From the earliest conceptions of the Universe, the moon has served as a symbol. Whether a deity, locked in battle or somehow estranged from its brother, or lover, the Sun; or a faraway place occupied by curious immortals, it has touched the deep depths of our psyches.

The eminent 21st Century psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, to whom we owe much psychological understanding, especially of the unconscious, studied upwards of 2000 dreams a year, interpreting them with empirical rigour, an open mind and recognition of the limitations of scientific classification and theory. And throughout many of these dreams, the moon shone brightly, it’s meaning varied by its form, whether crescent, gibbous or full and the circumstances of the host whose dream it had appeared in.

Receiving and reflecting the sunlight, to the unconscious dream generator Jung studied, the Moon appeared as the perfect symbol of the principle of reception, and consequently a prime symbol of the subtle work of feminine intuition. As an active projector of light, however, it was masculine too: a union, of opposites; or syzygy, as he called it. But the unconscious is a shape shifting, rule-breaking funny king of thing, and as the orb of the night, the Moon in these dreams was commonly the unconscious’s representation of itself – shining at the core of its base primal urges.

From dreams come myths, and colourful Moon myths abound. In every culture of every time and every corner of the globe a mythological moon creature or deity presided.

The most enduring and powerful myth in the history of western culture is probably that of the Werewolf, or lycanthrope: a man, bitten or caste under a spell, who by the light of the full moon is transformed into a powerful anthropomorphic wolf-like creature, with strength and speed far greater than either, a surly demeanour and serious blood thirst.

Witches have worshipped the moon as a goddess, their spells rendered most potent when the she is full.  But there is also the man in the moon, who commonly appears more as a comic deity, as revealed in this Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

“The man in the moon came down too soon,

And asked his way to Norwich,

He went by the south and burnt his mouth

By supping on cold plum porridge.”

In Moari culture, an angry Moon kidnapped Rona, the daughter of the sea god Tangaroa. Rona had cursed the Moon when, slipping behind a cloud, he had failed to illuminate her path and caused her to stub her toe. And the Moon god Sin of Sumerian Civilisation in Mesopotamia, the first known civilisation on Earth, was a “fierce young bull, thick of horns, perfect of limbs, with a beautiful bird of blue”. The grain goddess Ninlil had given birth to him after journeying to the underworld. But along with his two twin brothers, she had given him to the gods, who sent him to the heavens to illuminate the darkness.

But of all the moon myths we have explored, our most favourite is that of the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e.

According one of its versions Chang’e and her husband, the legendary archer Houyi, were immortals living in heaven. But when one day the ten sons of the Jade Emporer, ruler of heaven, turned into suns and started burning up the earth, Houyi was called upon to help. Houyi solved the problem, but by shooting down nine of the Emporer’s sons, causing old Jade to be less than happy. So Houyi and Chang’e were banished to Earth where they would live out their lives as mortals.

Chang’e, however, didn’t make a very good mortal. Being mortal made her sad. Seeing this, and feeling at least partially responsible, Houyi went on a quest for the pill of immortality. He got it and returned with it, but by some mishap, instead of taking half, Chang’e swallowed the whole thing and ascended to the Moon without him.

There she remains to this day, in the company of a jade rabbit, who avidly manufactures elixirs, and a woodcutter, Wu Gang, who is only allowed to leave if he can chop down a magic tree, which tragically instantly grows back when he does so.

With mighty conflagrations, archery, perilous quests, star-crossed lovers and most importantly, a colourful assemblage of moon dwelling characters, how can we not like this story?

But as a colourful myth to guide our Moon Project, there’s even more to endear it. In a conversation between the Mission Control and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first Moon landing, our beautiful moon goddess is mentioned:

Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.

Aldrin: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.

The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program is also known alternatively as the Chang’e program. Its successful lunar orbiters in 2007 and 2010 were known as Chang’e 1 and Chang’2 and its lunar rovers, one of which will be exploring the surface of the Moon next year, are known as Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4.

Go Chang’e!

As much as we’re enamoured with Chang’e, there are thousand of fabulous Moon myths out there, so we’re compiling a Moon myth database.

And you can help.

Go to the comment section on our Moon Myth Database, tell us about your favourite Moon myth, or a good Moon myth not listed, and we’ll add it. We also have editors’ picks and a star rating system allowing you to rank each Moon myth presented.

Moon Myth Database

Interested in learning more about Moon myths? Wanting to share what you know? Visit the Moon Myths Forum [LINK]. 

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