Mōna

Name, Pronunciation, & Meaning:

Mōna, pronounced /ˈmoː.nɑ/ (IPA), means moon and indeed is the root of our modern-English word moon.[i] The origins of the word moon and in turn Mōna come from the Proto-Germanic word *mēnô, a word rooted in moon and measurement, and further still from Proto-Indo-European *mḗh₁n̥s, itself likely a derivation of *meh₁- which meant “to measure”. This can inform our understanding of Mōna by letting us more clearly see the importance of the moon for time keeping and the measurement of time. The word “month” is derived from the same root as moon after all.[ii] The moons were the original measurement of the month as the ancient calendars are typically soli-lunar effectively having solar years and lunar months.

Anglo-Saxon Attestations and connections:

Monday comes from the Old-English word mōnandæġ[iii], Mōna’s day or the moon’s day.[iv] Besides the Monday association, there are basically no other strictly Anglo-Saxon sources for this god.


Greek:

Selene was the Greek goddess of the moon. Now you might be wondering why I am not going to Artemis and that is because Artemis is considered a lunar goddess, yes, but not usually or originally the goddess of the moon proper. Instead, Selene is the goddess of the moon proper, the heavenly body of the moon itself. What we have to parse out is that there can be multiple lunar and solar gods and goddesses, but if we are looking for the one that is particularly the moon, that is slightly different. Many gods can share in attributes and indeed these religions morph and change over time, but in my opinion for this case Selene is the best choice because of her close association with the moon proper.

The Homeric Hymn to Selene shows that despite being the moon, she was also anthropomorphic in such a way that she was also understood to be like the other gods in her form, namely by this I mean person-shaped. She was also sapient, not some unthinking natural force but instead a god with as much will and thought as any other. So as seen in the Homeric Hymns, which themselves are from the 7th century BCE at least, this is not merely some personification of a space-rock, not some artistic device, this is a fully fledged goddess worthy of worship and with whom the gods and indeed people have relationships with.[v]

This Homeric Hymn gives us some interesting descriptors like the moon being “long-winged” (τανυσίπτερος). This epithet, Hugh G. Evelyn-White (the translator of the edition I was looking at) notes, seems to mostly apply to birds in reference not necessarily to their wings being actually physically long but instead to their ability to fly a long ways. In this way we could associate this epithet with “far-flying”.[vi]

In imagery, Selene is pictured with an upturned crescent on her forehead.

Roman:

Luna is the Roman goddess of the moon. Now once again you might be wondering – what about Diana? What about Juno? What about Hecate? Well, here’s the rub of it – Luna was not originally a part of a composite goddess.

The tripartite goddess thing is not the original thought of Luna nor was it universally accepted even at the end of the period of Roman paganism as noted by St. Augustine in his City of God. St. Augustine cites Varro as having listed Luna among a list of select gods, in this she is listed along with Diana and Juno separately as separate goddesses all three and not as some tripartite goddess.[vii]

If we go back to the beginning, the cult of Luna was established in Rome by Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines and co-king of Rome with Romulus, which puts her cult present at the very beginning of the monarchy; her cult having been imported from the Sabines by Tatius.[viii] It should be noted that Tatius also established a temple and cult for Diana, separate from that of Luna.[ix] The temple to Luna on the Aventine hill of Rome was built in the reign of Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome, and was destroyed in the fire in the reign of the Emperor Nero but not rebuilt.[x]

On a different note, Varro establishes the importance of Luna on agriculture, being one of the primary goddesses of agriculture.[xi]

In imagery, similar to the Greek tradition of Selene, Luna is often imaged with an upturned crescent on her forehead. While she is also seen as a charioteer, she is not seen with a quadriga (four-horsed chariot) as the sun often is depicted in Rome but instead with a biga (two-horsed chariot). And then not always with horses even, but instead some of her imagery is of two yoked oxen pulling her biga. For Luna, the two animals are seen as important as Isidore of Seville in his Etymologies explains that one of Luna’s horses was dark and the other light because she could ride in day or night.[xii]

Phrygian:

Men is the god of the moon of the Phrygians. Men’s name is related to the term for month in that language as well. The Phrygians were an Indo-European people located in Anatolia (approximately modern day Turkey). They were historically often intertwined with the Greeks, their shared moments of history stretch back to the Trojan war even as the Phrygians were allies of the Trojans.

 I included Men in this study because this is an example of a male Indo-European moon god. This is to contrast with most well known Indo-European traditions where the moon is feminine so I include it where I don’t normally discuss the Phrygians all that often or really at all since they rarely come up in my studies. However, I feel that the idea of a male moon god is important to look at here because it was generally not the norm in Indo-European studies but it did occur. Further, it even spread; the Romans develop a male moon god that is probably influenced by the Phrygian belief.

During the Roman Empire and presumably influenced by the Phrygian god Men, Caracalla was noted to worship Lunus rather than Luna, Lunus being a linguistically masculine rather than a feminine moon.[xiii] This was apparently not too odd or uncommon as it was noted to play into Roman household power dynamics as well as to if the man of the house worshipped Luna or Lunus.[xiv] This association of Men to Luna was also extended to Selene in which this god was conflated with her by Strabo.[xv]

Men had a temple at Antioch of Pisidia so he was worshipped in a temple by the Phrygians. Caracalla was assassinated on his way to worship Lunus but he was going to do so not at a temple to either specifically Lunus or even Men but at the temple to the Mesopotamian moon god Sin in Carrhae.[xvi]

Men’s symbols were the pinecone and the ox and he is depicted usually not by a crescent crown but instead by an upturned crescent behind his back seeming to protrude over his shoulders.

Norse:

The closest correlating figure to Mōna is Mani, the Norse moon god. Mani is seen as the brother to Sunna. Mani shows up in both the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda.

In the Prose Edda Mani and Sunna are said to be the children of Mundilfæri, a figure about which we know next to nothing. But he named them Sun and Moon and it apparently angered the gods who put them to task moving the sun and moon. Mani also apparently abducted a couple of human children that follow him and can be seen from earth, which I have seen people theorize that these children may be a reference to some pattern of the craters on the moon. The Prose Edda also describes the end of Mani at the beginning of Ragnarok as he is swallowed up by a wolf that pursues him called Hati.

In the Poetic Edda, Mani appears in the Völuspá, Vafþrúðnismál, Grímnismál, and the Alvíssmál. Not much more is revealed in these references that I did not already mention for the Prose Edda. In a sense, the details are somewhat slim. However, there are many bynames and epithets given.

The Prose Edda gives us these epithets: Moon (máni), Waxer (ný), Waner (nið), Year-Teller (ártali), Mock-Sun (mulinn), Fengari (fengari), Glamour (glámr), Haster (skyndir), Crescent (skjálgr), Glare (skrámr).[xvii]

The Alvíssmál gives us a few others: Moon (Máni), Mock-Sun here translated as “Flame” (mylinn), the Wheel (helju), the Goer (skyndi), the Gleamer (skin), Year-Teller here translated as “Teller of Time” (ártala).[xviii]

Folklore connection:

In English and other Germanic languages there is a concept of the “man in the moon”. There are no real understandings of where this really came from or if it is a reference to the pattern of craters on the moon. However, it doesn’t matter much either way because the real usefulness in this concept is just the understanding that in Germanic cultures a masculine image of the moon, with this man in the moon, continues to be expressed even to this day.


Reconstruction:

Mōna is most assuredly an Anglo-Saxon god, but a god about whom little has been written or at least little has survived. That doesn’t mean we just give up on him though. Instead, we can look at other iterations of Indo-European moon gods and goddesses to see what we can learn about how other cultures viewed their moon gods, how they worshipped them, and other tidbits.

From proto-indo-european religious studies we can gather that generally speaking the moon and sun are seen as brother and sister (regardless of their individual genders), they are generally seen as children of Dyeus-phter (the reconstructed PIE term for the sky-father god), and they are generally seen as charioteers. Beyond this, it becomes a much more varied affair.

It is often pointed out that unlike many other prominently remembered Indo-European peoples the Germanic peoples had a masculine moon and a feminine sun. There is no great overarching understanding or explanation as to why these peoples differed on this from the other surrounding cultures. We have to understand that cross-cultural religious questioning like what we engage in fairly often modernly was not a normal or frequent activity in the ancient world. So for the Germanic peoples it was for them perfectly normal to have a moon god; the few who did come in contact with other religious groups wouldn’t have had reason to question any of it too deeply. What’s more, the prevalence of female moon deities really begins to break down under scrutiny when you find that there are several examples of male moon gods within Indo-European religious groups. In a sense, it isn’t so cut and dried and the Germanic peoples are less an outlier than they appear on surface level.

But for me, I’ll postulate some things based on these other gods.

The first thing that resonates with me is that I like the sun-quadriga and moon-biga differentiation that is found in the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. I also fairly like the idea of the moon being pulled by oxen rather than horses. One reason I like these is that the sun in its journey across the sky is slightly faster than the moon. While this is not readily apparent in every-day modern life, in 2017 it became highly apparent to me as the sun overtook the moon and the moon eclipsed it before the sun coming out the other side. If the sun can catch up to the moon, pass behind it, and continue on the other side leaving it behind, then the sun moves faster. The ancients would have been far more in-tune with this, not needing to see an eclipse to see the sun moved faster as I did. Another reason, besides its relative slowness, that I favor the ox-cart idea is the horned nature of the moon.

As far as iconography, the bull seems to be a common one for lunar gods. Perhaps it is the crescent as horns imagery, perhaps something else, but there exists across several of these cultures some kind of link between oxen and the moon. The crescent moon resembles horns and has been cross-culturally associated with cows, bulls, and oxen. Be it that he is pictured near it or that he is pulled by them or that he wears horns in some kind of imagery, the bull image is fairly present.

The link to agriculture should not be overlooked and I would consider this to be one of the important aspects of any lunar god that indeed went hand in hand with their role as a keeper of time and the months. We time our planting most often by the moon’s rhythms after all and our months carry the meaning tracking back to the moon.

I’ll personally opt in my practice to align Mōna for me back once more to being the child of Dyeus, whose closest cognate in Anglo-Saxon belief would be Tiw. I worship Mōna as the son of Tiw and Eorthe and the brother of Sunne and Eostre.

Iconography:

  • The moon (in all its many varied phases)
  • Time and time keeping
  • Chariots
  • Oxen or bulls
  • Horns or crescent
  • Night and stars

Potential Bynames:

Waxer, Waner, Year-teller, Gleamer, Far-Flying, Brother to the Sun, Bull-driver

Prayer:

Mōna, Moon god,
Brother to the Sun
Waxer and Waner,
Far-flying rider in the sky,
Year-teller, months follow your measure
I look on the moon and think of you
I mark the passage of time by your pace
Your great and glowing radiance is a wonder to behold
Hail to thee, Mōna!


[i] Wiktionary “Mona”: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mona#Old_English

[ii] Wiktionary “mḗh₁n̥s”: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/m%E1%B8%97h%E2%82%81n%CC%A5s

[iii] Bosworth-Toller “Mónan-dæg”: https://bosworthtoller.com/23106

[iv] Wiktionary “Monday”: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Monday#English

[v] The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (To Selene), translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (1914), https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D32

[vi] The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (To Selene), translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (1914), https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D32

[vii] St. Augustine, The City of God, translated by Marcus Dods (1913), p258-259, https://archive.org/details/cityofgodtransla01auguuoft/page/258/mode/2up

[viii] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities, translated by  Earnest Cary  (1950), Book 2:50, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dionysius_of_Halicarnassus/2B*.html and Varro, On the Latin language, translated by Roland Grubb Kent (1938), book V, p.70, https://archive.org/details/onlatinlanguage01varruoft/page/70/mode/2up?view=theater

[ix] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities, translated by  Earnest Cary  (1950), Book 2:50, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dionysius_of_Halicarnassus/2B*.html  

[x]Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals, translated by Alfred John Church (1942),  Book XV:41 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078%3Abook%3D15%3Achapter%3D41

[xi] Varro, De Re Rustica, translated by W. D. Hooper and H. B. Ash (1934), section 1,

https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Varro/de_Re_Rustica/1*.html

[xii] Isiodore of Seville, The Etymologies of Isiodore of Seville,  translated by Barney, Lewis, Beach, & Berghof (2006), p.368, https://books.google.com/books?id=3ep502syZv8C&pg=PA368&dq=biga+chariot+isidore+OR+isidorus&hl=en&ei=ptkoTILdBZH7nAfw8tGoAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

[xiii] Historia Augusta (Antoninus Caracalla), translated by David Magie, sections 6 and 7, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Caracalla*.html Book

[xiv] Historia Augusta (Antoninus Caracalla), translated by David Magie, section 7, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Caracalla*.html

[xv] Strabo, Geography, translated by H. L. Jones (1932), Book XII: 3.31, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/12C*.html#ref89

[xvi] Historia Augusta (Antoninus Caracalla), translated by David Magie, sections 6 and 7, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Caracalla*.html

[xvii] Snorri Sturlson, The Prose Edda (Skaldskaparmal), translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (1916), https://www.voluspa.org/skaldskaparmal61-70.htm

[xviii] The Poetic Edda (Alvissmal), translated by Henry Adams Bellows (1936), http://www.voluspa.org/alvissmal11-15.htm

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