Posted on Sunday 8 October 2006
"The moon has a face like the clock in
— Robert Louis Stevenson
I never had a very clear mental image of the Man in the Moon, something not helped, I guess, by the fact that the full moon in the Southern Hemisphere appears rotated 180 degrees from the more conventional viewpoint. Okay, I'll admit a lack of imagination might have had something to do with it as well. After all, with all those blotches it's possible to see all kinds of things in the face of the moon.
Consider, for example, that other widely recognised figure. The Moon Rabbit.
|The Piety of the Hare
In former days, a hare, a monkey, a coot, and a fox, became hermits, and lived in a wilderness together, after having sworn not to kill any living thing. The god Sakkria having seen this through his divine power, thought to try their faith, and accordingly took upon him the form of a brahmin, and appearing before the monkey begged of him alms, who immediately brought to him a bunch of mangoes, and presented it to him. The pretended brahmin, having left the monkey, went to the coot and made the same request, who presented him a row of fish which he had just found on the bank of a river, evidently forgotten by a fisherman. The brahmin then went to the fox, who immediately went in search of food, and soon returned with a pot of milk and a dried liguan, which he had found in a plain, where apparently they had been left by a herdsman. The brahmin at last went to the hare and begged alms of him. The hare said, 'Friend, I eat nothing but grass, which I think is of no use to you.' Then the pretended brahmin replied, 'Why, friend, if you are a true hermit, you can give me your own flesh in hope of future happiness.' The hare directly consented to it, and said to the supposed brahmin, 'I have granted your request, and you may do whatever you please with me.' The brahmin then replied, 'Since you are willing to grant my request, I will kindle a fire at the foot of the rock, from which you may jump into the fire, which will save me the trouble of killing you and dressing your flesh.' The hare readily agreed to it, and jumped from the top of the rock into the fire which the supposed brahmin had kindled; but before he reached the fire, it was extinguished; and the brahmin appearing in his natural shape of the god Sakkria, took the hare in his arms and immediately drew its figure in the moon, in order that every living thing of every part of the world might see it.
— Moon Lore by Rev. Timothy Harley, 1885
|When yet there was Darkness
The gods assembled at Teotihuacán when yet no sun had shone and no dawn had broken and they debated who would become the sun. One of them Tecuciztecatl said, "O gods I shall be the one."
Again the gods asked, "Who else?" and there was one man, Nanahuatzin, listening among the others. They said to him, "You shall be the one, O Nanahuatzin". For these two, a hill was made – the pyramid of the sun and the pyramid of the moon and there they remained, performing penances for four nights and after lifting the penance, they were to do their labour. They were to become gods.
The gods said, "Take courage, O Tecuciztecatl. Cast thyself into the fire." and four times he tried but the heat was too great for him. Thereupon they cried out to Nanahuatzin, "Onward, thou, O Nanahuatzin. Do not be afraid." All at once he quickly threw and cast himself upon the fire and burned. When Tecuciztecatl saw this then he also jumped into the fire.
When Nanahuatzin came to rise, he shone intensely and his brilliant rays penetrated everywhere. And afterwards Tecuciztecatl came to rise following behind him from exactly the same place – the east. And so they tell it, they were exactly equal in their appearances as they shone and the the gods became worried.
Suddenly, one of them came out running. With a rabbit he came to wound the face of Tecuciztecatl and with it he darkened his face so that he could never be a bright as the sun.
And so does it appear today.
— adapted from
Man-like Gods and Deified Men in Mexican Cosmolore
by Anna-Britta Hellbom
As in the original, the Monkey and the Fox are both successful offering food while the Rabbit having nothing but himself to offer lights a fire under a cooking pot and throws himself into it. So touched by this gesture, the Rabbit is saved and then a palace is built for him up on the Moon. There he can be seen still with a mortar and pestle busily pounding away and making the Elixir of Immortality for the gods (and sometimes rice flour to make moon cakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival).