When I started on my spiritual journey, the gender of the Moon mattered to me. I was well into Goddess spirituality and, because of my cultural background and ancestry, particularly loved the Greek, Mesopotamian and Babylonian goddesses.
I had a bookshelf full of second wave feminist texts reclaiming the Divine Feminine, witchcraft, intuition and tarot as traditionally 'women's stuff'. In these books, the Moon was undoubtedly female. And in all of them a common thread, a received wisdom: the menstrual cycle correlates to the moon - women menstruate - thus the moon is female...
I was swept up in this perceived subversiveness: a pre-Christian, pre-patriarchal spirituality that honoured and empowered women. In the Goddess, a woman had many faces, many different versions of self, unlike in the dominant patriarchal discourses. The books also had enticing titles, which appealed to the feminist witch within: The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries; The Spiral Dance; Women Spirit Rising... I didn't question it.
Even though I'd studied post-modern feminism and queer theory in my Sociology degree and Women's Studies PhD, and knew gender to be a construction; even though I felt really uncomfortable at the many pagan and 'new agey' events I attended which were almost exclusively heteronormative and where 'woman' was often reduced to 'womb' - childbirth and motherhood stories seemed to feature heavily. Not to mention the tanta workshops - urgh!
But things change. In 2012 I started volunteering and then working for LGBT+ charities and started to meet 'out' trans and non-binary people. I started to question my own gender identity, to remember my distinctly non-binary gender expression as a teenager and to realise that actually I don't strongly identify with the category 'woman'.
More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has led to a wide-spread questioning of all social assumptions and structures. We've been urged to dissect historical, traditional and cultural ways of thinking and recognise how these have become embedded in systems of oppression. The ways we conceptualise and categorise everything is under the microscope, and equity and inclusion of all kinds is firmly on the agenda. Disruption and dismantling are the order of the day.
So, is the Moon female?
I started thinking and researching. Here is just a flavour:
- Although many moon deities have been assigned female - such as lunar Goddesses Ix Chel, Mawu, Mama Quilla, Cerridwen, Diana, Selene... there are also just as many 'moon Gods' - lunar deities assigned-male - including Su-en, Tsukiyomi, Chandra and Thoth. See a list of moon deities here.
- In many languages the moon is assigned female and given female pronouns (she/her), but in others male pronouns are used (he/him). For example, in French and many other Latin-derived languages, the sun (le soleil) is assigned male and the moon (la lune) female. In German and other Germanic languages the sun (die Sonne) is assigned female and the moon (der Mond) male .In English, the Moon has actually switched from male to female pronouns: In Old English, mona is masculine and sunne is feminine. In Arabic, Japanese and other non-European languages, the moon is assigned male. There are also some languages and cultures where the Moon can be both male & female e.g. Persian/ Iranian...
- Of course, neither the Moon, nor any other planet, actually has a gender. It's a rock, in the sky. Humans have anthromorphosized the planets, assigned them gendered qualities and pronouns to fit our perceptions and needs. Under Western Patriarchy, humans have come to see gender as unproblematically binary - just two genders, male and female - and we have mapped this perception onto everything in our sight. In fact, there are - and have always been - more than two genders. See here and here for more on this...
- Feminine and masculine are archetypes - collections of energy that appear to have repeatable patterns and characteristics. Psychologist Carl Jung famously saw archetypes as universal - arguing that everyone, everywhere has the same instinctual, unconscious response to particular images, symbols and storylines... Working at soul level, with soul energy types, I recognise these universal patterns. BUT I'm also aware of the social lenses we see things through. There are certainly core energy types that are (a) quieter, more internal, more intuitive, more feeling oriented... and (b) louder, more active, external, thought-oriented... Traditionally these have been named 'feminine' and 'masculine', but why can't we give them other names? Ascribing particular characteristics to 'female' and 'male' bodies keeps us trapped in binary gender, restricts our self-expression and our social roles...
- Scientifically, there seems to be no correlation between the moon cycle and menstruation. Dr. Marija Vlajic Wheeler, a data scientist at the University of Oxford, led a research team which analysed 7.5 million menstrual cycles. They found that though the moon's journey around the Earth takes 29.5 days, and the average menstrual cycle is 29 days, there is no scientific link: Periods can start randomly throughout the month and the length of menstrual cycles can vary by age and racial-ethnic background.
In summary, then, no the Moon isn't female, though in Western, patriarchal culture we tend to see the moon that way. At a time when so much is shifting, when we are urged to question our language, our assumptions, our social structures, we must notice and question our tendency to gender everything too. My second wave feminist books had their place; they were important in the development of my feminist thinking and my spirituality. But thought moves on, and both feminism and spirituality have evolved. In an intersectional, feminist, queer spirituality - the gendered moon has no place.
I'll go further and say that the second wave feminist association of the moon with womanhood - and any feminist adherence to the notion of binary gender - is actually anti-thetical. playing into the hands of patriarchy. As Audrey Lorde said "..the masters tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
Given the moon's ever-changing nature, the idea of a gender fluid or non-binary archetype seems most appropriate to the moon. What does this archetype look or feel like? Perhaps the experience of being both/and, neither/nor... Perhaps cycling like the moon, sometimes masculine, sometimes feminine, sometimes both... Perhaps just 'the Moon' without any gender ascribed...
However, as with all spiritual practice, I suggest taking a personal approach, tuning in and sensing the energy for ourselves, trying to get beneath the traditional constructs and discovering what we personally see, hear and feel... When I've done this with other archetypes e.g. the Goddess Aphrodite, I've always been amazed - the raw, wild, earthy Aphrodite I experience is nothing like the prettified, feminised patriarchal version... Try it for yourself. And then tell me, is your moon female?
P.s. Admittedly, I'm still struggling with Mother Earth archetype as the nurturing Mother is very personally appealing. This may be the subject of my next blog article!
Disclamer: all 'research' material found on the internet, so open to error).