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.Google+