Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

October 19, 2008

First published October 18, 2008

 in Sunday Midday

Lunar Tales

Published in Sunday Midday on 7 September, 2008.

If the sun was a god in Greek mythology, then the moon was a goddess. He was Apollo and she was Artemis. They were siblings. Far away, across the Atlantic sea, in South America, the Aztecs, whose civilization thrived almost a thousand years after the Greece civilization had collapsed, also believed that the moon was a goddess called Coyolxauhqui, sister of the sun-god, Huitzilopochtli. The moon was a goddess even in pre-Islamic Arabia. If the sun was Yang to the Chinese, then the moon was Yin.

The association of the moon with womanhood seems logical. The ancients noticed that the duration between two full moons was approximately the duration between two menstrual discharges of a woman. Consequently, woman and moon became part of a continuum. The moon was a goddess who when crescent was a virgin, when full was a matriarch and when new was a hag or a witch. With the rise of patriarchy, it was but natural that all things associated with the moon came to be considered diabolical.

In Christian Europe, following the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, Jesus became more associated with the sun (Sunday became the day of the Lord), while followers of witchcraft and wizardry, who gave great value to the moon, were condemned as worshippers of the Devil. Tales of ungodly creatures were intertwined with lunar cycles: thus men turned into werewolves on full moon nights and vampires rose only when the sun set and the moon rose.

In astrology across cultures, the moon has always been associated with things feminine: emotions, unconscious habits, rhythms, memories and moods. The moon has also been associated with the mother, maternal instincts or the urge to nurture, the home, and the past. The moon was believed to influence moods. Moods oscillate between the positive and the negative like the waxing and waning of the moon, in some people in such great frequency that one declares them lunatics (from luna, which means moon in Latin).

In India, the moon is never seen as a goddess but rather as a charming romantic god called Chandra who constantly flirted with the stars. He is also called Soma, the one whose waxing and waning influences the rising and ebbing of earthly fluids. The most visible impact is seen on the sea where he causes high and low tide. He is believed to have a more subtle impact on the sap of all plants, making him the lord of all vegetation. The most prized herb, in Vedic times, was Soma, whose juices when consumed caused heightened mood elevation. In art, Chandra is always shown holding the Soma herb in his hand and riding an antelope, for like an antelope he was restless. In Nepalese art, he is shown riding a chariot pulled by geese.

In Vedic times, the sky was divided into 28 parts. Twenty seven of these were occupied by stars who were goddesses known as Nakshatras. These were the daughters of Daksha Prajapati and he gave them all in marriage to Chandra. Chandra, however, preferred only the Nakshatra called Rohini and he spent so much time with her that the other neglected wives, her sisters, complained to their father. Enraged, Daksha cursed Chandra that he would suffer from the wasting disease. Instantly, the moon began to wane. Not knowing what to do, Chandra prayed to Shiva who placed the wasting Chandra on his head. Instantly, Chandra started to wax again. From that day, Shiva came to be known as Soma-shekhara, one who had saved the wasted (crescent) moon by placing him on his head. Daksha then decreed that Chandra would have to spend one day with each of his 27 wives. As a result, Chandra began to wax every day as he approached Rohini’s house and wanes everyday as he moved away from her. On new moon nights, when he is not seen, he was with no wife. The sisters once again complained that their husband was showing his most handsome form only to his favorite Rohini; so Daksha decreed that the sky would keep moving. Hence today, on full moon days, the moon is in different houses, not just in the house of Rohini.

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