First, many people see a face when they look at the full moon. Others see a face in profile when they look at the crescent moon. This is NOT what is meant by "The man in the moon"
The man in the moon is usually seen as an old man carrying a bundle
of sticks upon his back, sometimes carrying a forked stick
and lantern and accompanied by a little dog. There are many European legends explaining how he got there.
A German version of the story goes something like this: Ages ago
there went one Sunday morning an old man into the wood to hew sticks. He
cut a bunch and slung it on a stout staff, cast it over his shoulder,
and began to trudge home with his burden. On his way, he met a handsome
man in Sunday suit, walking towards the church.
" Don't you know that it is Sunday, when all good Christians should be resting from their labours?" said the stranger.
"Sunday on earth, or Monday in heaven, it's all the same to me!" laughed the old man.
" Then bear your bundle forever, and as you value not Sunday on earth yours shall be a perpetual moon day in heaven; and you
shall stand for eternity in the moon, a warning to all sabbath-breakers" and the stranger banished him to the moon.
In the book "Curious myths of the middle ages" by Sabine Baring-Gould, many other versions of this story are reproduced. In one version of the story, the man is carrying willow bows* . In another he is a sheep stealer who entices sheep with cabbages.**
The man in the moon features in the beliefs of the Inuits, (formerly
known as Eskimos). In Alaska, it is believed that the
man in the moon is the keeper of the souls of men and animals. Shamen claim to have the power to ascend to the moon and
converse with him (Kaj Birket Smith, "The Eskimos",1959).
Baring-Gould also shows how the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill is derived
from a Norse legend, in which the moon kidnaps
two children named Hjuki and Bil, and makes them fetch water from a well. According to this theory, the figure in the moon is Jack (Hjuki). Jill (Bil) is less easy to see. The names Hjuki and Bil mean Creation and destruction, i.e. waxing and waning.
In Malaysia, the man in the moon is an old hunchback sitting beneath
an inverted banyan tree. He is plaiting bark into a fishing
line to catch everything on earth. There is also a rat which gnaws through the fishing line and a cat which chases the rat. So long as this equilibrium continues, the world is safe, but if the hunchback ever completes his fishing line, the world will end. (Skeat,W.W. "Malay magic").
In China, the man in the moon is called Wu Kang (Gekkawo in Japan) ,
the god of love and marriage, who unites lovers by
tying their feet together with invisible cords. Wu Kang also cuts branches from the Cassia tree of immortality, which grows in
* Bows obviously occur a lot in lunar myths,
as crescent symbols. Culpepper said of willow: "The moon owns it". Presumably
because the willow grows near water, and readily regenerates when cut down or pruned. The willow is also used in
wickerwork and Wicca work: willow bark bound the head of the witches broom, and according to Julius Caesar, the druids
burnt people alive at full moon, in wicker baskets . The words "witch" and "wicked" are related to "wicker. Willow is a source
of Salicilic acid, the raw ingredient of aspirin, and was used in the past to cure rheumatic pain, which was supposed to be
caused by witchcraft. Rejected lovers used to wear willow in their hats.( For more on the connections between the moon and
willow, consult "The White Goddess" by Robert Graves)
**Cabbages and other fleshy leaved plants
are said to be sacred to the moon. Don't know why, but if the stump of
is left in the ground after harvest small cabbages will grow from it. Brussel sprouts grow in a neat clockwise helix, apparently
following the path of the sun and moon, like vines. Some gardeners consider it important to cut a neat cross in the stump of the
cabbage, to encourage regrowth. Cabbages belong to the cruciferae family, so called because their flowers have four petals
arranged as a cross.
This page created from information borrowed heavily from the Ian Sanders