As humans, we have always been obsessed with the moon. Whether we study it, write about it, or see our own faces within it, we are drawn to it arguably more than any other celestial body. I cannot deny that in my own work, I have focused on the moon and its haunting beauty:
“Just as the moon guides the tides, so too does she guide me.
What magic, to be linked with the Earth, so astronomically.
Her light is pearlescent, soft, and transcendent, as she brings me to the sea.
I bathe in her goodness and delight in her kindness,
How lucky to be me.”
The moon has long been associated with the mystical and the feminine. In a very literal sense, just as the moon controls the tides, we believe it to influence menstrual cycles. The foundation for this belief lies in the fact that most people who menstruate experience a 29.5-day menstrual cycle, which is the same length as the phases of the moon. There are occurrences in nature where the moon does indeed guide the reproductive process; in corals and marine worms, for example. However, evidence proving that this has moved along the evolutionary chain into human biology is sketchy at best. Whilst the link between the two has been mostly debunked, scientists continue to observe individualised links not only between menstruation but also sleep and moods. The influence of artificial light, and the fact that the moon is slowly moving further away from the Earth, are thought to play a role in how far the moon affects cyclical biology. This is all still hypothetical and based largely on extrapolation and theoretical work, but it has certainly made its way into mainstream culture.
Indeed, in almost every culture across the world, there is some link between the phases of the moon and menstruation either through the language (some people literally refer to their periods as ‘moon-time’ or ‘menses’ derivative of ‘moon’), or through rituals such as chhaupadi, sacred bathing, and other moon ceremonies. While some of these rituals are considered ‘barbaric’ or ‘perpetuating taboos’ and, done incorrectly, have led to death, others are meaningful ways of community building and education. In essence, we link femininity with circularity causing us to link other cyclical entities, such as the moon, the tides, and even the seasons with femininity too.
The cycle of the moon, and indeed menstruation, has also been linked to hysteria and insanity, otherwise known as lunacy (a derivative of luna, meaning moon). Mass hysteria is often linked to the lunar cycle: crime statistics, psychiatric hospital admissions, and misbehaviour in children all seem to rise on a full moon. This phenomenon can also be known as ‘moon drunk,’ and is the basis of many popular tales such as ‘werewolves’ and even Jekyll and Hyde. The werewolf, or the lycanthrope, has its origins in ancient mythology, where the curse is a punishment for a variety of crimes. In Greek mythology, Lycaon is punished by Zeus, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a woman turns her mate into a wolf, and so on.
Lycanthropy is often an affliction which impacts men, which is interesting due to the link between the moon and the feminine, and the deities of these ancient religions being predominantly women-like (i.e. Celene, Artemis/Diana, Mama Killa, and Chandra to name a few). Even in modern-day understanding, we associate werewolves with masculinity (see Twilight and the plight of Leah). The history of the werewolf remains unclear; some argue that werewolves were originally women, the moon cycle turning a woman crazy was a poignant if not obvious analogy for menstruation. Others argue that lycanthropy is meant to represent puberty: the growth of hair and insatiable lust is more linked to men than women in this stage. In some folklore, werewolves are believed to be wolves that were jealous of men’s freedom and intelligence, and so tried to be more like them, becoming bipedal and to some extent civilised. In essence, the poetic licence is with the storyteller. In Twilight, it’s a coincidence.
Interestingly, although the moon has been linked to femininity, none of the twelve people who have been to the moon are women. In fact, the only people who have set foot on the moon are cisgendered men. Similarly, although space agencies do not track the sexual orientation of their staff, none of these moon landers has professed any sexuality other than heterosexual. This is set to change through the Artemis mission which aims to put a woman on the moon (no word about queer moonwalkers yet). In a stunning piece in the Washington Post, Monica Hesse explains:
“Putting a man on the moon, as America first did 53 years ago, was a purely technological endeavour: If you build it, he will land. But putting a woman on the moon is a question that is about more than science and technology. It’s a question about culture and sociology, about who we are and who we want to be…”
We have all heard the famous anecdote about the engineers who asked Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, whether 100 tampons would be enough if she got her period during the six days she was in orbit. Hesse argues that the Artemis mission is an attempt to remedy this action of defaulting that has led space travel up until this point: exploring space is a military operation, so what is the point of putting women on the moon? Some would argue that another moon mission is pointless, or a waste of public money. There is no advantage technologically or militarily. But, for women across the globe, seeing a woman on the moon would change our lives, and our perception of space. The moon, the focal point of so much feminist literature, our beautiful ally, has only been touched by cishet white men, and that’s a freaking travesty.
It would be a miss not to mention the poignant and touching affinity between the queer community and the moon. The constant cycle through phases has been used as a metaphor for gender fluidity. Those who are non-binary or non-conforming often feel linked to the moon; ‘lunagender’ can be used to refer to a gender identity which changes throughout the month, with identifiers feeling like a man some days, a woman others, and frequently somewhere in between. The moon has become a symbol of strength, beauty, and acceptance for the queer community.
The moon acts as a powerful metaphor for anyone who has been in a relationship where their needs come second. Often women find themselves in this space, whether at work, at home, or in society, where they are reflecting the light of those around them, just as the moon does for the sun. It is a powerful emblem of self-belief and connects us uniquely with nature. The moon is tethered to the Earth, it is a part of our every day, never fading from view. May the moon serve as a reminder of our connection to her and to one another.