On ‘Moon’ And Moon God – A Brief Comparative Of Several Major Indo-European Religions

It is MONDAY – quite literally “Moon[‘s] Day”; and therefore, a brief look at the names for the Indo-European Moon God in various descendant languages and faith-groupings.

Now, note that I said “Moon God” – I have not included any Moon Goddesses, as these are largely restricted to the Greek & Roman mythologies, perhaps as the result of Mess-O-Potamia style cross-cultural influence upon them from non-Indo-Europeans.

And I have also not included Lunar Aspects and associations of other Gods or Goddesses (e.g. Chandraghanta, Shiva Chandrasekhar), in part for reasons of space.

Broadly speaking, for everybody but the Anatolians (and somewhat, we Hindus), the pattern is quite clear: a male Moon God, bearing a name reasonably directly derived from Proto-Indo-European ‘Mehns’. [Which may have its own earlier underpinning in ‘Meh’ – a term for ‘measurement’ (gosh, guess where *that* one ultimately comes from), for example of ‘Time’ – which is, after all, one of the prime uses for the Moon, in supporting calendars with which we divided the year into ‘Months’ [also a related term, and a direct co-occurring meaning for many Indo-European languages’ words for “Moon” – including English … “many Moons ago”, for example]; and which may set up a potential mytholinguistic co-occurrence of Lunar and Royal symbolism due to the manner in which some Indo-European terms for rulership-related concepts (e.g. Ancient Greek ‘Metis’/’Mesis’) are similarly derived, even before resonancy cross-over with PIE ‘Med’ descended terms is considered.]

Although it should also be noted that in many of these mythoreligious complexes, the “Moon” term is not the only theonym in-use for the Deity in question; and in some, it has become partially or significantly displaced by other often ‘functional’ theonyms denoting some particular quality or association thereof.

Hinduism provides a shining example for this – as while ‘Mas’ and ‘Masa’ [मास् & मास] are also in-use to refer to the Moon, the far more frequently encountered term for the deity is ‘Chandra’ (‘Shining’/’Bright’/’Glittering’/’Lustrous [like Gold]’) [which derives from PIE: ‘(S)Kand’ (‘Glow’/’Shine’), via Proto-Indo-Iranian: ‘(S)Candras’ (which almost directly survives on in parallel as the Sanskrit adjectival qualifier particle ‘Scandra’ – ‘luminous’/’radiant/’shining’); and interestingly enough renders the modern English ‘Candle’ something of a cognate for ‘Chandra’; along with various other Western I.E. languages’ terms for “Moon” [Breton: ‘Cann’], “White” [Welsh: ‘Cann’], etc.]. Both terms are encountered together in ‘Chandramas’; and Chandra (or its derivative terms) is also occasionally used to refer to Monday.

The *other* major Sanskrit theonym for the Moon – Soma – has an entirely different derivation (and you can read more about that in some of my previous works), and links to another ‘functional’ relationship; that between the Moon(-God) and the Soma brew. This, along with ‘Indu’ [‘Bright Drop’], which stands at the confluence of both spheres of conceptry [‘illumination’ and the ’empowering elixir’], rounds out the syllabry for “Moon-Day” in a range of Indo-Aryan descended languages.

However, when we come to the Anatolians – the situation is different.

The Phrygians have the directly straightforward ‘Men’ – an almost direct derivation from the Proto-Indo-European. This speaks to the strong probability of the Phrygian religion having closely descended from and therefore studiously preserved features of the Proto-Indo-European one; as befits their likely origin-point immediately adjacent in both space and culture to the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat, to the north of the Black Sea. The observable coterminities elsewhere in the Phrygian religion with those of the Thracians and Scythians would further support this contention. As the Phrygians only migrated to Anatolia quite late – likely during the Bronze Age Collapse of the final two centuries of the 2nd Millennium B.C. – they therefore did not go down the same trajectory as the much earlier arriving ‘Anatolia Proper’ Indo-European group.

Speaking of which – as you can see from the bottom left of the chart, there is some considerable discussion as to the plausible underlying etymology (and therefore, meaning) of the “Arma” that pretty much all the Anatolian family Indo-European languages make consistent use of for their Moon. [Note: I’ve deliberately left out the non-IE derived syncretic ‘Kaskuh’, as the name is of Hurrian origin].

The supposition that it derives from an “Orma” or “Or-mo” meaning “Wanderer” or “Moving One” may seem a reasonable stab at sketching out a figurative meaning that’s PIE-derivable [from PIE: ‘her’ – move]; but has come in for quite some criticism from linguists. It’s also been suggested that it may be a non-Indo-European incorporation … but I don’t buy that attempted explanation for a number of reasons. Not least of which being that, in order to be true, we’d have to ignore a range of viable Indo-European reconstructive etymologies in favour of that unfortunate typology so beloved of some corners of academia: “anything we can’t immediately and unambiguously explain (or even which we can) MUST be non-Indo-European” (which, to be fair and sure, is more viable amidst the Hittites than just about anyone else. But that is another topic for another time).

My preferred etymology (for now), links it to PIE: ‘Herb’ – meaning ‘poor’ or ‘ill’; which handily has quite a range of closely comparative descendants in various Indo-European languages (including Hittite – ‘Erman’/’Arman’) that mean broadly the same thing (e.g. Proto-Germanic ‘Armaz’, whence Old Norse ‘Armr’, Swedish ‘Arm’, Old English ‘Earm’, Scots ‘Arm’, etc.), or something logically derived therefrom (e.g. Sanskrit ‘Arma’ meaning ‘Ruin’, and ‘Armaka’ meaning ‘Thin’ or ‘Narrow’).

The idea here would be that the Moon is a ‘pale’ and questionably healthy or hale figure – that literally wastes away before one’s very eyes, night after night; and is quite often thought of as a Crescent – the shape of the Moon that’s missing quite a lot of Himself and is obviously ‘thin’. [The Luwian hieroglyphic character for Arma is also a crescent moon, as it happens, further reinforcing this symbolic frame of referencing – it is, after all, much more visually distinctive than a radiant circle, of which there is already one rather prominent one in the sky … ]

It has also been suggested that ‘Arma’ may, effectively, connote ‘pregnancy’ – yet while the resemblance between the relevant Hittite etc. terms is unquestionable (‘Arma-‘ with various suffixes) , and while the otherwise ‘thin’ Moon *does* swell up to a much more healthily round figure over the course of a month … I’m not quite sure how or why a *male* Moon deity would be undergoing pregnancy. Although it is also possible that the ‘pregnancy terms’ represent a figurative back-formulation derived from the Moon’s changing shape – rather than the other way around.

Which raises the rather interesting question of whether the
Anatolian terminology for “Pregnancy” is more directly translatable as feeling *seriously* Ill.

The ‘Lunar’ associations with pregnancy did, however, persist with the worship of Artemis in the area in the Classical period – as Artemis was well-renowned for Her power when it came to the caring for expectant mothers-to-be. Although it should also be noted that the strong Lunar associations of Artemis in the Classic canon are … look, you’ll have to read the next few installments of my ‘Radiant Queen of the Heavens’ series on the Solar Goddess(es) of the Indo-Europeans to see why they’re almost certainly later and incompletely salient additions.

There have also been further attempts to affix ‘Arma’ to a Proto-Indo-European underpinning upon more figurative and/or functional bases – including the rather interesting and almost ‘mytholinguistic’ stab at linking it to terms for ‘completion’, phases begun, and also potentially for ritual … as well as the expected efforts for the passage of time demarcation, words and stems for ‘horn’/’crown’, adornment or covering, limbs and joints, ‘wheel’/’axle’, and even various military terms ; but none of these have seemed quite so substantive as the potentiality around PIE ‘Herb’ (‘Poor/Ill’).

Whatever the truth of the Anatolian matter in specia, the general typology – and thus, the fundamental, underlying consistency of the Indo-European religion – is quite clear.

The Moon-God Shineth On!

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