Symbols in Stories from Around the World
A full moon brings forth the wonder as the soft light falls upon the earth. The ever-changing phases of the moon brought about mystery and a bit of wildness.
Many cultures see the moon as feminine as seen by the goddesses Artemis (Greek), Selene (Roman), and Rhiannon (Celtic). These cultures noticed that the moon had the power over the tides and water, which oftentimes connected to motherhood and birthing. The femininity even extended into menstruation as the moon could have power over women’s cycles. In fact, some Native American women lived in the Moon Lodge during menstrual time. Alchemists attributed the blood red moon of the lunar eclipse to this women’s time. The moon blessed childcare and midwifery.
Though, a crescent moon symbolized a virgin’s purity in Constantinople. This image transformed into a symbol of conquest of that city by the Ottomans. It was Muslim conquest over Christians and the crescent moon came to be used by Arab armies. The crescent moon on the Pakistan flag represented sovereignty.
The bow and arrow took on the power of the moon through its crescent shape. This shape was both feminine and masculine and was like the moon and the arc of heaven. Diana (Roman god of the moon) and Apollo (Roman god of the sun) both used the bow and arrow as their weapon of choice.
Other cultures used the moon track time and the lunar calendar was followed by the Celts, Pueblo, and the Jews. At times, the lunar eclipses had to be explained and many folktales resulted. Eclipses warned that evil was coming and people needed to reassure themselves on what was happening above. According to Norse legend, a sky wolf named Skoll chases the moon. Whenever the moon was caught, there was an eclipse. The Chinese said a dragon tried to eat the moon. Even the word for eclipse, “shih,” means “to eat.” People had to shout and pound on drums to scare the dragon away. For the Hindu, a demon named Rahu eats the sun though the moon passed through his neck and returned to the sky.
The patterns on the moon usually became the “man on the moon” or a lady or any number of animals. For the Polynesisan creation myth, Hina travels the world and eventually the moon is where she wishes to go. Once on the moon, she stayed there forever. A Chinese legend talks about a man on the moon that ties invisible threads around the legs of baby boys and girls. As these children becomes adults, these people find each other and are drawn to be married.
The phases of the moon created more stories. For the Egyptians, the god Osiris was dismembered into 14 pieces because the moon had 14 phases. Both Thoth and Isis searched for all of Osiris so he could be resurrected. Later, Thoth and Isis became connected to the moon.
The new and the full moons had many tribes in Africa see the new moons as representing darkness and ignorance while the full moons symbolized light and wisdom. Other cultures saw the new moon as death and the full moon as rebirth and resurrection.
The moon also brought lunacy. The word “lunatic” comes from the Latin word “luna” that means “moon” or “moonstruck.” This madness was shown as wolves howled at full moons and that transformed into the idea of werewolves. The round shape of the onion represented the cosmos (of which the moon was apart), and its strong smell could ward off evil.
As for other foods, milk shared the color of the moon as well as the feminine powers of creation with the moon. Milk and honey were food for the gods and connected with immorality. The moon already had heavenly binds and naturally linked to milk and honey.
Cats, being nocturnal, were associated with the moon. Hares, also nocturnal, were always producing more hares and thus connected the moon with fertility. Frogs and toads connected to water and the moon (as water and the moon go together). Frogs and toads linked with feminine fertility. Finally, the metamorphosis from tadpole to frog reflected the moon phases as well as birth, death, and resurrection.
Stories that feature the moon:
- “The Drowned Moon,” English tale, the moon wonders why people get lost in the swamps and she steps down from the sky to find all kinds of demons, boggarts, will-o-the-wisps and other creatures
- “The Legend of Hou Yi and the Moon Goddess Chang’e,” Chinese tale, Chang’e drank too much of an elixir that caused her to no longer be on earth and lived alone on the moon with a white rabbit (rabbit has its own story)
- “Coyolxauhqui,” Aztec tale, Coyolxauhqui told her 400 brothers and sisters to kill their mother and earth goddess Coatlicue through this mother gave birth to a child who protected and cut off Coyolxauhqui’s head that became the moon
What stories do you know that feature the moon? Do you know stories that explain the phases of the moon? The patterns of the moon? The lunar eclipse? Please comment below and share with others of this post.
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