A to Z Challenge Folklore

Pale Light: Moon Folklore #AtoZChallenge #folklore

P is for Pale.

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The moon has fascinated people from all cultures and times since the dawn of humanity. What is it about the pale light reflected from this celestial orb that make us spin yarns about it?

Folklore

A Feast of Lanterns by L. Cranmer-Byng [1916]

Moon

The moon hangs low over the old continent of Chinese poetry. Chang O, Moon-goddess, is the beautiful pale watcher of the human drama, and all that she has known of secret things, of passion and pleasure, swift ruin and slow decay, she records in music. Through her great palaces of cold drift the broken melodies of unrecorded lives. She is the Goddess alike of sorrow and love—of Po Chü-i who in exile hears only the lurking cuckoo’s blood-stained note, the gibbon’s mournful wail, and Chang Jo Hu who rides triumphant on a moonbeam into the darkened chamber of his lady’s sleep. Her rays are more persistent than water; you may draw the curtains and think you have shut out night with all its whispering of leaves, but a tiny crevice will let her in.

Best of all the poets loved her when she lingered above the broken courts and roofless halls of vanished kings.

Time and nemesis wrote large upon their walls, but moonlight brought them a glamour unknown to history, and cast a silver mantle lightly upon their dust. They were what Tu Fu and Meng Hao Jan willed—bright shadows in the rose alleys of romance; Gods of War and builders of their dreams in stone. At least one singer prayed the Moon that his passionate heart might haunt the ruins of Chang-An, a nightingale. All sacred intimacies and desires that dare not clothe themselves in words have her confidence, and because she is goddess as well as woman she will never betray them. She links together the thoughts of lovers separated by a hundred hills and the lonely places of despair are steeped in her kindness. On the fifteenth of the eighth month she graciously descends from her “domain, vast, cold, pure, unsubstantial,” and grants the desires of all who await her coming.

Lastly, she is the link between the present and the past, binding us in the solemn hours to the men or women who have lived and wrought beneath her spell. One Chinese poet, remembering in moonlight the lovers of long ago, prayed that lovers yet to come might also remember him. Two hundred years had flown, and after a night of splendour some woodman passing at dawn found a double lotus on a broken tomb. And Kyuso Muro, the Japanese philosopher, has written: “It is the moon which lights generation after generation, and now shines in the sky. So may we call it the Memento of the Generations. As we look upon it, and think of the things of old, we seem to see the reflections of the forms and faces of the past. Though the moon says not a word, yet it speaks. If we have forgotten them it recalls the ages gone by… The present is the past to the future, and in that age some one like me will grieve as he looks upon the moon.”

Moon Lore by Rev. Timothy Harley [1885]

The Man in the Moon

By the man in the moon we mean none other than that illustrious personage, whose shining countenance may be beheld many a night, clouds and fogs permitting, beaming good-naturedly on the dark earth, and singing, in the language of a lyric bard,

“The moon is out to-night, love,
  Meet me with a smile.”

But some sceptic may assail us with a note of interrogation, saying, “Is there a man in the moon?” “Why, of course, there is!” Those who have misgivings should ask a sailor; he knows, for the punsters assure us that he has been to sea. Or let them ask any lunatic; he should know, for he has been so struck with his acquaintance, that he has adopted the man’s name. Or ask any little girl in the nursery, and she will recite, with sweet simplicity, how

   “The man in the moon
    Came down too soon,
And asked the way to Norwich.”

The Hare in the Moon

When the moon is waxing, from about the eighth day to the full, it requires no very vivid imagination to descry on the westward side of the lunar disk a large patch very strikingly resembling a rabbit or hare. The oriental noticing this figure, his poetical fancy developed the myth-making faculty, which in process of time elaborated the legend of the hare in the moon, which has left its marks in every quarter of the globe. 

The Woman in the Moon

It is not good that the man in the moon should be alone; therefore creative imagination has supplied him with a companion. 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. The Middle Kingdom furnishes the following allusion: “The universal legend of the man in the moon takes in China a form that is at least as interesting as the ruder legends of more barbarous people. The ‘Goddess of the Palace of the Moon,’ Chang-o, appeals as much to our sympathies…”

The Moon Mostly a Male Deity

We have already in part pointed out that the moon has been considered as of the masculine gender; and have therefore but to travel a little farther afield to show that in the Aryan of India, in Egyptian, Arabian, Slavonian, Latin, Lithuanian, Gothic, Teutonic, Swedish, Anglo-Saxon, and South American, the moon is a male god. 

In concluding this chapter we think that it will be granted that gender in the personification of inanimate objects was the result of sex in the animate subject: that primitive men saw the moon as a most conspicuous object, whose spots at periods had the semblance of a man’s face, whose waxing and waning increased their wonder: whose coming and going amid the still and solemn night added to the mystery: until from being viewed as a man, it was feared, especially when apparently angry in a mist or an eclipse, and so reverenced and worshipped as the heaven-man, the monthly god.

The Moon a World-Wide Deity

Anthropomorphism, or the representation of outward objects in the form of man, wrought largely, as we have seen, in the manufacture of the man in the moon; it entered no less into the composition of the moon-god. 

Dr. Goldziher is an incontestable authority, and thus writes: “Queen or Princess of Heaven is a very frequent name for the moon.”

In the far-off New Hebrides the Eramangans “worship the moon, having images in the form of the new and full moons, made of a kind of stone. They do not pray to these images, but cleave to them as their protecting gods.”

“The Botocudos of Brazil held the moon in high veneration, and attributed to her influence the chief phenomena in nature.”

The Moon as a Water-Deity

If the new moon, with its waxing light, may represent the primitive nature-worship which spread over the earth; and the full moon, the deity who is supposed to regulate our reservoirs and supplies of water: the waning moon may fitly typify the grotesque and sickly superstition, which, under the progress of radiant science and spiritual religion, is readier every hour to vanish away.

“The moon is chief over the night darkness, rest, death, and the waters.”

In the oriental mythology “the connection between the moon and water suggests the idea that the moon produces fertility and freshness in the soil.”

The Persians held that the moon was the cause of an abundant supply of water and of rain, and therefore the names of the most fruitful places in Persia are compounded with the word mâh, “moon”.

In China “the moon is regarded as chief and director of everything subject in the kosmic system to the Yin [feminine] principle, such as darkness, the earth, female creatures, water, etc. Thus Pao P’ah Tsze declares with reference to the tides: ‘The vital essence of the moon governs water: and hence, when the moon is at its brightest, the tides are high.'” 

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane

Arallu (type of djinn) were adversaries of the gods, especially the moon god, Sin. According to mythology, an eclipse was caused when they attacked him. They tied him up in a sack, causing him to fight his way out. Fortunately, there was a finite number of arallu, as they were all male and could not reproduce.

Rusalka (plural: rusalki): A rusalka is a species of Succubus-like water nymph from Slavic lore. Its name loosely translates to mean “mermaid”. Rusalki are seen as the demons of the dualistic quality of nature, created when a woman dies an unnatural death. They are described as looking like pale, lithe, startlingly beautiful women with loose and wild-looking green hair. Most commonly seen in the summer and winter, rusalki prey on men, using their charms to lure men into the water where they will tickle them to death. Controlling the cycles of the moon, these demonic creatures are also said to direct the clouds across the sky, as well as control the weather and amount of rainfall. The rusalki are the symbol of life and death.

Originally, in Scandinavian folklore, the sandman was a nursery bogie used to frighten children into going to bed willingly; those who did not were likely candidates to be victimized by this fairy. First he would rub sand in their eyes until their eyes pooped out of their heads, then he would collect their eyeballs and take them home to feed his own children who lived on the crescent moon.

In Hungarian lore the Tündér are a type of beautiful nature spirit; exclusively female these fairies are immensely wealthy and live atop mountains in luxurious castles surrounded by exquisite gardens. They spend their nights dancing beneath the moon. In lore the Tündér look after the destitute and orphans, gifting them with priceless pearls they use as adornment in their hair. Additionally, the breast milk, saliva, and tears contain magical properties that are used in spell casting. The Tündér themselves are skilled magic users and have many magical herbs and jewels.

The vodyanoi (malicious water fairies) live an entire life cycle in a single lunar phase, young at the new moon and growing older with each phase. When the lunar cycle begins anew the vodyanoi is rejuvenated and young again.

*More can be read in the book.

The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

Moon

Cosmological concept. The moon, with its changing phases and its connection with the tides, was a natural object of importance to the Celts as to most other cultures. The Celts originally divided the year according to moons, according to the Roman author Pliny, with the new moon beginning each month as the night began each day. Festivals were celebrated at moonrise; thus we have May Eve, the evening before Beltane, and Hallowe’en, the evening before Samhain.

Some scholars believe that the moon was especially significant to agriculturalists, because the moon’s waxing and waning was believed to influence the growth of plants, just as it does the movement of the tides. An indication of Celtic awareness of the lunar waxing/waning cycle is found in the belief that mistletoe and other magical plants should be harvested under a waning moon – the declining light of the luminary indicating that time was ripe for endings. In the Scottish Highlands, similarly, sowing was always done under a waxing moon, with the belief that as the moon swelled, so would the tiny plants within the seeds.

There is also evidence of ancient lunar rituals; the Roman author Strabo tells of night-long dancing among the Celts when the moon was full. Through the 18th century, such dances were held at stone circles in the Scottish Highlands. In the 19th century people in the insular Celtic lands still bowed and curtseyed to the new moon, while in Cornwall people merely nodded while reaching into their pockets to touch their money for good luck. In Ireland a full moon brought people to crossroads where they danced beneath its pearly light.

*More can be read in the book.

The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous

In ancient days the state of the moon, whether it was waxing or waning, was considered to be of great importance in connection with the felling of timber. Pliny, borrowing from Theophrastus, says that the very best time to cut down trees is when the moon is in conjunction with the sun, that day being called the interlinium, or sometimes the “moon’s silence”.

The man on the moon

From the earliest ages the markings or spots observed on the surface of the moon had been a subject of much speculation until the telescope revealed their true nature. When the moon is full a resemblance is alleged to be traceable to the features of the human face, or to the figure of a man bending, bearing a burden on his back. From this various legends arose making the moon the habitation of a man, almost all of which account for his appearance there as being a penance imposed on him for certain crimes committed while he was on earth.

*More can be read in the book.

Further Reading:

Exactly as I see the portal between the Moon and Earth! Image credit.

Moon Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

The moon can heal any poison and ailment in her magical glow. If she so wishes.

Some form of Moon worship can be found in almost all ancient religions. In that respect, a Moon Deity has a variety of functions depending on the culture and is sometimes a personification of the Moon. In some cultures, the Moon Deity changes names – as what happened with the Greek Artemis and Roman Diana, and the Greek Selene and the Roman Luna when they were syncretised as a Greco-Roman Moon Goddess known as Cynthia.

In many cultures, the monthly cycle of the moon has been linked with women’s menstrual cycles because they believe that the Moon is female. In some cultures, though, the Moon is male (and the Sun is female).

Magically speaking, the Moon is our connection to everything in this world and the galaxy beyond. The Moon receives power from all planets, stars, etc. and reflects it. Thus the moon is a powerful magically ally. The moon is used in many magical rites. Some rites can only be performed during a New or a Full Moon.

For the most part, the Moon is associated with night, darkness, rest, death and water. She is seen the best in the dark, she appears at night, night is the time people rest, “go softly into the good night” is a euphemism for death, the Moon’s phases control the ocean’s tides, and there is a belief that the Moon controls rain and fog, too (a halo around the moon is an ancient sign of rain).

Farmers are known to sow and reap according to the Moon’s phases, believing that certain times of the month it is better to plant leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach) and other times of the month it is better to plant root vegetables (e.g. carrots).

Interesting fact: the word “lunatic” comes from the Latin luna, because it is believed that people behave more outrageously during a full moon. Sounds like someone is blaming Luna for their bad behaviour…

The Moon in Modern Culture

The Secret of Moonacre

There’s a curse upon the estate because of the first Moon Princess who had received magical pearls from the moon. Maria has to lift the curse before the moon crashes down on them all.

Rise of the Guardians

The Moon chooses Guardians to look out for children. Jack Frost is the newest Guardian to help protect against Pitch Black.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The Moon in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: The Moon

As a celestial orb, the moon radiates power that magic-users can draw upon to enhance their spells.
As a deity, the Moon is known as Cynthia.
Cynthia is the Guardian of Earth. She doesn’t belong to either Faery Court, and she stays out of Faery politics. She does have dealings with various Nature Fae and others who are condemned to live on Earth, though it is difficult for those on Earth to have direct contact with her. There is a portal that connects the moon (celestial orb) to Earth which Cynthia uses to travel and allows others to meet her on the moon.
Technically, Cynthia is the moon and the moon is Cynthia. Her thoughts, feelings, well-being is directly connected to the celestial orb earth dwellers view at night.
A Black Moon, when the Moon is completely absent, is a bad omen for the workers of Death – especially Valkyries.
A Blood Moon, when the Moon is seen tinged with red, is a good omen for Vampires.

moon English Afrikaans
moon sketch
black moon book extract
Get it here.

What do you think of the moon as a being and as a figure in folklore? Any moon related tales you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

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10 thoughts on “Pale Light: Moon Folklore #AtoZChallenge #folklore”

  1. There is a Chinese story about the girl and the rabbit in the moon, so when the first moon landing was happening, there was a joke between the astronauts and the ground by which they should look out for a pretty girl and a rabbit.

    And then, of course, there is the song sung by Frodo Baggins in LOTR, at the Prancing Pony… 🙂

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