THE WOMAN IN THE MOON.
“O woman! lovely woman! nature made thee
To temper man; we had been brutes without you.
Angels are painted fair, to look like you:
There’s in you all that we believe in heaven
Amazing brightness, purity, and truth,
Eternal joy, and everlasting love.”
(Otway’s Venice Preserved, 1682.)
It is not good that the man in the moon should be alone; therefore creative imagination has supplied him with a companion. The woman in the moon as a myth does not obtain to any extent in Europe; she is to be found chiefly in Polynesia, and among the native races of North America. The Middle Kingdom furnishes the following allusion: “The universal legend of the man in the moon takes in China a form that is at least as interesting as the ruler legends of more barbarous people. The ‘Goddess of the Palace of the Moon,’ Chango, appeals as much to our sympathies as, and rather more so than, the ancient beldame who, in European folklore, picks up perpetual sticks to satisfy the vengeful ideas of an ultra-Sabbatical sect. Mr. G. C. Stent has aptly seized the idea of the Chinese versifier whom he translates
“On a gold throne, whose radiating brightness
Dazzles the eyes–enhaloing the scene,
Sits a fair form, arrayed in snowy whiteness.
She is Chango, the beauteous Fairy Queen.
Rainbow-winged angels softly hover o’er her,
Forming a canopy above the throne;
A host of fairy beings stands before her,
Each robed in light, and girt with meteor zone.'”
A touching tradition is handed down by Berthold that the moon is Mary Magdalene, and the spots her tears of repentance. Fontenelle, the French poet and philosopher, saw a woman in the moon’s changes. “Everything,” he says, “is in perpetual motion; even including a certain young lady in the moon, who was seen with a telescope about forty years ago, everything has considerably aged. She had a pretty good face, but her cheeks are now sunken, her nose is lengthened, her forehead and chin are now prominent to such an extent, that all her charms have vanished, and I fear for her days.” “What are you relating to me now?” interrupted the marchioness. “This is no jest,” replied Fontenelle. “Astronomers perceived in the moon a particular figure which had the aspect of a woman’s head, which came forth from between the rocks, and then occurred some changes in this region. Some pieces of the mountain fell, and disclosed three points which could only serve to compose a forehead, a nose, and an old woman’s chin.” Doubtless the face and the disfigurements were fictions of the author’s lively imagination, and his words savour less of science than of satire, but Fontenelle was neither the first nor the last of those to whom “the inconstant moon that monthly changes” has been an impersonation of the fickle and the feminine. The following illustration is from Plutarch: “Cleobulus said, As touching fooles, I will tell you a tale which I heard my mother once relate unto a brother of mine. The time was (quoth she) that the moone praised her mother to make her a petticoat fit and proportionate for her body. Why, how is it possible (quoth her mother) that I should knit or weave one to fit well about thee considering that I see thee one while full, another while croissant or in the wane and pointed with tips of horns, and sometime again halfe rounde?” Old John Lilly, one of our sixteenth-century dramatists, likewise supports this ungallant theory. In the Prologus to one of his very rare dramas he writes:
“Now rule Pandora in fayre Cynthia’s steede,
And make the moone inconstant like thyselfe,
Raigne thou at women’s nuptials, and their birth,
Let them be mutable in all their loves.
Fantasticall, childish, and folish, in their desires
Demanding toyes; and stark madde
When they cannot have their will.”
In North America, the woman in the moon is a cosmological myth. Take, for example, the tale told by the Esquimaux, which word is the French form of the Algonquin Indian Eskimantsic, “raw-flesh eaters.” “Their tradition of the formation of the sun and moon is, that not long after the world was formed, a great conjuror or angikak became so powerful that he could ascend into the heavens when he pleased, and on one occasion took with him a beautiful sister whom he loved very much, and also some fire, to which he added great quantities of fuel, and thus formed the sun. For a time, the conjuror treated his sister with great kindness, and they lived happily together; but, at last, he became cruel, ill-used her in many ways, and, as a climax, burnt one side of her face with fire. After this last indignity, she ran away from him and became the moon. Her brother in the sun has been in chase of her ever since; but although he sometimes gets near, will never overtake her. When new moon, the burnt side of her face is towards the earth; when full moon, the reverse is the case.” The likeness between this tradition and the Greenlanders’ myth of Malina and Anninga is very close, the difference consisting chiefly in the change of sex; here the moon is feminine, there the moon is masculine.
In Brazil, the story is further varied, in that it is the sister who falls in love, and receives a discoloured face for her offence. Professor Hartt says that Dr. Silva de Coutinho found on the Rio Branco and Sr. Barbosa has reported from the Jamundá a myth “in which the moon is represented as a maiden who fell in love with her brother and visited him at night, but who was finally betrayed by his passing his blackened hand over her face.”
The Ottawa tale of Indian cosmogony, called Iosco, narrates the adventures of two Indians who “found themselves in a beautiful country, lighted by the moon, which shed around a mild and pleasant light. They could see the moon approaching as if it were from behind a hill. They advanced, and the aged woman spoke to them; she had a white face and pleasing air and looked rather old though she spoke to them very kindly. They knew from her first appearance that she was the moon. She asked them several questions. She informed them that they were halfway to her brother’s (the sun) and that from the earth to her abode was half the distance.”
Coming of age, she wondered that only herself and her grandmother were in the world. The grandma explained that an evil spirit had destroyed all others; but that she by her power had preserved herself and her grand-daughter. This did not satisfy the young girl, who thought that surely some survivors might be found. She accordingly travelled in search, till on the tenth day she found a lodge inhabited by eleven brothers, who were hunters. The eleventh took her to wife and died after a son was born. The widow then wedded each of the others, beginning with the youngest. When she took the eldest, she soon grew tired of him and fled away by the western portal of the hunter’s lodge. Tearing up one of the stakes which supported the door, she disappeared into the earth with her little dog. Soon all trace of the fugitive was lost. Then she emerged from the earth in the east, where she met an old man fishing in the sea. This person was he who made the earth. He bade her pass into the air toward the west. Meanwhile the deserted husband pursued his wife into the earth on the west, and out again on the east, where the tantalizing old fisherman cried out to him, ” Go, go; you will run after your wife as long as the earth lasts without ever overtaking her, and the nations who will one day be upon the earth will call you Gizhigooke, he who makes the day.” From this is derived Gizis, the sun. Some of the Indians count only eleven moons, which represent the eleven brothers, dying one after another.
Passing on to Polynesia, we reach Samoa, where “we are told that the moon came down one evening, and picked up a woman, called Sina, and her child. It was during a time of famine. She was working in the evening twilight, beating out some bark with which to make native cloth. The moon was just rising, and it reminded her of a great bread-fruit. Looking up to it, she said, ‘Why cannot you come down and let my child have a bit of you?’ The moon was indignant at the idea of being eaten, came down forthwith, and took her up, child, board, mallet, and all. The popular superstition is not yet forgotten in Samoa of the woman in the moon. ‘Yonder is Sina,’ they say, ‘and her child, and her mallet, and board.'” The same belief is held in the adjacent Tonga group, or Friendly Islands, as they were named by Captain Cook, on account of the supposed friendliness of the natives. “As to the spots on the moon, they are compared to the figure of a woman sitting down and beating gnatoo” (bark used for clothing).
In Mangaia, the southernmost island of the Hervey cluster, the woman in the moon is Ina, the pattern wife, who is always busy, and indefatigable in the preparation of resplendent cloth, i.e. while clouds. At Atiu, it is said that Ina took to her celestial abode a mortal husband, whom, after many happy years, she sent back to the earth on a beautiful rainbow, lest her fair home should be defiled by death. Professor Max Müller is reminded by this story of Selênê and Endymion, of Eos and Tithonos.