Speculations on the sex of the Moon


I may be busy, but not too busy to point and laugh. You’ve prob­ably seen this story in the Examiner about the Japanese crash­ing an orbiter into the Moon. If you haven’t then it’s Satya Harvey com­plain­ing that sci­ent­ists will be pen­et­rat­ing a female moon without first ask­ing her per­mis­sion. Lots of people have found it a remark­able pub­lic dis­play of ignor­ance. In fact she’s elev­ated ignor­ance to an art form, because she is also clearly unaware that, in Japanese myth­o­logy, the Moon is male and the Sun is female.

If you live in the West you might think that makes the Japanese freaks. I’ve got a book, The Moon: Myth and Image by Jules Cashford, which picks up on this. The Second World War alli­ance between Germany and Japan was blamed (only in part I hope) on the two nations both per­ceiv­ing the Moon as male. She found Laurens van der Post on one of his off-days writ­ing: “…[S]ome omin­ous per­versity of the abori­ginal urgings of both Germans and Japanese, was rendered into a fixed and immut­able mas­culin­ity.” If you’re keen to sample some per­versity then you may not need to travel that far. Cashford also has an incom­plete list of cul­tures with male lunar deit­ies which includes, Ainu, Anatolians, Armenians, Southern Arabians, Australian Aborigines, Balts, Basques, Canaanites, Eskimos, Finns, Germans, Georgians, Greenlanders, Hindus, Hittites, Hurrians, Japanese, Lithuanians, Melanesians, Mongolians, Persians, Phrygians, Poles, New Guineans, North American Indians of British Columbia, the Machivanaga of Peru, Scandinavians, Slavs and Tartars. With the Moon being a rock, and the Sun a nuc­lear implo­sion there’s no reason to assume the genders have to be fixed one way or the other.

If you’re after a more adven­ter­ous myth­o­logy you don’t even need the Sun and Moon to be oppos­ite genders. For example the Bororo of South America have the Sun and Moon as twin broth­ers who ascen­ded from the Earth. A male Sun and Moon myth­o­logy might be use­ful if you want to have a cos­mic example of Men going out and doing stuff while women… umm… don’t. If you want some­thing more soph­ist­ic­ated, the Aztecs and the Egyptians saw the Moon as male or female or both as the mood took them.

In fact it’s the female Moon which may be odder than a male Moon. If you want oppos­ite genders for the two bod­ies, a female Sun might make more sense because it drives life. The reason the Sun is male in astro­logy (and I assume Ms. Harvey means spe­cific­ally Graeco-Roman Astrology) is because it was asso­ci­ated with Apollo in reli­gion. Thanks to the Roman Empire that’s the basis for Astrology which sur­vived in the West. Indian Astrology is some­what dif­fer­ent. Where does that leave the Sun’s role as a life-force? The Greeks saw the male as the source of life. The womb was where you depos­ited the seed to grow, the credit for the fin­ished product belonged to the man. Did that belief come from the same root as a male Sun? I wouldn’t know; it’s pos­sible one caused the other. In any event it would seem reas­on­able to ask how the gender of celes­tial bod­ies affected the way people saw the universe.

It’s the fact that sci­ent­ists see the Moon as gen­der­less that helps open up new ways of look­ing at the uni­verse. We can ask new ques­tions, find new answers and dis­cover new mys­ter­ies which we couldn’t even just fifty years ago. In con­trast Satya Harvey offers a narrow-minded and blinkered view of the moon which cas­u­ally dis­misses any­thing which doesn’t fit her own pre­con­cep­tions. A uni­verse where women are tied to 2000 year old gender roles seems a claus­tro­phobic little place. If a Japanese probe can help smash a way out of that, I’m all for it.

And while I’m at it, I’ll crow­bar a link into Steven Renshaw’s page on Japanese Astronomy.