The man in the moon

How to see the man in the moon

European Legends
Inuit legends
Far Eastern Legends
Melanesian legends
Led Zeppelin

This page should not be confused with the one about "The Man in the Moone", which is a story about space travel in the early 17th century.

The first thing I ought to say is that many people (myself included) see a face when they look at the full moon. Others see a face in profile when they look at the crescent moon (usually the waxing moon). This is NOT what is meant by "The man in the moon". To see the Man in the moon, click Here. To see other images in the craters of the moon, click here.

European Legends

The man in the moon is usually seen as an old man carrying a bundle of sticks upon his back, sometimes carrying a forked stick and lantern and accompanied by a little dog.
In "A Midsummer Night's dream", during the rustics performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe", the actor representing moonshine is dressed in just this way. The man in the moon is also mentioned in The Tempest:

CALIBAN: Hast though not dropped from heaven?
STEPHANO: Out of the moon I do assure thee: I was the man i' the moon when time was
CALIBAN: I have seen thee in her, and I do adore thee: My mistress showed me thee and thy dog and thy bush

(Caliban is repeatedly called a
Moon calf in this scene).
There are many European legends explaining how the man in the moon got there, the most popular says that he was banished there by Moses, for gathering firewood upon the sabbath.

"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the lord said unto Moses, The man shall surely be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones till he died." (Numbers XV. 32-36)

The belief that the man was banished to the moon persisted throughout the middle ages. This also explains the reference to Moses in the R.E.M song "Man on the moon" (or is this something to do with Andy Kaufmann? Leave a message in the guestbook if you know)

A German version of the story goes something like this:

"Ages ago there went one Sunday morning an old man into the wood to hew sticks. He cut a faggot and slung it on a stout staff, cast it over his shoulder, and began to trudge home with his burden. On his way, he met a handsome man in Sunday suit, walking towards the church.
" Don't you know that it is Sunday, when all good Christians should be resting from their labours?" said the stranger
"Sunday on earth, or Monday in heaven, it's all the same to me!" laughed the old man
" Then bear your bundle forever, and as you value not Sunday on earth yours shall be a perpetual moon day in heaven; and you shall stand for eternity in the moon, a warning to all sabbath-breakers"

and the stranger banished him to the moon.
[1]. (Rockhoundwho is from Switzerland, wrote to tell me that her Grandmother used to tell a similar story. Thanks Rockhound!)

In his book "Curious myths of the middle ages" Sabine Baring-Gould reproduces other versions of this story, and finds references to the figure in the moon, from ancient Rome and Egypt. In one version of the story, the man is carrying willow bows* . In another he is a sheep stealer who entices sheep with cabbages

The man is formed from the Mare Serenitatis, tranquilitatis and foecunditatis. The dog is the Mare Crisium. According to one interpretation, The forked stick which he carries is a ray from the crater "Tycho" (click here to see the Man in the Moon).

Baring-Gould also shows how the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill is derived from a Norse legend, in which the moon kidnaps two children named Hjuki and Bil, and makes them fetch water from a well (Mimirs well?....possibly. Click here to find out what I'm on about). According to this theory, the figure in the moon is Jack (Hjuki). Jill (Bil) is less easy to see. The names "Hjuki" and "Bil" mean "creation" and "destruction", i.e. waxing and waning [1].

I recently stumbled on the story of Mead on the moon on a site devoted to a cult of the Norse moon god Mani. The story combines elements of the Hjuki and Bil, with folklore about mead which I have discussed on the moonshine page. It is said to be a Norse tale. It seems a little too good to be true, and I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but certainly worth reading as it is the work of a skillfull storyteller, regardless of when it was written.

Whenever Salvador Dali painted the moon, he always emphasized the man in the moon (e.g. "sleep" and "Swans reflecting elephants")[top]

Inuit Legends

The man in the moon features in the beliefs of the Inuits (Eskimos to the politically incorrect). In Alaska, it is believed that the man in the moon is the keeper of the souls of men and animals. Shamans claim to have the power to ascend to the moon and converse with him
[2] For more on the journey to the moon, click here [top]. The Haida people of the Pacific west coast of Canada and Alaska have a legend that a boy gathering firewood by moonlight was banished to the moon for insulting the moon.[10]

Far Eastern Legends

In Malasia, the man in the moon is an old hunchback sitting beneath an inverted banyan tree. He is plaiting bark into a fishing line to catch everything on earth. (This seems to have something in common with the legends of the
Stairway to heaven ). There is also a rat which gnaws through the fishing line and a cat which chases the rat. So long as this equilibrium continues, the world is safe, but if the hunchback ever completes his fishing line, the world will end. [4].

In China, the man in the moon is called Wu Kang (Gekkawo in Japan) , the god of love and marriage, who unites lovers by tying their feet together with invisible cords. Wu Kang also cuts branches from the Cassia tree of immortality, which grows in the moon.

Melanesian Legends

On Florida Island in the Solomon Islands, the man in the moon is called Ngava. At full moon people cry "There is Ngava sitting".

In Hawaii people see a woman in the moon. They call her Hina-i-ka-maloma (See link below for how to see her)[top]

"Curious myths of the middle ages" has recently been reprinted, and the chapter on "The man in the moon" has been extended. However I still feel that it is necessary to write this, because the new edition is ambiguous and appears to have been edited by someone who has not taken the trouble to have a good look at the moon. Perhaps I am merely being pernickity, about a subject close to my heart (the rest of the book is brilliant).
The moon seems to be something of a Rorshack test, with different people seeing different images, depending on their cultural background, but certain images seem to crop up in widely separated parts of the world, implying that these images are not totally arbitrary.

For more on images seen in the craters of the moon, see the pages on The Toad and the Hare, The Utchat and The Crab and the Bookworm, or click here for pictures

Poems about The Man in the Moon

Nursery Rhymes
The man in the moon, by Tolkien
Why the man in the moon came down too soon
Your contributions

"When the man in the moon
comes down in a ballon
Then I'll come back to you
Anonymous (or possibly Maggie Blue's aunt Barbara)

Most people know about The man in the moon, from the nursery rhyme which runs:

"The man in the moon
Came down too soon
And asked his way to Norwich
He went by the south
And burned his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge"

Another old nursery rhyme runs:

"The man in the moon was caught in a trap
For stealing the thorns from another mans gap
If he had gone by and let the thorns lie
He'd never been man in the moon so high."

This rhyme makes reference to the rights of individuals to gather firewood from particular hedgerows, so it probably predates the enclosures act (late eighteenth century).[poems]

In "The lord of the rings", Frodo recites a longer version of the rhyme, which Tolkien describes as:
"a ridiculous song that Bilbo had been rather fond of (and indeed rather proud of, for he had made up the words himself) .....Only a few words of it are now, as a rule, remembered".
It went like this:

There is an inn a merry old inn
beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
one night to drink his fill

The ostler has a tipsy cat
that plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he draws his bow,
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
now sawing in the middle.

The landlord keeps a little dog
that is mighty fond of jokes;
When there's good cheer among the guests,
He cocks an ear at all the jests and laughs until he chokes.

They also keep a horn-ed cow
as proud as any queen;
But music turns her head like ale,
And makes her wave her tufted tail
and dance upon the green.

And O! the rows of silver dishes
and the store of silver spoons!
For Sunday there's a special pair,
And these they polish up with care
on saturday afternoons.

The Man in the Moon was drinking deep,
and the cat began to wail;
A dish and a spoon on the table danced,
The cow in the garden madly pranced,
and the little dog chased its tail.

The Man in the Moon took another mug,
and then rolled beneath his chair;
And there he dozed and dreamed of ale,
Till in the sky the stars were pale
and dawn was in the air.

Then the ostler said to his tipsy cat:
"The white horses of the Moon,
They neigh and champ their silver bits;
But their master's been and drowned his wits,
and the sun'll be rising soon!"

So the cat on his fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
a jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and quickened the tune,
While the landlord shook the Man in the Moon
"It's after three!" he said

They rolled the man slowly up the hill
and bundled him into the moon,
While his horses galloped up in rear,
And the cow came capering like a deer,
and a dish ran up with the spoon.

Now quicker the fiddle went deedle-dum-diddle;
the dog began to roar,
The cow and the horses stood on their heads;
the guests all bounded from their beds
and danced upon the floor

With a ping and a pong the fiddle strings broke!
the cow jumped over the moon,
And the little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the Saturday dish went off at a run
With the silver Sunday spoon.

The round Moon rolled behind the hill,
as the sun raised up her head.
She hardly believed her fiery eyes;
For though it was day, to her surprise
They all went back to bed!

Tolkien notes that elves and hobbits consider the Sun to be feminine I vaguely remember reading somewhere that this was a private joke between Tolkien and Peter and Iona Opie (folklorists), who claim that the reference to "plum porridge" (another version says "pease porridge"), rather than plum pudding, meant that the poem predated the invention of cheesecloth
[6]. If anyone knows more about this, please leave a message in the guestbook . [poems]

Here is another poem written by Tolkien about the man in the moon:

Why the man in the moon came down too soon

The Man in the Moon had silver shoon
And his beard was of silver thread;
He was girt with pure gold and inaureoled
With gold about his head.
Clad in silken robe in his great white globe
He opened an ivory door
With a crystal key, and in secrecy
He stole o'er a shadowy floor;

Down a filigree stair of spidery hair
He slipped in gleaming haste,
And laughing with glee to be merry and free
He swiftly earthward raced.
He was tired of his pearls and diamond twirls;
Of his pallid minaret
Dizzy and white at its lunar height
In a world of silver set;

And adventured this peril for ruby and beryl
And emerald and sapphire,
And all lustrous gems for new diadems,
Or to blazon his pale attire.
He was lonely too with nothing to do
But to stare at the golden world,
Or to strain at the hum that would distantly come
As it gaily past him whirled;

And at plenilune in his argent moon
He had wearily longed for Fire-
Not the limpid lights of wan selenites,
But a red terrestrial pyre
With impurpurate glows of crimson and rose
And leaping orange tongue;
For great seas of blues and the passionate hues
When a dancing dawn is young;

For the meadowy ways like chrysophrase
By winding Yare and Nen.
How he longed for the mirth of the populous Earth
And the sanguine blood of men;
And coveted song and laughter long
And viands hot and wine,
Eating pearly cakes of light snowflakes
And drinking thin

He twinkled his feet as he thought of the meat,
Of the punch and the peppery brew,
Till he tripped unaware on his slanting stair,
And fell like meteors do;
As the whickering sparks in splashing arcs
Of stars blown down like rain
From his laddery path took a foaming bath
In the ocean of Almain;

And began to think, lest he melt and stink,
What in the moon to do,
When a Yarmouth boat found him far afloat,
To the mazement of the crew
Caught in their net all shimmering wet
In a phosphorescent sheen
Of bluey whites and opal lights
And delicate liquid green

With the morning fish - 'twas his regal wish -
They packed him to Norwich town,
To get warm on gin in a Norfolk inn,
And dry his watery gown.
Though St. Peter's knell waked many a bell
In the city's ringing towers
To shout the news of his lunatic cruise
In the early morning hours,

No hearths were laid, not a breakfast made,
And no one would sell him gems;
He found ashes for fire, and his gay desire
For choruses and brave anthems
Met snores instead with all Norfolk abed,
And his round heart nearly broke,
More empty and cold than above of old,
Till he bartered his fairy cloak

With a half waked cook for a kitchen nook,
And his belt of gold for a smile,
And a priceless jewel for a bowl of gruel,
A sample cold and vile
Of the proud plum porridge of Anglian Norwich -
He arrived much too soon
For unusual guests on adventurous quests
From the Mountains of the Moon.

Almain is an old name for England, and the Yare and Nen (or Nene) are rivers which flow into the North sea at Great Yarmouth. The poem reminds me of the legend of the beast of Orford (to the south of Yarmouth), a sort of wild man with a long beard who was accidentally caught in fishing nets, and taken as a prisoner to the home of Ralph of Coggeshall who kept him as a pet. The creature was often tormented in an effort to make him speak (he never did). One day the creature broke out of its pen, through the barricades, escaped to the sea, and was never seen again [8]. Perhaps this is what Michael Stipe is referring to in his song Belong. A slightly different version of this poem (set in Middle Earth, rather than East Anglia) is found in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (also by Tolkien)
For another tall story from Ralph of Coggeshall, follow the link at the bottom of the page (The green children of Woolpit). [poems]

This one is by Peggy

the sun sits low
this massive
ball of fire
teetering on a thin line
the horizon

the closing of the day
says in someway
I made it

the blue sky tucked in
the lullabye
of the moon
sings a tune

there is a man in there
encased in care
playing on the strings
of his hair

I feel rested
as though requested
this song
he sings

the stars like it too
I can tell as they wink
at me
a secret
just between us

waiting each night
for the absence of light
never dissappointed
in the black

there is a mystery
up there
with a voice somewhere

I'm listening

tell me more
Mr. Sliver
I quiver and shiver
at how soft the voice
comes down

so nuturing in love
wearing a glove
of a kid
that I have known

who could it be?
this man I see
in the moon

for he is me

"Back in '92 I used to play with a Ouija board. It produced several poems, and this was one of them. It's about a guy who falls asleep in the forest and dreams about a war between a hero and a demon hoard, with the demons intent on stealing the silver from the moon. The man in the moon guards the silver."-Ashley Davis

Silent Repose

Thrashing darkness exceeds my slumber

Dreams taint my rude vision

Demons with their silver treasure

Fixate my vulnerable temptation

In the forgotten forest resides my blanketed body

Created from the marshes of Winser,

The lonesome Valiant had a mystical quest

To resume the demons treasure

Fire topples from the hideous smokey sky

I feel the cinders at my feet

The striking of the bare Valiants feet

Sends the flames asunder

Silver is near.

Demons devious tricks befall the forgotten forest

I hid behind my creed

Coming closer

Mighty clashing of the tyrants sends the Valiant

To man his arms

The silver shines like none other.

Valiants eyes fade to blind masses

Demons laughter shrieks spells through the Dense foliage

Tyrants fiend over 'till the break of the moon

The banton wanes

His sturdy sword strikes the demons wit

To plunder their souls

He musters to find the shining silver...


Valiant hears the rustle of cinders beneath

My feet

Demons cease into their graves

Shouting triumphant vengeance the Valiant

Takes his stride for the wealth of the night

With his bow he strikes the moon with the Silver

Once again the moon is full

Then he seizes my loathsome self saying

"You shall guard the silver with your life"

He advances me through the stars to our New Moon

I am called Man in the Moon

The guard of silver.

Click here for a poem about The Man in the Moon by Laurel Lindberg. If you have a poem about The Man in the Moon, please leave a message in the guestbook [poems]

Led Zeppelin

I couldn't leave this subject without pointing out that the man in the moon appears to have found his way onto the cover of Led Zeppelin's fourth album. The cover is a painting showing an old man bent under the weight of a large bundle of firewood. I was told that Robert Plant had said that the painting was called "The Hermit", and was by a friend of his called Barrington Colby. I believed that there was a misunderstanding here: because on the reverse of the sleeve, there is another picture of a figure in white holding a lantern, which closely resembles the hermit portrayed on tarot cards.

A few years ago my speculations on this subject were passed on to Barrington Colby, by "Rockhound" from Switzerland, who knows him. The figure in white on the inside cover is Barrington Colby's "Hermit".

But as for the man with the bundle of sticks? well a few years later Chad emailed me with a quote from Jimmy Page on the subject:
Jimmy Page: "I used to spend a lot of time going to junk shops looking for things that other people might have missed. Robert was on a search with me one time, and we went to this place in Reading where things were just piled up on one another. Robert found the picture of the old man with the sticks and suggested that we work it into our cover somehow. So we decided to contrast the modern skyscraper on the back with the old man with the sticks - you see the destruction of the old, and the new coming forward.
'Our hearts were as much in tune with the old ways as with what was happening, though we weren't always in agreement with the new. But I think the important thing was we were certainly keeping space...if not going beyond it. The inside cover was painted by a friend of mine. It's basically an illustration of a seeker aspiring to the light of truth.'"

I LOVE the way that the web allows me to ask strange, questions on obscure topics and get answers from complete strangers! But I still don't know who painted the old man with the bundle of sticks (rather disrespectful of Page and Plant not to credit the artist, on the album sleeve, unless the painting was by that greatest artist, songwriter and poet: Anon :-). And does the picture represent the man in the moon? The answers may be lost in the mists of time, but I have a strange feeling that somebody on the web knows. So if you can shed any more light on the subject, please leave a message in the guestbook


* Bows obviously occur a lot in lunar myths, as crescent symbols. Culpepper said of willow: "The moon owns it". Presumably because the willow grows near water, and readily regenerates when cut down or pruned. The willow is also used in wickerwork and Wicca work: willow bark bound the head of the witches broom, and according to Julius Caesar, the druids burnt people alive at full moon, in wicker baskets. The words "witch" and "wicked" are related to "wicker". Willow is a source of Salicilic acid, the raw ingredient of aspirin, and was used in the past to cure rheumatic pain, which was supposed to be caused by witchcraft. Rejected lovers used to wear willow in their hats [3].[back]

Links to other sites on the Web

For more on Chinese legends of the moon
How to see the Woman in the Moon
The Green children of Woolpit
lyrics to "Man on the moon" by REM
Middle English poem about the man on the moon (with translation)

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