The moon is held to be the origin of life. Its seemingly magical ability to undergo metamorphosis from a thin sliver to a full orb, to disappear completely only to return and continue the process all over again, made it a natural symbol for cycles of life and the basis for the reckoning of time. “Months” are typically counted from new moon to new moon, with 13 months occurring in a year. The predictability of this 29%-day cycle made the moon the celestial body of choice to mark religious ceremonies, with many being held at the new moon.
The moon's cycle is linked to the seasons, agricultural phenomena, and the menstrual cycle of a woman because of her seemingly “magical” ability to cause blood to appear at intervals that closely correspond to the moon's cycle. For this reason, the moon is considered to have feminine attributes. Among the Akan, Bambuti, Dorobo, Luo, and Sandawe, the moon is a feminine deity. Other cultures perceive the moon as a companion of God or the mother (or sister of the sun). In some areas of the continent, women track their pregnancy in terms of lunar months.
The connection between the moon and women as the origin of life could factor into creation stories that hold the moon to be connected to life and death. Among the San, the moon decreed that people were to die and come back just as the moon dies and returns, but the hare contradicted the moon's proclamation by saying people will die and stay dead. The quarrel was settled by decreeing that men and women will die, but are to have children, increasing the number of the San. In a similar story from the Congo, a toad quarrels with the moon over creating humans. The toad creates humans first, but the moon is outraged, descends to Earth, consumes the toad, creates humans who are more intelligent and live longer, and ascends back into the sky. In Zimbabwe, the first human created was Mwuetsi, the moon. Tore, the creator god of peoples of the DRC, also used the moon to create the first man. In ancient Kernet, the origin of human souls and the Nile River was the moon. In addition, Hathor and Isis were identified with the moon.
The moon was not always figured as feminine: Khonsu and Djehuty of ancient Kernet were lunar deities with masculine attributes. Heru, the consummate neter (god) of masculinity, was associated with the moon as the night version of the sun. Perhaps the Nuer echo this when the say God shines through the moon. The Zulu maintain the moon has two wives.
The moon is also used to time religious ceremonies. The Katab and Nuer hold ceremonies at the new moon in which they ask for god's prosperity. Others wait for just the presence of the moon to chase away spirits associated with epidemics. Some Ewe believe that the land of the spirits is in the moon.
- Clark, R. T. R. (1959). Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson.
- Mbiti, J. (1969). African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.