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Earth’s capture of the moon c.2000bc
By Gary Gilligan

The Moon in Ancient Cultures

We are taught by scholars that the Moon has resided in the heavens since time immemorial. The Moon is the only clearly visible object in the sky that changes noticeably over a relatively short period of time. This is more likely to attract more curiosity and attention than the Sun and the stars. The Sun and the stars would have appeared to be a natural phenomenon next to the moon with its awe-inspiring phases. It is thus, more likely to be worshipped and studied by all cultures. This beautiful orb with its waxing and waning has inspired mankind’s imagination throughout the ages. Even in today’s modern society a full moon is an awesome sight and is considered by many to have special significance. Some of our present day religions can even be traced back to the worship of the Moon.

But what of the Moon in the prehistory... before the dawn of civilization? To what level of importance can we attribute the moon in ancient cultures? How did the ancient cultures of the Neolithic period perceive the Moon? Let us first try to gain insight into their thoughts and beliefs. Then take a look at the artwork, which could be considered as representing the moon, or as lunar in character.

Survival was paramount. This involved hunting and gathering food. Prehistoric people were hunter-gatherers first, evolving into farmers second. What sort of influence can we attribute to the Moon in the daily lives of these prehistoric cultures? Well let’s look at the very thing than enabled them to survive... food. The necessity to put food on the table. Prehistoric cultures were limited farmers and no matter how efficient they were the need to hunt would not have abated. Becoming farmers did not exclude the need to hunt. The moon would have played a major part in the hunting of food. The moon’s phases would have assisted in the intense struggle for survival. Hunting at night would have been more rewarding than a daytime hunt. Nocturnal hunting… the ability to utilize the moons phases for the stalking and killing of prey. To which great god can we attribute this blessing? Even the most primitive of minds would have deduced it was the light bequeathed from the moon, which enabled such events to take place. As a result, this ‘night time Sun’ would have been revered as the ‘god of gods par excellence’.

The moons phases would be monitored religiously, knowing the difference between what we call a full moon and a new moon. After all you only need to be able to count up to thirty to devise a basic lunar calendar. The new Moon, being invisible, would have shed no light and would have provided no help for a hunting party. As the phases of the Moon advanced, more and more light would have been visible for the hunt. A successful nocturnal hunt under the beneficial light of the full Moon would have led to a celebrational feast, with thanks being offered to the Moon god.

Some nomadic Neolithic cultures made the transition from following animals to the setting up of small settlements, breeding herds and cultivating crops. A basic calendar would have been essential to an understanding of when to sow the seed in order to reap the best harvest. Modern day farmers carry their calendars around on their wrist - the ancients had no such luxury. A solar calendar would certainly be sufficient to predict the seasons, but what of the Moon? If the Moon were present, would our ancient farmers have monitored the Moon or the sun? The answer has to be that they would have monitored both. The monitoring of the Moon would have been a prerequisite for determining and confirming the solar year. Combined solar-lunar calendars would have been used religiously, exactly as we do today. Some Neolithic sites, such as Newgrange in Ireland, show signs of solar alignments but none can be attributed to the Moon.

Having no concept of space and the universe as we understand it, the sun, due to its smaller size as viewed from Earth would have appeared subordinate to the Moon. This apparent dominance over the sun would have been confirmed by one of the natural world’s most eerie, beautiful spectacles... the eclipse of the Sun. During an eclipse, day turns to night; the air chills; birds stop singing and start to roost. Be it partial or total... can you imagine what the ancients thought of this natural phenomenon? The almighty Moon god having the power over the perennial sun god. The power to bring about nightfall in an instant.... the divine power over the light..........

What of the Moon and the apparent belief of its connection with the menstrual cycle? It would have been quite understandable for the ancient people to have associated fertility with the Moon. The Moon’s cycle of 29.25 days is very close to the 28 day menstrual cycle. Whilst I believe it is the Sun that determines the 28-day cycle (Cotterell’s; Tutankhamun Prophecies pg. 247), it would have been quite understandable if the ancients, without the benefit of 5,000 years of science, attributed fertility to the Moon and its monthly cycles. This would have been another overwhelming reason for the ancients to worship this great ‘god’ with reverence.

All of the Civilizations which follow these prehistoric cultures revered the Sun and Moon as gods. Their imposing temples and monuments evidence this fact. Are we to believe these early cultures deified the Sun and totally ignored the Moon? Its greatness in size in comparison with the Sun would surely have commanded the title ‘king of the four quarters’. Were they asleep from dusk till dawn to be oblivious to this enigmatic god and its awe-inspiring phases? As with all ancient beliefs the gods had to be placated, and this great god of the night would have indeed demanded special attention. So, if the Moon were present in the heavens above would it have played a part in the daily lives of the ancients? Well, how can I get this next statement to jump off the page and grab you?

Their whole lives would have revolved around it!

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