On Goddess, The Gender of the Moon, And Insistent Paradigmatic Error-ism

There’s one point which seems to keep coming up when the fact of an Indo-European male Moon deific is raised.
Namely, the notion that this is an impossibility – or, at the very least, a glaring incongruity – because we know with our modern scientific perspective that the Moon ‘receives’ the light from the Sun.

There are several things to be said about this. The first of which being that it’s a ‘category error’. Several category errors, in fact. Let’s start with the most obvious.

The presumption here is that something which is an immutable scientific fact here in the modern era is somehow sufficient to vitiate a theological, a mythological understanding that has come down to us from the Bronze Age (if not earlier).

It does not take more than a moment’s consideration to realize the dissonancy here.

Now, to be fair and sure – we do generally expect both physics and metaphysics to describe the same universe which we all inhabit;
and we also quite understandably resile from the notion – so popular with the Dawkins set – that there can be no place for the latter in our modern world merely because it does not always happen to ‘play nice’ with the former.

We do not at all disagree that our Universe is one of Laws. Whether we are speaking of Rta, Orlog etc. [i.e. Cosmic Order, Supernal Law] or the laws of physics – things are regular, predictable, explicable.
If you know how to look and with which tools to engage in the requisite analysis. Which is where the complications begin to set in.
For just as with physics – if you start applying the really ‘broad brush’ stuff all over the place, you’re likely to miss that certain situations actually run on entirely different sets of reasoning.

Sometimes, that’s because particular conditions – or particular ‘levels’ – don’t ‘play by the rules’ which reasonably adequately explain the other and more commonplace scenarios and frames of reference.
Situations around ‘General’ versus ‘Special’ Relativity are a good example of this – change the strength of the gravitational field, and watch how the presumptions inherent in the former begin to mandate shifting.

Other times, it’s because entirely the wrong framework of analysis has been applied – therefore leading to entirely the wrong conclusions being erroneously presumed.
This often happens in macroeconomics – wherein theories are deployed that most certainly do work … in the head of the economist promulgating them, and perhaps even under certain and idealized conditions – but start breaking down and producing decidedly perverse, “unexpected” outcomes when trialed outside of those or for any substantive length of time. The amount of trouble that’s been caused via the slavish ‘scaling up’ of microeconomic modeling into this much broader, deeper, unutterably more complex realm is .. difficult to overstate.

And that brings us to the Moon.

The situation of the Moon receiving and reflecting the Sun’s Light is, as I say – a scientific fact. Indeed, it is an observable scientific fact. It would seem to have been known by various Indian astronomers who wrote of lunar eclipses being caused by the Earth’s shadow interceding between the Sun and Moon, for example. Which did not at all change their belief in Chandra – The Moon – being Male.

Another perspective, however, would consider the Moon as a (self-)luminous body. Something akin to what Ronnie James Dio once sang of as “Just The Sun At Night”. This appears to have been the Nordic perspective – as attested through this verse from the Alvíssmál:

“Máni heitir með mönnum, en mylinn með goðum,
kalla hverfanda hvél helju í, skyndi jötnar,
en skin dvergar, kalla alfar ártala.”

Per Bellows’ translation:

“Moon with men, Flame | the Gods among,
The Wheel in the house of Hell;
The Goer the giants, | The Gleamer the dwarfs,
The elves The Teller of Time.”

The key point here being ‘Mylinn’ – translated as ‘Flame’, and occurrent also as a term for the Sun, as a term for Fire in the heiti lists of the Þulur. Various other terms and conceptual understandings likewise recur between the Sun and the Moon – including shortly after the Alvíssmál extract I have quoted above in the actual verse speaking directly of the naming (and perceptions) of the Sun … thus demonstrating that no “this one gives, this one receives” fundamental distinction of characterization was intended. Indeed, quite the opposite – both are luminous, both seem to be thought of as ‘self-luminous’ in that regard (subject, of course, to the .. intricacies of the Nordic Sun and its internally ‘reflective’ nature to weaken its potency lest it burn the world, etc.).

We also should seem to find something akin to this Moon equivalency to the Sun when we consult those various Indo-European texts that present both the Moon and the Sun as Eyes of the Sky Father. I have considered at some length the situation in the Hindusphere elsewhere, and have also supplied Classical occurrence; we shall not repeat that work here.

But let us return to this notion of the Moon as receiving and reflecting the Light of the Sun.

Anaxagoras, the famed Greek philosopher, made a similar observation in the mid-5th century BC. And perhaps in part due to the manner in which he couched it, he was put on trial for Blasphemy or Impiety and exiled from Athens.

Now I mention his case because, even accounting for the oft-hypothesized potential that the charges against him were more political than religious in aim – this tells us that the notion of the Moon receiving and reflecting the light of the Sun was ‘new’ (and decidedly unpopular) thinking amidst the Greeks at the height of the Classical Age.

Why is that important? Because it shows that the Greek ‘shift’ in their Indo-European-descended mythology from having a male-associated Moon to a female-association … cannot have been the result of a belief (however accurate in mere physical terms it might be) that the Moon received and reflected Sunlight. The ‘shift’ had already occurred (although male Moon associations still residually occurred throughout the Classical era – including, potentially, Menelaus marrying Helen; as a resonancy of a quite archaic Indo-European myth of the Moon’s marriage to the Sun).

However, the other reason to raise the situation of Anaxagoras is because what he was ultimately guilty of was a ‘category error’. One which was ‘reductionist’ in scope. For in his other contribution, of declaring the Sun to be a very bright rock … well, let us put it this way:

We, of course, know and affirm that the Sun is indeed a very large and immensely powerful thermonuclear fusion reaction. It may not be a ‘hot rock’ (as Anaxagoras had somewhat put it), but it’s certainly a material object which is very hot, very bright indeed.

Except the Sun – it is not only that. In our religious and mythic understanding, it is so much more.

The endeavour to insist that it is only that – only what is represented by the simple and the straightforward scientific perspective … or that our theology ought play by the conventional and shackling limitations of what is ‘scientifically attested’ … that is the ‘category error’ of which I had spoken earlier.

After all – we are arguing about the gender of the Moon. The Moon, unless NASA’s been holding back on us or its various missions both manned and unmanned have been woefully incomplete in their probing, does not have gender. The physical Moon, the scientific Moon, at any rate. We have already all agreed to move beyond what science is telling us as soon as we entered into this conversation. Because we all agree, in essence, that the Moon is not merely an occasionally rather bright rock in the sky – but stands for something, both Mythic and Theological. The former – the ‘Stories’ which encode the latter; the latter – the ‘rules’ and ‘expressions’ which we also find in Ritual and how we relate to all of the above (in this case, rather literally – All of the Above).

Now that raises the further interesting point. As the Moon which we see above us in the night sky is a ‘symbol’, or a ‘signifier’ – this does not make the Moon ’empty’, per se … but as with the Sun, means that in truth, there are a number of key saliencies which may occupy that particular space. Confused? Let me illustrate utilizing the Sun.

In the Vedas, people often presume that there is a Sun God. Named Surya – Sun. Pretty straightforward. Except it isn’t. Instead, what we actually see is the Sun, again, being a ‘position’ – which may be held at any given contextual occurrence by any of the following:

The Sky Father (i.e. Dyaus Pitar);
The Wife of the Sky Father (i.e. Aditi);
The Son of the Sky Father (in this case, yes, Surya);
The Daughter of the Sky Father (Suryaa);
An inanimate object of wondrous artifice;
The Eye of the Sky Father (with the Moon often forming the Other Eye).

And this is before we get into the quite impressive array of ways that the Sun is related to, or is said to relate to us and our world.
Or, for that matter, how a rather broad array of Hindu Gods (and Goddesses – of course) are spoken of as having Solar Aspects, Appearances, Occurrences, Associations, etc.
Or, for that matter, the situation found in some cosmological verses wherein the Sun effectively winds up being utilized as shorthand for a location, a realm – that of Yama, in particular (the High Heaven, and point immediately prior to the Apex of the World).

Yet let us bring all of this back to where we started – with this notion so frequently put forward that the Moon ‘must’ be feminine, because ‘receives’ light from the Sun.

The question is quite a simple one: where exactly is that in the Indo-European mythology; and why should it be presumed that such a scientific fact is actually the cardinal function, characteristic or consideration governing what gender the Moon may (mythically) be?

Further, why is it presumed that “receiving something” is the irreducible characteristic of “female”? Do we insist that rifles are female because they receive ammunition from the magazine? Is a magazine female because bullets are contained within it? Are all readers of this piece female because they receive nourishment via eating and placing food within themselves? How about if we consider that we all have a ‘spark’ of life within us that is divinely bestowed (at least, if we go back far enough); or the ‘Breath of Life’ that is given / imparted by a God?

If we were going to be scientific about things – we would note that the usual thing being ‘received’ in a certain sort of ‘exchange’ between genders is incapable of, by itself, producing life (it’s also a white/silvery liquid, and one can see how this has been correlated with Moon and Moonlight in some cultures). It requires the contribution of an Egg in order to produce this. Indeed, with parthenogenesis in mind, only an egg may be required (this situation occurs upon occasion in the mythology, as it happens – I can think of a rather prominent Greek example featuring Hera, for a start).

Yet as I say – we are not here to discuss things scientifically, except in the sense that Theology is, as Ernst Junger reiterated, the Queen of Sciences. Instead, let us approach this matter mythically.

Now the example I go to here is one that I have discussed at quite some length elsewhere in the course of our work. It is familiar to every reader of the Iliad – it is Athena investing into Her Chosen Champions, Diomedes and Achilles, that empowerment which enables them to transcend even their own already seeming-superhuman capabilities. Diomedes not only sees .. but fights Gods – and wins! Achilles – well, there is very good reason that the ‘Rage’ of Achilles [Menis – cognate with Sanskrit ‘Manyu’, etc.] is the evocative subject hailed in the very first line of the Iliad itself as what Divinity is called upon to extoll in verse.

In both cases, we find the Heroes flaring forth with coruscating flame and immense energy, quite literally divine vigour. This seems to be part of a pan-Indo-European understanding for a particular martial manifestation of the ‘Furor’ state – as attested via both various Hindu exclamations as well as plausibly the invocation of “Odin’s Helm-Fire” in relation to the Berserks at Baldr’s funeral by the skald Úlfr Uggason (although more usually, ‘Odin’s Helm-Fire’ is presented as a kenning for ‘Sword’ – rather than, necessarily, the state of the wielder).

I do not think that any man in their right mind or righteously inclined should dare to accuse either Diomedes or Achilles of being anything other than rather ideal Men, masculine archetypes in fact. And yet … we find that these incredible men have ‘received’ something – received, it should seem, ‘light’ no less … and from a Goddess.

This is something which, again, is not an uncommon feature of the Indo-European theology – we find very (indeed – veer-y) prominent hailing for just such a concept in the famed DeviSukta, in this case RV X 125 5 [which I seem obliged to reference upon a nearly daily basis – possibly via living and breathing]. It becomes even more prominent in the broader Hindu perspective – the Shakti of even a mighty God like Lord Shiva, the Ishvara of the Universe Himself, being integral to His functioning. As Adi Shankara observed in his brilliant Saundarya Lahari (‘Waves of Beauty’), in the absence of this Goddess investiture, Lord Shiva would be unable to ‘move’ (the actual term isn’t just ‘move’, but also entails ‘governing’ etc.).

Interestingly, this understanding we find – wherein the Goddess empowers Her Chosen [the actual word utilized in RV X 125 5 is ‘Kama’] – is evidently something that has become deliberately misinterpreted in a way that is … perhaps illuminating of where all of this “receiver” business may unwittingly lead.

What I mean by this is that the term which designates (or, rather, describes) somebody divinely inspired in such a fashion, in Sanskrit – Vip , Vipra [somewhat cognate with Latin ‘Vibro’] – in Avestan under the Zoroastrians became ‘Vaepaiia’. What does ‘Vaepaiia’ mean? It refers to seriously unclean, sinful conduct – homosexual acts and being, we may somewhat euphemistically say, on the “receiving end” of same. Now this is not at all anything to do with the actual meaning of the term in Sanskrit, nor – we can entirely safely surmise – has it anything to do with how the term’s immediately antecedent Proto-Indo-Iranic application was utilized, either. It is a ‘political’ (and, indeed, outright Heretical) distortion – designed to turn something sacred and a sign of a great gift .. into something which nobody was supposed to go anywhere near nor have anything to do with the bearer of.

That is to say – in Sanskrit and the original Indo-Iranic religious / linguistic situation, it is a labelling for somebody who is Divinely Inspired thanks to the Empowerment bestowed by the Goddess. And therefore, to the Zoroastrian Heresy, somebody who would be a “rival”, an opponent, a foe – a bastion of the old (and proper) Indo-Iranic (and therefore Indo-European) religious order, who had to be slandered (to diminish their saliency amongst the people) and stubbed out with lethal force (to end it entirely – with time). Indeed – not just the person, but the very act itself.

And how does this culture-jamming calumny manifest? Why, by an ‘unmanning’ of the participant – declaring that he is a ‘receiver’. Somebody in a ‘female’ role, or at least an ‘unnatural’ simulacra of one. Never mind that what he is, in fact, ‘receiving’ is Divine Empowerment from a Goddess. No, here it is not so much ‘sexualized’ as ‘profaned’ and (in terms of both the gender situation – a male holy-man and a Goddess – and also the ethical valuation) outright inverted. It isn’t even that a ‘materialist’ or ‘scientific’ perspective has displaced a supernal and theological or metaphysical one – it’s literally just “receiving = feminine”, and it quite deliberately ‘weaponizes’ the sentiment to suppress actual and actually-existing supernal connection and capacity.

I am not saying that anybody who insists the Moon to be ‘feminine’ because ‘receives Sunlight’ is out to do this – but, as I say, it is a useful case-study in how this kind of approach can lead to ‘closing off’ of entirely authentic and vitally important religious understandings or engagement.

Yet let us return to Athena Devi. In the instance of Achilles from the Iliad, we find Her bestowing upon the hero empowerment via the provision of Ambrosia and Nectar – that is to say, the Empowering Elixir, correlate with Soma or the Mead of Poetry in the Vedic and Eddic spheres respectively.

Why does this interest us? Because as it happens, in the case of the Soma – the Moon is rather actively and prominently involved. Indeed, is spoken of with exactly the same theonymic upon various occasions. This is because the Moon plays a key role in the provision of the Soma. And this is partially what I mean about what we lose out on when we just blithely presume that the trenchant re-application of a ‘science’ perspective with blinkers upon it may lead to. The enthusiasm to try and claim that the Moon is a “receiver” just completely does not engage with circumstances such as these wherein the Moon is doing something else entirely. It’s literally reducing everything down to one (scientifically) visible kernel at the expense of so much else and so much broader.

Of course, there is also a vitally essential role for the Goddess in the production and the ’empowerment’ of this Elixir. We see it still residually there with the rather heavily mythologized (we might suggest – ‘decontextualized’) figure of Gunnlöð in the Nordic sphere; wherein all that we can effectively say, almost, is that there is a female figure romantically linked to the Sky Father deific (i.e. Odin) that is necessary to engage with in order that the Mead of Poetry might be successfully obtained. We see it, as we have said, via Athena in the Iliad.
But we see it the most and the best when it comes to Vak Saraswati in the context of the Vedas – and more upon that, I have already covered at length elsewhere.

The reason why I bring this up, and make such a point of it – is because part of the necessity of Her involvement in this process is because of what She is intimately connected to and capable of emanating out into this world of ours. Cosmic Order.
In the Hindu theology, this Devi is .. well .. yes, that. Rta-as-Brahman, Cosmic Order as Absolute. And particular Forms of Her are the in-universe expressive emanation of this. Particularly as ‘Sacred Speech’ – we should be unsurprised to note.
Likewise, in the Nordic sphere, we find Frigg hailed in such terms – as the great ‘knower’ of Orlog. We might even suggest that She is ‘self-acquainted’ in this regard. The Roman scholar, Lucretius, wrote of Magna Mater in similar terms. And I have covered at length the Greek understandings which point toward the same essence quite pervasively in my earlier work.

These include the situation of Athena being correlate-cognate to Vak Saraswati in the key respect of ‘unlocking’ and ‘producing’ the Thunderbolt weapon – which is, itself, a ‘spark’ of that Supernal Order. Something it shares in common, we may surmise, with that aforementioned ‘Empowering Elixir’.

So – if we are prepared to accept the station and the role of Goddess forms and figures as irreducibly linked to and expressive of Cosmic Order within our universe … what ought that entail when it comes to ‘gender-essentialism’ as applies celestial (or, for that matter, any other mythic) objects?

Well, for a start, it has a rather interesting import when we consider the frequent symbolism for the Sun as the very visible radiator of light and life into this world of ours. And likewise for the Axis Mundi about which all else turns.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that any figure nor fixture with a designated mythic sphere of resonancy around the expression and upholding of Cosmic Order within our universe becomes suddenly irreducibly female – of course it doesn’t.

However, it DOES indicate that often, with these figures, we can look not all that far at all and find that where there is a male figure, there is also a female figure that’s played some key role in provisioning ongoing (or as-needed) connexion to the Supernal Law for them as tangible empowerment. Empowerment which They are, we may say, in ‘receipt’ of. Even as They may carry it and bestow it on to others as well, part of a grand and most generous ‘gifting cycle’ which supports, permeates, and ultimately enriches our World.

Whether it comes by Moonlight, Sunlight, or Starlight – I think that this Radiancy of Rta is something to be grateful for.

Jai Mata Di.

One thought on “On Goddess, The Gender of the Moon, And Insistent Paradigmatic Error-ism

  1. Pingback: On Goddess, The Gender of the Moon, And Insistent Paradigmatic Error-ism – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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