For thousands of years, humans have been infatuated by the moon - it’s luminous, omnipotent presence in the night sky, the various forms and phases it takes on, it’s ability to tell time and pull tides. On top of that, for thousands of years humans have done what humans do best. They spun stories and told tales of everything they felt, saw and discovered. Therefore, in this article I will recount the tales that humans have told about the moon, from different civilizations all over the world.
In Greek mythology, there are multiple deities associated with the moon, such as Artemis or Hecate, but Selene is considered as the actual personification of the moon. Personally, I find it interesting to look at the relationship between the sun and the moon throughout different folklore, and in this case the sun god Helios is Selene’s brother. Both Selene and Helios ride their respective chariots, drawn by winged steeds. Selene’s most popular tale is the myth of Selene and Endymion in which the moon goddess falls in love with a mortal shepherd or prince (depending on who you ask) called Endymion. She finds him so beautiful that she begs Zeus to keep him young forever. He agrees, and thus Endymion falls into a deep, never-ending slumber. Selene was pleased by this and she visited him every night to enjoy his beauty. Eventually, she bore him 50 daughters.
The Japanese god of the moon is called Tsukuyomi and his sister, the goddess of the sun is called Amaterasu. One day, Amaterasu is invited to a banquet hosted by Ukemochi, the goddess of food. Unfortunately, the sun goddess wasn’t able to attend so she had her brother go in her place. Tsukuyomi was enjoying the festivities, amazed at the amount of delicious food that Ukemochi provided, as everytime she disappeared she’d return with more and more delicacies. Eventually, he got so curious about the source of the food that he spied on Ukemochi. Tsukuyomi found that she created food by expelling it from every orifice of her body, pulling it out of her nose, ears and mouth. The moon god was so disgusted by this display that he murdered her on the spot. He then threw her body out of the clouds and it created food for all of the creatures on Earth. When Amaterasu found out about this display of violence that Tsukuyomi performed in her name, she was so cross that she banished him to the other side of the sky forever.
Ixchel is the jaguar goddess of the moon in Mayan mythology. She is associated with fertility, childbirth and medicine. There are two contrasting characterisations of her, however: the first one is of an angry and destructive old woman that causes tides and floods and the other one is a beautiful young woman, in love with the sun god Kinich Ahau. This love for the sun god was for a long time unrequited, as she followed him across the sky, unknowingly causing flooding and droughts. One day however, she was able to win him over with her incredible skills at weaving. They got married and had four jaguar sons that were so fast that they were nearly invisible across the night sky. Each one of them was associated with one of the cardinal directions. One day, however, Kinich Ahau began to think that Ixchel was having an affair with his brother so he kicked her out of their house and she nearly died. Eventually they found their way back together, but the relationship didn’t last due to the sun god’s violent nature.
Soon after the creation of the sun and the moon from the molten sparks of the fiery realm of Muspelheim, a man called Mundilfäri had two beautiful children: one daughter called Sòl, after the sun, and a son called Máni, after the moon. One day, Mundilfäri angered the gods, so they took away his children. Sòl and Màni were forced to ride in horse drawn chariots that pulled the sun and the moon respectively. In order to make sure that they don’t slow down or stop, two wolves called Sköll and Hati are made to chase them down across the sky. This must continue until one day when the siblings are eaten by the wolves and Ragnarök, the end of the world or the final battle between good and evil begins. One day, Màni caught a glimpse of two children called Hjúki and Bil that were toiling away under the control of their cruel father, Vidfinn. He decided to kidnap the children and allow them to live with him. Bil and Hjúki were happy to work for the god of the moon instead of their spiteful father and so the two of them were associated with (Hjúki) the waxing moon and (Bil) the waning moon.