“Marco could not have known about the mystical effect of a full moon on cats and books left on their own in the library. Not until he saw the lines breathe, the words unveiled.”
Rahma Krambo, Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria
There are 166 known moons in our Solar System, and our Moon is the fifth largest. Mercury and Venus are the only planets without satellites, likely due to their proximity to the Sun’s gravity. If moons orbiting dwarf planets, Trans-Neptunian Objects, Trojan moons, and asteroids are included, the number rises to 336. Another 150 small objects have been observed inside Saturn’s rings, and Saturn’s moon Rhea is thought to have a moon of its own. The number of moons and moonlets continues to grow as technology improves our ability to detect them.
Some moons are large enough that they may be reclassified as dwarf planets at some point. Some have volcanoes and others are thought to have sub-surface oceans. At least four moons have active tectonic plates, and a few have atmospheres containing oxygen; Jupiter’s Moon Io is the most volcanically active. Jupiter’s Europa, among others, is thought to be capable of supporting life. Ganymede, another moon of Jupiter, is the largest in the Solar System, larger than Mercury and Pluto, and three times larger than our Moon. If Ganymede broke free of Jupiter’s gravity it would be classified as a planet.
Our Moon passes through the whole zodiac each month, creating a microcosm of the Sun’s apparent annual motion, and the Moon’s shape and place in the sky also changes as she circles the Earth. The phases are a result of the relationship between the Sun and Moon from our perspective and how much of the Sun’s light is reflected based on the Moon’s position. If we could see this motion from above it would resemble an oscillating sine wave with its trough at the New Moon and crest at the Full Moon.
The Moon’s changing patterns are remarkably consistent over time. The Moon takes 27.5 days to complete the Sidereal period where the Moon moves through the complete Zodiac. The Synodic cycle of 29 days is the time from New Moon to New Moon. The second period is longer because the Earth is also moving around the Sun, and the Moon has to catch up. A third cycle, similar to the solstices of the Sun, takes 18.6 years, in which the Moon slowly moves from its extreme northern position to its most southern position and appears to “stand still,” or rise and set in the same place for three years at either end of the cycle.
As the Moon travels around the Earth in a counter-clockwise orbit, it also completes one full rotation on its axis, also moving in a counter-clockwise direction. Since the Moon’s period of rotation exactly matches its orbit around Earth, we always see the same face. At the New Moon, when we cannot see the Moon at all, her hidden side is fully illuminated by the Sun. The Sun is nearly four hundred times the size of the Moon but is almost that many times as far from Earth, so from our vantage point the Sun and Moon appear to be the same size. Therefore the “luminaries” seem to be of similar significance. The Earth and Moon are also tilted on their axes, so eclipses happen when the horizontal alignment of Sun, Moon and Earth is exact enough to cast a shadow on the Moon, or block the Sun’s light, providing breathtaking sky-watching events.
The Moon’s gravitational pull on Earth’s oceans is the biggest influence on tides. Estimates vary, but it’s said that our bodies are seventy percent water, so the Moon must have some effect on this fluid aspect of our nature, perhaps triggering our emotions and creating shifting inner tides. In alchemical symbolism fire represents projective masculine energy while the element of water is seen as feminine and receptive. Water symbolizes our emotions, and like the ocean, our feelings can fluctuate from calm and nurturing to violent and destructive.
Astrologically, the Moon represents our instincts, habitual behaviors, legacies, emotions, mothers, and our intimate selves. The Moon is seen as our hidden psyche, separated from our waking consciousness as we journey through time. She carries memories of the past and brings these influences to bear on the present. The Moon shapes our evolving personality, holding unconscious patterns that need to be healed or reclaimed. The Moon’s cycles and phases of reflected light offer periodic illumination into our individual and collective nature. Just as space travel has given us a glimpse of the Moon’s hidden face, the relationship between Earth and Moon is a journey of ever-changing, but ever-repeating, light and darkness.
The Moon is Queen of the Night and her nocturnal creatures but generates no light of its own. The alchemical element is silver, like the quality of moonlight. The Moon can be seen as a lens, a concave mirror that both reflects and contains, reflecting sunlight through the colored panes of the Zodiac signs. This creates a constantly changing but ever-repeating symbolic Kaleidoscope–nested cycles of light in the day, month, year and perhaps the ages. In a seemingly contradictory way, the Moon signifies fullness and fragmentation, wholeness and pieces, that continually separate and rejoin. If we learn to move in tune with these changing patterns we can sense the resonance of Creation, turning, shifting, changing form, but always seeking a balance of light and dark.
In myth Moon goddesses are often linked to the phases of the Moon, which are seen to symbolize the stages of a woman’s life: —the name has a beautiful sound. maiden, mother and elder. The three stages of a woman’s life are linked to the waxing crescent, the full moon, and the waning crescent, forming a trinity. In this view, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and other female reproductive processes, are ways that women may embody the Goddess, making the physical body sacred. Wiccans and other neo-pagans worship this “Triple Goddess,” and this three-part symbol is also seen as the crown of the High Priestess in Tarot.
Robert Graves, author of The White Goddess, proposed the existence of a European deity, the “White Goddess of Birth, Love and Death,” inspired and represented by the phases of the Moon, who lies behind the faces of the diverse goddesses of various European and pagan mythologies. Graves argued for early worship of a single ancient goddess under many names, an idea that gained popularity in the feminist theology of the seventies.
The Maiden phase represents new beginnings, birth, and enthusiasm, represented by the Waxing Crescent Moon. The Mother represents ripeness, fertility, sexuality, fulfillment, stability and child rearing and is represented by the Full Moon. The Crone, or Elder, represents wisdom, repose, death, and endings and is represented by the Waning Crescent Moon. Helen Berger writes that “according to believers, this echoing of women’s life stages allowed women to identify with deity in a way that had not been possible since the advent of Patriarchal religions.” This Triple Goddess theme is echoed in other mythological systems such as the three Arabian goddesses Al Uzza, Al Lat and Al Menat, the Three Fates, and the three Norns of Norse mythology. A similar trinity of Celtic moon goddesses includes Elaine, Arianrhod and Andraste.
Most cultures have their own names for the Moon; many are deities, and some use different names for the Moon’s phases. Because the monthly cycle of the Moon is seen to have an implicit relationship with women’s cycles, Moon goddesses seem to be the most well known. However, many cultures see the Moon as a god and the Sun as a goddess. In English we simply call her the Moon, with nothing to distinguish her nature or close relationship with Earth. This seems a shame since she is our closet planetary kin.
Artemis was a moon goddess and one of the most widely revered deities of the Ancient Greeks. Many scholars believe her origins preceded the Greeks. The origin of her name is uncertain although scholars suggest it is related to arte, meaning “great, excellent and holy.” She is identified with the great goddess worshipped at Ephesus whose temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Her Roman equivalent was Diana. Artemis was a maiden goddess, and although she protected women in childbirth, she was never a mother. She was one of the twelve Olympians and was often depicted as a huntress, carrying a bow and arrows, with a crescent Moon above her forehead. Deer and cypress trees were sacred to her. The Arcadians of the Greek mainland considered her to be the daughter of the Titan Demeter.
In classical times Artemis was equated with Selene, the Greek goddess of the Moon. Selene was the daughter of the Titans Hyperion and
Theia, sister of the sun god Helion and of Eos, goddess of dawn. Her name means “bright” or “shining.” Selene rose from the ocean each night and drove her moon chariot across the heavens pulled by two winged white steeds.
Both Selene and Artemis were also associated with Hecate, whose Roman equivalent was Trivia; all three were regarded as lunar goddesses. Artemis was the maiden and related to the Waxing Moon. Selene was the mother and the Full Moon, and Hecate was the Crone and her symbol was the Waning Crescent Moon. Hecate was the Crone as she was associated with the underworld and endings. Selene was the Mother, for she had many daughters with the mortal shepherd prince Endymion, who was her great love.
Other goddesses were associated with the moon, but the old Greek poets represented only Selene as the moon incarnate, its personification and physical embodiment. Her Roman equivalent Luna had the same attributes. As Luna, she had temples in Rome on the Aventine and Palatine hills. Selene’s lunar sphere was represented as either a crown set upon her head or as the fold of a raised, shining cloak. She was also a teacher of magicians, linking her to Isis. In the earlier Age of Taurus, the Bull, she was said to drive a team of oxen, rather than horses, and her lunar crescent was likened to the horns of a bull, similar to the crowns of Isis and Hathor in Egypt.
Most of our planetary names were inherited from Greco-Roman mythology, although Earth derives its name from an Anglo-Saxon root that means “ground.” A name has power. In ancient Egypt Isis was the queen of magic and especially a form of magic called hekau. This secret knowledge concealed the nature of sound and vibration and the ability to speak words of power that were understood to be vibratory formulae. One Egyptian story tells how Isis obtained the secret name of Ra the sun god to use in her search for her husband Osiris. A special goddess named Renenet was said to give each child their ren, their name of power, after they were born. A similar system called Gematria exists in Kabbalah and also has a Latin version. Sounds are vibration and names held great import and were carefully chosen in many ancient cultures.
Myths and goddesses from many cultures were available for inspiration, but at the end it seemed right and consistent to choose a goddess from Greco-Roman mythology. Since in our astrology the Moon rules the sign of Cancer, and is related to the mother and the home, it seemed that a mother goddess would be most appropriate. If we call the Moon Luna, that would be in line with the Roman names of the other planets. But the immediate link to the words “lunacy” and “lunatic” seemed too close and unfortunate, although her name is the origin of those words. Therefore I departed from convention and chose to call the Moon Selene. She was the daughter of powerful Titans, and I can recognize her companion goddesses Artemis and Hekate as the Moon waxes and wanes each month. Selene was the fruitful mother honored at the full moon. That the Greeks saw Selene as the embodiment of the Moon is also very compelling.
Selene has a beautiful sound, and although not familiar to most people, it brings a name and a goddess who has been essentially hidden for 2,000 years into our awareness. Selene means bright or shining, and it seems fitting that we recognize her light and call upon her mysterious radiance and periodic darkness to gain courage to face our shadows when we feel them tugging on our inner tides.