Moon Gods and Moon Goddesses

Index of Moon Gods and Goddesses

Moon Gods and Moon Goddesses
Apollo and Artemis. Clipart.com

Most if not all cultures have deities associated with the Earth's moon—which should not be too surprising, since the position of the Moon in the skies is a harbinger of seasonal changes. Westerners are perhaps more familiar with (female) moon goddesses. Our word lunar, as in the lunar cycle of full, crescent, and new moons, all comes from the feminine Latin Luna. This seems natural because of the association of the lunar month and the female menstrual cycle, but not all societies envision the moon as a woman. In the Bronze Age, the East, from Anatolia to Sumer and Egypt, had (male) moon gods. Here are some of the moon gods and moon goddesses of major ancient religions.

Artemis

Poseidon, Apollo, and Artemis
Poseidon, Apollo, and Artemis. Clipart.com
  • Culture: Classical Greek
  • Gender: Female

In Greek mythology, the sun god was originally Helios (whence words like heliocentric for our sun-centered solar system) and the moon goddess Selene, but over time, this changed. Artemis came to be associated with Selene, just like Apollo with Helios. Apollo became a sun god and Artemis became the goddess of the moon.

Bendis

  • Culture: Thracian and Classical Greek
  • Gender: Female

The Thracian moon goddess Bendis is the best known Thracian deity, because she was worshiped in Classical Athens, by people who associated Bendis with Artemis. Her cult in Greece was most popular during the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, when she was portrayed in statues in Greek sanctuaries and on ceramic vessels in a group with other deities. She is often pictured holding two spears or other weapons, ready for the hunt.

Coyolxauhqui

Moon Gods and Moon Goddesses
Colossal Head of Aztec Moon Goddess Coyolxauhqui, discovered at Tenochtitlan. De Agostino / Archivo J. Lange / Getty Images
  • Culture: Aztec
  • Gender: Female

The Aztec goddess of the moon Coyolxauhqui ("Golden Bells") was portrayed as in mortal combat with her brother, the sun god Huitzilopochtli, an ancient battle that was enacted in ritual sacrifice at several times in the Aztec festival calendar. She always lost. At the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan (what is today Mexico City) was discovered a massive monument representing Coyolxauhqui's dismembered body. 

Diana

The Goddess Diana
Statue of Diana, Gallery of Statues, Ducal palace, Lucca, Tuscany. Image by A. Pistolesi/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images
  • Culture: Roman
  • Gender: Female

Diana was the Roman woodland goddess who was associated with the moon and identified with Artemis. Diana is typically portrayed as a young and beautiful woman, armed with a bow and quiver, and accompanied by a stag or other beast. 

Heng-o (or Ch'ang-o)

  • Culture: Chinese
  • Gender: Female

Heng-o or Ch'ang-o is the great lunar deity, also called the "Moon Fairy" (Yueh-o), in various Chinese mythologies. In T'ang Chinese, the moon is a visual token of Yin, a cold white phosphorescent body associated with snow, ice, white silk, silver, and white jade. She lives in a white palace, the "Palace of Widespread Cold," or the "Moon Basilica of Widespread Cold." An associated male divinity is the Thearch of the "White-soul" of the moon.

Ix Chel

Moon Gods and Moon Goddesses
Sacul Vase Portraying Ix Chel As Young Moon Goddess. Simon Burchell
  • Culture: Maya
  • Gender: Female

Ix Chel (Lady Rainbow) is the name of the Mayan moon goddess, who appears in two guises, a young, sensual woman associated with fertility and sensuality, and a powerful aged woman associated with those things and with death and world destruction. 

Yah, Khons/Khonsu, and Thoth

Thoth_1500
Thoth the scribe is associated with the moon's mysteries.

Cheryl Forbes/Lonely Planet/Getty Images

  • Culture: Dynastic Egyptian
  • Gender: Male and Female

Egyptian mythology had a variety of male and female deities associated with aspects of the moon. The personification of the moon was a male—Iah (also spelled Yah)—but the major moon deities were Khonsu (the new moon) and Thoth (the full moon), also both male. The "man in the moon" was a great white baboon and the moon was considered the left eye of Horus. The waxing moon was represented in temple art as a fierce young bull and the waning one by a castrated one. The goddess Isis was sometimes considered a moon goddess.

Mawu (Maou)

  • Culture: African, Dahomey
  • Gender: Female

Mawu is the Great Mother or Moon goddess of the Dahomey tribe in Africa. She rode in the mouth of a great snake to make the world, mountains, rivers, and valleys, she made a great fire in the sky to light it, and created all the animals before retreating to her lofty realm in heaven. 

Mên

  • Culture: Phrygian, Western Asia Minor
  • Gender: Male

Mên is a Phrygian lunar god also connected with fertility, healing, and punishment. Hea healed the sick, punished wrongdoers and guarded the sanctity of tombs. Mên is usually depicted with the points of crescent moons on his shoulders. He wears a Phrygian cap, carries a pine cone or patera in his outstretched right hand, and rests his left upon a sword or lance.

A precursor of Mên was Arma, which some scholars have attempted to connect to Hermes, but without much success.

Selene or Luna

Moon Gods and Moon Goddesses
The Moon-goddess Selene. Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.
  • Culture: Greek
  • Gender: Female

Selene (Luna, Selenaia or Mene) was the Greek goddess of the moon, driving a chariot through the heavens drawn by two snow-white horses or occasionally oxen. She is romantically connected in various stories with Endymion, Zeus, and Pan. Depending on the source, her father may have been Hyperion or Pallas, or even Helios, the sun. Selene is often equated with Artemis; and her brother or father Helios with Apollo. 

In some accounts, Selene/Luna is a moon Titan (since she's female, that could be Titaness), and the daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Thea. Selene/Luna is the sister of the sun god Helios/Sol.

Sin (Su-En), Nanna

  • Culture: Mesopotamian
  • Gender: Male

The Sumerian moon god was Su-en (or Sin or Nanna), who was the son of Enlil (the Lord of the Air) and Ninlil (the Goddess of Grain). Sin was the husband of the reed goddess, Ningal, and the father of Shamash (the sun god), Ishtar (goddess of Venus), and Iskur (god of rain and thunderstorms). It is possible that Nanna, the Sumerian name for the moon god, may have originally meant only the full moon, while Su-en refers to the crescent moon. Sin is portrayed as an old man with a flowing beard and wearing a headdress of four horns surmounted by a crescent moon.  

Tsuki-Yomi

  • Culture: Japanese
  • Gender: Male

Tsukiyomi or Tsukiyomi-no-Mikoto was the Japanese Shinto moon god, born from the right eye of the creator god Izanagi. He was the brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu and athe stom god Susanowo. In some tales, Tsukiyomi killed the food goddess Ukemochi for serving food from her various orifices, which offended his sister Amaterasu, which is why the sun and moon are separate from one another. 

Sources and Further Reading

  • Andrews, P. B. S. "The Myth of Europa and Minos." Greece & Rome 16.1 (1969): 60-–66. Print.
  • Berdan, Frances F. "Aztec Archaeology and Ethnohistory." New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print.
  • Boskovic, Aleksandar. "The Meaning of Maya Myths." Anthropos 84.1/3 (1989): 203-12. Print.
  • Hale, Vincent, ed. "Mesopotamian Gods & Goddesses." New York: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2014. Print.
  • Hiesinger, Ulrich W. "Three Images of the God Mên." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 71 (1967): 303–10. Print.
  • Janouchová, Petra. "The Cult of Bendis in Athens and Thrace." Graeco-Latina Brunensia 18 (2013): 95–106. Print.
  • Leeming, David. "The Oxford Companion to World Mythology." Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
  • Robertson, Noel. "Hittite Ritual at Sardis." Classical Antiquity 1.1 (1982): 122–40. Print.
  • Schafer, Edward H. "Ways of Looking at the Moon Palace." Asia Major 1.1 (1988): 1–13. Print.