A Study of the Moon’s Prominence in Mythology Across the World

Throughout time and no matter where we live, the moon always shines in the sky at night. On every continent, the moon lights up the night sky and connects us to the rest of the world, no matter how far away. Because of this, many civilizations have put this astral body into their religious beliefs and practices. Moon mythology is common, as all over the world the moon pours its influence over people of differing backgrounds. From Artemis to Thoth, we’ll dive into different cultures’ moon gods and the ties that connect them all.

Many of the traits of the moon are interpreted similarly among different myths and regions. The similarities often lie in what the moon means, which is often fertility and protection. Although different belief systems may have original myths and tales of the moon, there’s always an underlying motif in what exactly the moon stands for. When we take a step back and look through different time periods and locations, we see in the similarities of moon mythology that we are far more similar than we think.

Coyolxauhqui (Aztec)

The Aztecs occupied what is now central Mexico between the years 1300 and 1521. They were known for being devoutly religious to their gods, making sacrifices both dead and alive for their religious reasons. The Aztecs worshipped polytheism, with multiple gods and goddesses to explain the nature of the world around them.

Their moon goddess was Coyolxauhqui. Details of Coyolxauhqui’s origin are unknown, as different translations render different stories of how she came to be known as the moon goddess. The most common myth begins with Coyolxauqui attempting to kill her mother, Coatlicue, goddess of the earth. Coatlicue grew pregnant from a strange circumstance that angered her daughter. But when Coyolxauqui came to strike her mother down, the unborn child of Coatlicue came out from her as a full-armored soldier to defend his mother. This was Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. With his weapon Xiuhcoatl, a ray of sun, he dismembered his sister in pieces and tossed them down the mountain they fought on. However, her head lifted to the sky and became the moon.

Coyolxauhqui’s Importance

Because of issues regarding translation, Coyolxauhqui’s official goddess stance lies in confusion. Some sources point to her instead of being a goddess of the milky way and not the moon. However,  with her death leading to the creation of the moon, she arguably contributes enough to be considered a moon goddess. Coyolxauhqui’s brother also killed her with a blade made of sunlight. Scholars speculate that her death by sunbeam demonstrates the constant battle that the moon and sun wage. Her sacrifice shows that the sun will always come again to wipe the moon from the sky every morning. The Aztecs utilized this myth as a warning to their enemies, promising that if anyone crossed them, they would end up like Coyolxauhqui- in multiple pieces.

 plae grey stone disk of Coyolxauhqui, a figure with her limbers dismembered with an aztec motif
A stone disk of Coyolxauhqui. Often placed in front of sacrificial temples to show what was to come to human sacrifices. Credit: Khan Academy

Artemis(Ancient Greece)

The period when Ancient Greece grew strong was between 1200 BCE and 323 BCE. Similar to the Aztecs, citizens of Ancient Greece worshipped polytheism, but where the Aztecs had more gruesome and violent gods, the Greeks focused on the ‘whys’ of their own lives. They strived for an explanation for why things operated the way they did.

The Ancient Greek goddess of the moon is Artemis. Her position of being the moon goddess is primarily set in relation to her twin brother Apollo, God of the sun. Her position not only functions as a goddess of the moon, but she also stands for hunting and chastity. Not much of Artemis stands on its own; instead, she often trails behind Apollo, acting as a balance between moon and sun throughout mythology. Compared to the fight between the sun and moon in Aztec mythology, the two heavenly bodies are conjoined as an equal balance in ancient Greek mythology.

A chiseld stone stateue of tehe goddess Artemis, who is besides a deer.
A statue of Artemis, the huntress and moon god of Greek Mythology

The Moon Goddess and her Chastity

As the sun represented masculinity, the moon reflected more feminine virtues, such as chastity and child-raising. So Artemis also represented more of these beliefs. Even though she had just been born a little earlier, Artemis ended up helping with delivering during Apollo’s birth, which myths claim is her reason for being so protective and nurturing over children, as well as her brother and those who can’t protect themselves. As a child, Artemis begged her father, Zeus, to let her keep her chastity forever. He complied and Artemis quickly became one of the gods who protected virgins and young children alike. Many of her myths involved chasing down men who tried to prey on young virgins or men who attempted unjust acts. Many men lusted over Artemis for her chastity, but only one man, the hunter Orion, ever won over her heart.

Chandra (Hindu)

An image of Chandra, a man in white robes and gold jewelry, sitting atop a locus flower and gold carriage pulled by white horses.
In moon mythology, Chandra is responsible for giving energy and life to those around him. Source: Astrology.astrosage.com

Chandra originates from Hinduism, which is the longest-lasting religion in the world as of now. The moon mythology in Hinduism is not as prominent as it once was, but Chandra is still a known figure. While Chandra presents himself as a male figure, like Artemis, he also represents feminine points, such as fertility and childbirth. But Chandra’s fertility stands for the energy of the entire world, not just physical childbirth. They believe that Chandra can give life energy, and even create new life from his powers. He is depicted riding a chariot pulled by horses or an antelope across the sky while holding a lotus flower. Chandra’s myths are not as common as other gods are in Hinduism, but he remains a prominent figure to many.

Chandra and the Phases of the Moon

Hinduism attributes Chandra to his role in creating the phases of the moon. Chandra gives out his energy to the world around him, and as they take his energy, he loses himself. The moon shrinks as Chandra gives more of his energy away. Once his energy depletes itself as the moon becomes a  crescent, then his co-ruler Chandi starts the same cycle until he gains enough energy to give to others. This reasoning can be noted in the moon’s waxing and waning phase, as Chandra represents one and Chandi represents the other. People who practice Hinduism often worship Chandra and believe that he can alleviate sorrow and mental turmoil.

Thoth (Ancient Egypt)

From 3100 BC to 332 B.C, the ancient Egyptians worshiped Thoth, who was not only the god of the moon but also mathematics, sciences, and sacred texts. Thoth appeared most commonly as a bird or a baboon.  While the other religions we’ve seen have more human personalization of their gods, the Egyptians often perceived their gods to be half-human, half-animal, or fully animal.  Thoth’s Egyptian name specifically translates to “He who is like the Ibis” (Djehuty). Thoth worked as a celestial deity switching out with the sun guard when night came. He is also said to have created writing, the calendar, and even controlled space and time besides his moon god duty.

A 2-d illustration of Thoth, the bird-headed god inscribing an Egyptian symbol on a stone tablet in front of golden pyramids and a moon.
an illustration of Thoth keeping track of records of the other gods and goddesses. Source: Pixels.com

Thoth and his Impact in the Afterlife

In Ancient Egypt, death and the afterlife grew prominent in religion. In order to make it into the afterlife, your soul had to be clean and pure- weighing no more than the feather of truth. For this important practice, Thoth acted as a bookkeeper and kept track of who got into the afterlife and who didn’t. Thoth behaved as a record keeper for the other gods too, making note of complaints and issues that arose between them. He worked as a peacekeeper to keep things organized and running smoothly and would call meetings to discuss new ideas and problems. Thoth spoke strongly of justice and divine order.

Tu’er Ye (China)

Tu’er Ye hails from a small folk religion that hails from Beijing, China. He appears as a white rabbit with glowing eyes dressed in a traditional priest’s outfit. Also known simply as the rabbit god, Tu’er Ye lived on the moon with other moon gods and came down to earth to help the people whenever they needed him. The rabbit god is popular even in modern-day culture, as residents celebrate him through crafts, toys, and decor during the Autumn festival every fall. Citizens love Tu’er Ye so much that they even created a spouse for him- the rabbit goddess meant to be his.

A white rabbit statue wearing red robes and blue accent pieces. Stands on top of a flower-like throne in front of a white background.
A statue of Tu’er Ye in his clothes borrowed from the shrine according to Beijing folklore moon mythology. source: Tumblr

How Tu’er Ye came to Earth: Moon Mythology of Chinese Folklore

The rabbit god lived on the moon, watching over all the people of earth with the other moon deities. However, a plague struck the world and so Tu’er disembarked to help out and try to heal the pained people. But the rabbit’s fur color- white- had an association with death during that period,  so the people feared the Tu’er Ye, believing he would bring more misfortune. The rabbit god picked up on this superstition and borrowed clothes from a temple to dress in saint’s clothing. Once he donned his new clothes, this moon mythology figure figured out that he could now enter sick people’s homes and heal them of their ailments.

Mani: Moon god of Norse Mythology

Mani is the god of the moon in Norse mythology, which began in the ninth century. He is a male god who, like Artemis, represents the relationship between sun and moon with his sister Sol. Mani’s name translates directly into the word ‘moon’ while hers translates directly into the word sun. Together, Mani and Sol’s job is to help humans keep track of the date and time, especially when it came to harvesting. Mani is not the focus of worship and instead falls behind and in accordance with his sister, who leads most of their myths together. This moon god is not seen as the moon itself, but as a guide for the body, driving it across the sky in his chariot pulled by horses.

Mani and his myths

A man driving a gold chariot pulled by a white horse, with the moon in a blue background behind him. The man is seen wearing a blue robe and a red cape.
Mani pulling the moon across the sky in his chariot. source: NordicWiccan

Ragnarok refers to the end of the world in Norse mythology, where all of the gods fight to the death against monsters that tear the world apart. In Mani’s fight, he and his sister are both pursued by wolves, thirsting for their blood across the skies. Unfortunately, these wolves chased them before Ragnarok; they prompted the cycle of day and night. As Mani would flee from one wolf out of the sky, his sister flew in. Mani also starred in a few epics written by Vikings, in which he and his family aided in the creation of the cosmos. Similar to Artemis, Mani also protects and guards vulnerable children. According to myth, he has two children’s assistants who are the origin of the ever-famous Jack and Jill nursery rhyme.

Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto (Shinto religion(Japan))

Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, otherwise known as just Tsukuyomi, was the moon god of the Shinto religion in Japan. This moon god was one of the only male moon deities at that time, as the moon is commonly perceived as having feminine virtues. Tsukuyomi’s name roughly translates to moon-reading-man, which is the only way scholars were able to determine his gender. There is not much known about Tsukuyomi besides a few origin myths, which leaves his backstory hidden.

A painting of a man seated in blue robes on a green cushion. He holds the moon in his hands and there is a red ring circling behind his head.
An illustration of Tsukuyomi. Source: Wikipedia

The Story of the Moon and Sun according to Tsukuyomi

According to Shinto myth, Tsukoyomi’s wife was also his sister Amaterasu, the sun goddess. After being invited to the food god’s feast, his sister-wife could not attend and requested that he take her place instead.  Tsukuyomi agreed. But he despised the food god’s preparation and killed her on sight. This angered his wife, so she cast him away from the relationship. Tsukuyomi became a type of evil figure and sought to win his wife back. However, she was too quick and every time he’d catch her in the sky, she’d disappear. This myth explains the cycle of day and night, and how Tsukuyomi will never be able to reunite with his wife.

Conclusion: The Connections our Moon makes

Moon mythology finds itself all over the world. And despite the differences in these cultures and religions, we can find many similarities. From the past into the present, moon mythology connects the years. The moon stands most commonly for ideas such as fertility, growth, protection, and energy, which are all positive associations. The position of this celestial body in moon mythology has other functions as well, such as acting as a balance towards sun deities and the moon shines above us all, so we take what we can from it and so familiarity can be found in the strangeness of human history. After all, we are only humans, and we dare to put our dreams in the sky among the stars.

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