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The moon and crescent pendants

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(Original article 14/10/2016)

The moon has been a loyal companion or a sibling for the earth since the beginning of time. People living ages ago took a notice of the heavenly body, especially of the moon and sun. For an ancient man, these have even seemed as divine creatures. Already hunter-gatherer cultures perceived the dualism of the moon, moon waxing and waning.

Agricultural societies, built massive constructions to observe the sun and moon, like stone henges and passage tombs. With the help of the sun and moon, it was possible to calculate time. In Iron Age and ancient Rome crescent pendants were very popular especially among women. Even today many people experience strongly moon phases.

About moon beliefs in Finland and Scandinavia

All peoples have had beliefs and stories about the sun and the moon. Often in these stories, the sun and moon are siblings or married to each other. Usually, the deity related to the moon is female, like Roman Luna, and the sun is a male. In the Scandinavian mythology, it was the other way around.

In the Finnish ancient religion, the moon and sun deities were female: Päivätär (Maiden of the day) and Kuutar (Maiden of the moon). They owned silver and gold of the sun and moon. Out of these they spun threads and wove clothes.

In the Scandinavian mythology, the sun goddess Sól and the moon god Máni were siblings. Originally, they were human children who were named as Moon and Sun. Gods got angry of this kind of arrogance and as an act of revenge, they sent the children to heaven to take care of the sun and the moon. Both of them travelled across heaven in a carriage drawn by horses, one on daytime, the other at night. Two wolves were chasing them along the firmament. The end of the world comes when the wolves catch them.

Wolves chasing Sol and Mani

Wolves chasing Sól and Máni.John Charles Dollman. Picture Wikimedia Commons

In Finland, like elsewhere too, people believed that the phases of the moon have a strong impact on life. Moon waxing was in general a positive thing. The growing moon increased humidity and warmth, so it was a good time to carry out all kinds of activities related to growing, like sowing and conceiving.

Moon waning, on the other hand, was related to aridity and cold. This was a good time to do things like disposal of bugs and clearing a copse. It was particularly bad if an accident happened during this period because healings were more difficult than during the moon waxing.

Knowth moon depiction

The oldest known possible moon map has been carved to the orthostat stone in the neolithic passage tomb of Knowth. The carvings are 4800 years old. According to Dr Philip Stooke, the pictures represent a naked-eye map of the moon in different positions.

Another stone, the kerbstone K52 has a depiction of the moon in its different phases or positions. The circles of the upper part and half-circles of the middle part can represent the moon in its different phases during a lunar month or the positions of the moon maria (the dark patches of the moon that can be seen from the Earth) during a day. The 29 arcs of the wavy line have been interpreted as the 29 days of the lunar month according to the calendar theory. The spiral image in the middle can symbolise the sun or the motion of the moon through the heavens.

Crescent pendants

Moon pendants have been in use at least since the Bronze Age. Particularly popular the crescent-shaped pendant, lunula or lunitsa was among the Rus’. The Rus’ were Scandinavians, Vikings that settled in the Russia area.

Before this, crescent pendants were used in Rome and Byzantium. The crescent symbol was often related to women and female deities. It occurred in the statues of the goddesses, as pendants of necklaces and also as decorations in harnesses.

Roman crescent pendant

Roman necklace with a crescent-shaped pendant. Picture Wikimedia Commons

Usually, researchers have interpret the crescent pendants as pagan protective or good luck amulets. These could have had a different kind of meaning because the actual magical objects and amulets were often hidden from the evil eye under the clothing or in pouches.

On the contrary, the crescent pendants are in prominent places, so they might have had a ceremonial purpose. Later their meaning might have changed with the adoption of Christianity. In the 11th century, there are crescent pendants incorporating the cross. The cross can symbolise the sun or to be a Christian emblem.

Crescent pendants

Self-made crescent pendants and a bracelet, 21st century CE.

Natalia Khamayko: Crescent pendants (lunnitsa) in 11th – 13th century Rus´: Pagan amulet or Christian ornament?

Risto Pulkkinen: Suomalainen kansanusko. Samaaneista saunatonttuihin.

N.L. Thomas: Irish symbols of 3500