The Many Faces of the Moon

In the spring twilight
the Full Moon is shining…
— Sappho

Just as the moon attracts rivers, lakes and oceans, so has it attracted our attention and captured our imaginations throughout history. Both beautiful and mysterious, it has inspired poets, shaman and storytellers, engendering a wealth of legend and lore. Astronauts have walked on it, scientists have studied it, but people continue to believe that the moon has a mysterious, undefined power.

Below are just a few of the many ways the Full Moon has inspired legend and lore in cultures from around the world.

When Men Turn Into Wolves…

Many years ago it was believed that the Full Moon was so powerful it inspired metamorphosis of men – literally! The werewolf is one such supernatural legend. In it, a human male transforms into a wolfman on the night of the Full Moon. Dating back to the Middle Ages, this transformation was not usually thought to be caused by the moon alone, but rather brought on by magic or a curse.

The Farmer’s Friend…

The Full Moon has always been associated with the seasons and the tides. It follows that there is a plethora of Full Moon lore associated with growing and harvesting. For instance, it’s said in dry weather to plant during a Full Moon will bring moisture. It’s also believed to be good to harvest during a Full Moon — particularly for plants rich in water like those that bare fruit and some vegetables.

Let There Be Light!

Before electricity, people were dependent on natural sources of light. As a result, many festivals were planned on Full Moon nights – particularly during the Harvest Moon, the Full Moon that occurs around the time of the autumnal equinox. It’s exceptionally large and bright due to its proximity to the earth, and traditionally, the extra light gives farmers more time to bring in the harvest.

Likewise, the light of the moon has played an instrumental part in many a tale as a guide. In the Grimm Brothers fairytale Hansel and Gretel for instance, young Hansel, and his sister Gretel are abandoned in the woods by their parents. A Full Moon lights their path and shows them the way home.

Once in a Blue Moon

The shape-shifting nature of the moon has also contributed to its use as an indicator of rarity. Take, for example, the infamous Blue Moon.

An ancient indicator of floods, the Blue Moon is the second Full Moon in a calendar month and occurs, on average, once every 2 1/2 years. Hence the phrase, “once in a blue moon,” which has little or no relation to the idea that the Blue Moon is in fact, sad.

There’s a Man in the Moon… And He’s a Matchmaker Too!

Although the moon is often associated with the feminine, there have been masculine associations — like the legend of the man in the moon. One story goes that the man in the moon was a beggar, whose punishment for gathering firewood on a Sunday was to spend a perpetual Monday laboring on the moon. And so it is that the man on the moon is often said to be carrying a packet of twigs!

While this man in the moon exists across many cultures, in Chinese lore, he’s particularly useful! In China, a man in the moon is said to tie people together with an invisible, silken cord. At the very moment they fall in love, he draws the silken cords together.

The Unifying (or Dividing) Force…

In China, the autumn Full Moon symbolizes family and reunion because of the Moon Festival. On the night of the Full Moon families gather to watch the moon rise, eat moon cakes and sing poems about the moon. It’s said that if you look closely enough, you can see the moon goddess Chang’e dancing there. In addition, lovers often spend a romantic night together eating moon cakes and gazing at the Full Moon. Even if apart, sweethearts can watch the Full Moon at the same time and feel as if they are together.

Conversely, the Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of the oldest narratives in Japan. It tells of an old bamboo cutter who sees a soft light shining from out of a stalk of bamboo. Within the stalk is a beautiful moon-girl. Convinced that the gods have meant this child as a gift, he takes her home and he and his wife bring her up as their own. And while the moon girl grows up to be ever more beautiful, bringing much joy to her adoptive parents, eventually she must return to her true home on the moon.

As these legends and folktales show, the Full Moon has been integral in human life and experience. Even today, it continues to be deeply connected with danger, romance, fortune, magic and the great mysteries of our lives.

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