Lunar legends: A trail of myths and stories from around the world
Take a moonlit tour of some of the most magical origin tales as well as ancient explanations for the phases of the moon.
Why is the moon scarred? They’re fang marks left by Alklha, a monster with huge, impenetrably black wings. Alklha is a personification of the darkness of the sky. It feeds on the moon every month, slowly nibbling at it until it disappears. But the moon does not agree with the monster, who vomits it out into the sky, bit by bit, eventually re-creating the full moon.
A folktale about a wolf chasing a fox contains the oldest explanation for why we say the moon is made of cheese. The fox convinces the wolf that a better snack, a block of cheese, lies at the bottom of a pond. The wolf, not realising it’s just the moon’s reflection, drinks and drinks from pond, eventually bursting.
In Maori myth, the moon, Marama, is male, with a wife and two daughters. The indigenous people also believe that the moon is the husband of all women, given how he affects a woman’s reproductive cycle every month.
Some Native American legends see the moon as a hostage. It is captured each night by a hostile tribe, and a pair of antelope is entrusted with rescuing it and handing it over to a good tribe. But the coyote gets there first, tossing the moon into a river.
A woman, Chang’e, a once-immortal being, was turned mortal (along with her husband) for bad behaviour. Both try to get back into the gods’ good books by taking an elixir. But she drinks too much of it and ends up floating to the moon, making it her home.
The Inuit believe that Anningan, the moon god, raped his sister, the sun goddess, and that every night, he chases her to possess her again. Annigan starves as he runs, getting smaller every night, then disappears to hunt, before slowly coming back to his full self.
Several indigenous peoples on the continent call their moon god Mawu, a companion of the sun goddess Liza. When they finally meet and make love, we have an eclipse.
Why do Asians see a rabbit in the moon? Several countries (including a folktale in the Japanese anthology, Konjaku Monogatarishū) have this rough story. A fox, monkey and rabbit resolve to help a hungry old beggar on a full-moon day. The monkey gathers tree nuts, the fox steals milk. But the rabbit, who can only gather grass, offers his own body, throwing himself into the man’s hearth. He doesn’t burn. The beggar is a god in disguise, who rewards the rabbit by etching the act on the moon for all to see.