes shown with the head of an ibis or a baboon.
In astrology, the moon rules the fourth sign of the zodiac, Cancer, which is the sign of home, motherhood, feminine intuition, sensitivity, empathy and compassion. Cancer is a water sign and like its lunar ruler is thought to rule emotions, intuition and the depths of the human psyche. The moon rules the tides and the symbol of Cancer is the crab, a creature with a soft body and a hard shell that dwells at the edges of the ocean between the physical earth and the watery depths. Although very sensitive, Cancer is also a cardinal sign, meaning they like to lead and make a name for themselves in the world.
So the Earth’s only satellite has been enormously influential in the history of mankind. We have imbued her with a feminine personality, capriciously sometimes showing the whole of her radiant disc and sometimes leaving the night dark. We have all grown up with moon superstitions and myths, many of us still believing that fairies dance and werewolves howl she is full, so perhaps it is not surprising our ancestors worshipped her mysterious silver light..
Reader’s Digest Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain
Khonsu image Neithsabes Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 3.0 Unported
© 2014 CMHypno
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