As Museum of the Moon tours internationally it highlights local stories and beliefs about the moon and the wonder of space science.
What do you think about when you gaze at the moon? Do you have religious, poetic, romantic or scientific thoughts perhaps? What cultural, historical, scientific or religious stories are associated with the moon for people in your country? Does your culture believe that the moon has a gender?
Human History of the Moon
From the beginning of human history, the moon has acted as a ‘cultural mirror’ to our beliefs, understanding and ways of seeing. Over the centuries, the moon has been interpreted as a god and a planet, as well as a timekeeper and calendar. Different cultures have their own historical, cultural and religious relationships to the moon, so depending on where the artwork is presented, its meaning and interpretation will shift.
Here in the West, the moon and moonlight, has romantic connotations, or we may marvel at the wonder of space exploration and that 12 humans walked on the moons surface in the late 1960’s and 70’s. When we look up at the moon at night, we might see the ‘Man in the Moon’ and wonder at space exploration, yet other cultures see very different things.
In Chinese tradition, the full moon is a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion. On the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the moon is full and it is time to mark the Moon Festival, or the Mid-Autumn Festival. The round shape symbolizes family reunion. Find out more about Chinese beliefs.
Charting the Moon
The moon has always been an object of wonder and contemplation. After the telescope was invented, it was mapped by early scientists. Each crater and ‘sea’ was successively named and renamed, reflecting the powers of the day. See Selenography. The moon was in reach and became a stepping stone to outer space. It provided an amazing glimps into our solar system and the workings of other moons and planets and presented a tantalizing close destination that humans could one day visit.
As only one side of the moon is always facing the Earth, the far side was only seen for the first time by scientists in 1959. The Museum of the Moon provides an opportunity for the public to see and interrogate the far side of the moon in detail.
Even in an area that is busy with city lights, you can see the moon, both at night time and during the day. Have a look and you can see mountains and craters formed by large asteroid impacts and dark, smooth patches called ‘mare’ (seas), formed by ancient volcanic activity. With a simple pair of binoculars or a telescope, the moon seems to come to life as whole other, alien world. Second only to the Sun in terms of size and brightness in the sky, it is a truly fantastic destination for our exploration of space.
The Moon really began to reveal its secrets during the space race and the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s. Aside from this, exploration of its surface has largely been done remotely using robotic landers, satellites or telescopes from Earth. However, the inspiring idea of sending astronauts back to the moon has gained support in recent years, driven by the fact that the moon provides the perfect test bed to develop the technology we need to send humans to Mars, asteroids and beyond. The European Space Agency have plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2030!
Scientific research of the moon is both fascinating and wide ranging. Visit the European Space Agency lunar exploration website to find out more, or if you are visiting the Museum of the Moon, download our helpful guide to exploring the science of the moon.
For most of history, the moon was people’s only night time source of light. It was used to help travellers navigate and allowed people to work. Since the invention of candles, gas lamps and more recently electric lighting, the importance of moonlight for humanity has been diminished. Living in towns and cities surrounded by tall buildings, our relationship with the night’s sky has been disconnected. We hope that this new artwork gives people a chance to reconnect with the moon and the night’s sky whilst enabling them to consider its historical and cultural importance. Moonlight plays a significant role in nature, triggering procreation and migration in many animal species.
The Man in the Moon
Here in the Northern hemisphere, in the western world we can see a face, or man in the Moon. The images are actually composed of vast, flat spots on the moon are called “maria” or “seas” because, for a long time, astronomers believed they were large bodies of water. They are actually large areas formed by lava that covered up old craters and then cooled, becoming smooth, basalt rock.
There are various explanations for how the Man in the Moon came to be. A longstanding European tradition holds that the man was banished to the moon for some crime. Christian lore commonly held that he is the man described in the bible (book of Numbers XV.32-36), caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath and sentenced by God to death by stoning. Some Germanic cultures thought he was a man caught stealing from a neighbour’s hedgerow to repair his own. There is a Roman legend that he is a sheep-thief.
There is also a traditional belief that the Man in the Moon enjoyed drinking, especially claret. An old ballad runs (original spelling):
Our man in the moon drinks clarret,
With powder-beef, turnep, and carret.
If he doth so, why should not you
Drink until the sky looks blew?
In the English Middle Ages and renaissance, the moon was held to be the god of drunkards, and at least three London taverns were named “The Man in the Moone”. Find out more here.
In Chinese mythology, the goddess Chang’e is stranded upon the moon after foolishly consuming a double dose of an immortality potion. She is accompanied by a small group of moon rabbits.
As the artwork tours, new stories and meanings will be highlighted from one installation and its local culture, through to the next.
Books Great book about the moon and people’s relationship to it. Moon by Bernd Brunner
Arts Poems, Music
Worship Moon Worship, Christianity and the Moon, Islam, Islamic lunar calender, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto
Eclipses Eclipse mythology, cultural interpretation
Moon affects on us Moon’s effect on human behaviour, effect on our sleep, birthrate
Folktales The moon is made of cheese, The moon in the well,
As the artwork tours and gets presented in a range of different cultures, this area of the website will grow.