Research Tales: Why Does the Moon Change Shape?
Updated: Mar 6, 2019
In my current WIP, Fruitful, Horned, Divine, I like to include little nods to Greek mythology and avoid unintentionally using references to a monotheistic God. One of the ways I'm doing this in incorporating little touches into the narration, such as referring to Helios' chariot for the passing of a day, or the inky fingers of Nyx for the onset of night.
In reference to something being regular or expected, I though, oh, this would be a good place to insert something about Selene, the moon. What's the Greek story for why the moon changes phase?
Turns out, there really isn't! Just vague references to Selene turning her head, which is more descriptive rather than explanatory.
So, that got me thinking, what are some explanatory myths for the changing shape of the moon? Turns out, it's really hard to google "moon myths" and not get things like "Does the Moon Really Drive People Crazy? Moon Myths". But here are some I found. Interestingly, they're largely Indigenous stories. I'd love to know some European ones if you know them!
Note: I am not a member of any of the cultures whose tales I've recounted. I strive to find good sources, but if I've linked something here you know to be untrustworthy, please let me know!
Rabbit and the Man in the Moon
In Micmac legend, the great hunter Rabbit discovered someone was robbing his traps. He set a trap for the thief, and while he waited, he noticed the moon vanish from the sky. Then, bright moonlight appeared right in front of him, inside his thief trap!
He snared the glowing white thief. To dim the light, he tried first to throw snow at it, but heard it sizzle away. So he used dark clay instead, covering the light until it was bearable to approach. The thief explained he was the man in the moon, and that he must be back by dawn, and if Rabbit did not release him, he would kill his entire tribe.
Fearful, Rabbit ran back to his grandmother to seek her counsel, but even the wise old woman was scared, and told him to release the thief at once. When Rabbit returned, he was shaking with fear, but he told the man that he would be released only if he promised to never rob his traps again and never return to earth for good measure.
The man agreed to Rabbit's terms, so Rabbit gnawed through the ropes and set him free. The man shot back into the sky, and to this day, you can still see the dark stains of clay upon his face. Every month, he attempts to clean them, and so disappears for a few days, but they still remain despite his efforts.
And Rabbit? Well, rabbits have small, pink eyes, and they water when looking upon a bright light. And their lips quiver, a remnant of Rabbit's fear.
The Jealous Sun
The San people of the Kalahari desert are considered to be one of the oldest people, genetically speaking, which means they as a whole, feature the most genetic diversity between members of the tribe than between any two random, say, French people.
In one of their moon tales, the sun is jealous of the moon's brightness, and so shaves it away little by little, until the moon begs for him to leave just a little backbone for the children. Chastised, the sun ceases his cutting, and the moon grows back to full, when the entire process begins again.
And to continue the theme of violence, I will share an Inuit story, which I believe is more specifically from Greenland, but I'm by no means an expert (if you are, I'd love to talk to you!). If you are sensitive to themes of incest and sexual assault, be advised before you read on…
Aningan and Malina, Brother Moon and Sister Sun
In the time before the sun and moon, two siblings, the brother, Aningan, and his sister, Malina, lived in their village, lit only by firelight. One night, when the lights had gone out, Malina was assaulted. She fought back, but could not make out the attacker's face. He left before she could discover his identity.
The next night, determined to find out who had attacked her, Malina smeared her palms with soot, and waited. When the man came to her again, she fought again, and smeared soot across his back.
When the lamps were lit once more, Malina looked for the one covered in soot, and was appalled to see it was Aningan, her brother. In rage and disgust, Malina cut off her breasts and threw them at him, crying, "If you have such a taste for my body, you may eat these!"
She grabbed a torch and fled the village. Aningan took a torch of his own and pursued her, following the trail of her blood. As he ran however, he slipped in the snow and dropped his torch, snuffing it to embers.Still, he chased after Malina.
A great wind carried the siblings into the sky, where Malina became the sun, her torch still shining brightly. When Aningan appears, she hides away, but because his torch was snuffed, the moon is not so bright as his sister.
In their endless chase, Aningan becomes hungry, wasting away in his hunt. He must rest and eat, before he can continue the pursuit.
Today's song is Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival.