the eternal Moon Goddess fallacy

Some more follow-up prattle from my archives. Once again, my apologies for the rambling nature and the lack of capitalization. It’s just a-musing. Since this was written, my own unverified personal gnosis has placed Boann/Bebhionn in the lunar position, with Aine/Grian as the solar. In effect, I worship both a female sun and a female moon. Interestingly, in Ceiswr Serith’s reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European mythology, the lunar deity is the male Menos and the solar is a figure whose name translates to Sun Daughter, although he cautions that she may or may not be the actual Sun.

Does the gender of the luminaries truly matter? Probably not in the cosmic sense, although it appears to be largely a reflection of power dynamics among the human genders.

lately, i’ve been pondering the eternal Moon Goddess fallacy, specifically as it relates to the Celtic pantheon. namely, that the moon is always female (to quote Marge Piercy’s wonderful book of poetry) and the sun is always male.

the assumption you see in many Celtic groups is that Lugh Samildanach is the sun god. with his thousands of handy skills, he certainly has an Apollonian character — a character that has traditionally been compared to day and reason, as opposed to Dionysian emotion, wildness and darkness.

there’s only one problem with this: Apollo was never a sun god. that’s right; Helios actually had that role, and his sister Selene was the moon. Apollo was — and is — certainly a god of culture, healing and prophecy, but he didn’t make a habit of mounting a chariot and wheeling himself across the sky each day. how then would he chase the nymphs he’s so fond of? the Sun’s a busy guy.

Ogma — who is often termed Sunface — might be a better candidate for Sun god, but he also has the Apollonian problem. he’s more akin to the Greek demigod Heracles, albeit a far more eloquent Heracles with a penchant for pretty words and divination systems.

the unspoken problem is, of course, that the Sun needn’t always be male and the Moon needn’t always be female. among the Celts’ Northern neighbors, the Sun was female and the Moon male. in fact, we get our current words for the celestial bodies from Sunna and Mani, respectively. There is Saule of the Balts, married to the moon god. Amaterasu of Japan. the Hittite Sun Goddess of Arinna. Canaanite Shapash. various indigenous cultures.

and Celtic mythology offers some tantalizing hints. if Apollonian Lugh can be considered a candidate for Sun God, why not Brighid, who is similarly Apollonian and associated with fire? Brighid, as i have speculated previously (riffing off Jean Markale), might have been the same goddess as Sul in Bath — certainly a solar-type name, and similarly associated with healing, fire and springs. And then there’s Brighid’s well-tended and notorious Eternal Flame.

images of fire in water: the sun reflecting on the rippling surface of the well, setting it alight, warming it, infusing it with the gold of healing.

there are tales, post-Pagan, of Brighid hanging her cloak on a sunbeam to dry. she is known for her bright mantle, the flames shooting from the crown of her head upon birth. in some tales, she is the maiden kept prisoner by the winter hag, the Cailleach, in a mountain of glass. all of this is pointed out by Patricia Monaghan in O Mother Sun!

Brighid has just as much claim — if not more — than Lugh to the golden mantle of the Sun.

but even she might not be the true holder of that mantle. who is, then? Grainne or Grian, rendered a heroine; her very name means Sun. or perhaps the similarly named Aine, who is more commonly associated with cattle and summertime. they could have been two portions of one goddess, some surmise: Aine as the strong sun of summer, and Grian as the wan winter light.

the identity of an Irish Moon deity, however, is less clear. (And I am talking Irish here as opposed to Welsh, in which Arianrhod and Cerridwen would have a claim to lunar Goddesshood, and perhaps Olwen to the solar.)

perhaps the Moon God is cognate with Diarmuid, if Grainne is the sun-rendered-mortal. at any rate, it seems more likely to me that the Celts would follow a pattern similar to the Norse, their neighbors, as opposed to the peoples of the Mediterranean. Jean Markale claims there’s an older, masculine word in Gaelic for moon — although the current word, gaelach, is female — although a quick Web search didn’t unearth it, and Markale can get a little loony (ha ha, get it?) with his claims.

why, then, does no one explore this? in graduate school, i wrote a paper on Willa Cather’s “The Song of the Lark” and the Sun Goddess/Moon God imagery therein — appropriate enough, since Thea Kronberg’s name means “Goddess” and she was of Scandinavian descent. what i discovered in my research was an old bias, older even than the Victorians with their lacy piano legs.

misogynist cultures fear the concept of a female sun — cannot admit it within the realm of mind or possibility. and so, you see them trying to dismiss the Norse system or the Japanese as one born of mere misunderstanding or sheer barbarism. or sometimes they gloss over it: no, Baldur was the true Norse sun god. see the Apollonian attributes?

and so it goes.

unfortunately, Wicca — save for Dianic Wicce — has uncritically espoused the gender division of the sun and moon, as have most non-Wiccan Celtic Pagans. and since Wicca has a universalizing tendency, there seems to be this contention — to paraphrase Marge Piercy — that the Moon is always female and the Sun is always male, that these are the inherent divisions of the Lady and the Lord, cross-culturally. they repeat the old Mediterranean bias, and bias it is.

oddly enough, it could be that the Celts were a bit like the Hindus or Greeks in that their Sun and Moon deities weren’t as important as their culture deities. Hence, Apollo eclipses Helios (no pun there!) and Artemis, Selene. And Surya and Chandra/Soma are part of the Hindu pantheon, but not truly worshiped in the way one does Devi, Vishnu or Shiva. Grian/Aine and her male counterpart (assuming, of course, that the Moon would have been male, as Jean Markale would have it) weren’t all that important in the scheme of things.

and so. in my song “Brighid of the Healers,” i draw my own conclusion and address Brighid as the Sun. she certainly has solar attributes, although whether she is indeed the Sun is open to debate.

enough of my prattle….


About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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4 Responses to the eternal Moon Goddess fallacy

  1. Briar says:

    I’ve been considering how it would work to address celestial “bodies of interest” – Sun, Moon, planets, etc – as genderless Nature Spirits, effectively. In the case of the Sun, for instance, as the local Source of Life Energy. But, ultimately, without projecting cultural gender biases onto it. I wonder how it would work. Would it bring us closer to the real “nature” of things? Or would it make it harder to treat these entities as “real” because without gender it is harder to identify with them as living beings?

    BTW, re Cei’s discussion of “Sun Daughter”… In Russian folklore, there is both a “Sun Daugher” and a “Sun Sister” cropping up here and there. But, there is also at least two Solar Deities, both male, Khors (the Sun itself, probably an Iranian borrowing), and Dazhdbog (Give-me God). It just goes to show that the Ancients did not necessarily try to categorize these things in a “system”. It was more like a flowing river, with things popping up here and there and everywhere, in different forms.

    I wonder if in specifically Celtic case it is not sometimes counterproductive to categorize too much anyway… The Celts were so concerned with liminal imagery, that often the most powerful entities defy categorization anyway, imho.

  2. tressabelle says:

    Excellent article- I have often thought about this subject as the issue of sun and moon deities in Irish lore is unclear. Maybe it is like you said- the sun and moon deities were there but less important than the cultural deities. Perhaps sun and moon deities were replaced by cultural deities who encompassed the powers of the sun and moon but were not limited to the notion of “being” the sun or moon.

    • Thank you for your comment. The Carmina Gadelica has pieces that refer to both bodies as female, as well as the sun as male (the latter borrowing from Christ imagery). The other day, I was called to look into the figure of Midir as possibly lunar in nature. I guess I’ll see where that thread goes!

  3. Pingback: Musings on the moon and sun | White Cat Grove

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