Astronomy Myths and Legends- The Tale Of the Lucky Red Moon
Because of my training in mythology and history, I like this blog to not only be a window into the night sky, but also a glimpse into the past. Before science, people used myths and legends to explain how the world works, and they have always had ideas about what is going on in the heavens. I am proud to begin this new page to explain some of the myths that connect us with the stars and with the past.
The Tale of the Lucky Red Moon
Since the subject of this week’s blog is the Moon, I thought I’d take some time to mention an interesting story I heard about moon mythology. I was getting ready to set up for a tour when a young Indian couple came in to look at the observatory. They asked me an interesting question of whether there is any correlation between the seasons and red moons, because according to Indian mythology, a red moon is luckier than a regular full moon. I did a little research and I found this story about the Hindu god Ganesh, and how he chose to both bless and curse the full moon during the month of Bhadtrapada, which runs from August 22nd to September 22nd.
One day the elephant headed god Ganesh paid a visit to the beautiful god of the moon, travelling as he always did upon a white mouse. The Moon laughed at the god’s odd appearance which drew fury from Ganesh. He put a curse upon the Moon that would cause anyone who looked at it during the fourth day of the fourth fortnight of Bhadrapad would suffer dire bad luck, including false accusations from one’s neighbor. Ganesh also cursed the Moon itself, causing it to vanish from the sky. The Moon pleaded with Ganesh, who accepted the Moon’s apology. He therefore modified the curse and made the Moon to vanish only once a month. He also decreed that on the second fortnight of Bhadrapad, all obstacles would be removed from those who prayed to Ganesh. This forms the basis of the Indian festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10 day festival centered around the waxing and waning of the Moon. It is a time of cleanliness and prayer, where mortals pray to Ganesh to remove the obstacles in their lives. It is also a time of celebration with song, dance, and other live performances. To learn more about this sacred festival, click here.
The reason the moon appears red during late August and early fall, is that the nights are longer. As the Moon rises earlier and earlier in the fall sky, more atmospheric interference passes in front of the moon, spreading the light from the Sun like a prism. The Moon then appears red because red wavelengths of light are more visible during early twilight .
Hinduism is not the only religion that venerates the red moon of fall- the Algonquin Native Americans also revered it because it occured right at the time of year when corn and other important crops would become ripe, which is why this full moon is sometimes called the Harvest Moon. The festival of the Harvest moon is still practiced in some American towns, and is a celebration of Native American culture. For more info, click here: http://harvestmoonamericanindianfestival.wordpress.com/about/
As I always say, myth and legend always step in to pick up the slack when science fails to explain something. So you can see how since ancient times, cultures all over the world have been fascinated by the Moon, and charted its path through the year to determine important events here on Earth.