WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE MOON? a post, because everyone is confused

This Dr Sara Öberg Strådal, the other half of Medieval Dick Twitter and kick- ass art historian working on medieval medical visual culture is BACK.  Follow her on Twitter for excellent meme action, and generally correct opinions.

Look, I know that we are all worried about the moon right now, because some baby tiktok witches put a hex on her. Why hex the moon? IDK. Probs for the same reason as all those men want to blow up the moon.

Look at how jaunty and stylish this young personification of the moon is in this early fifteeenth-century English cosmological treatise. Why would you want to hex him?

From John de Foxton, Liber Cosmographiae, Trinity College Cambridge MS R.15.21, fol. 31 v.

As planetary bodies go, the moon is a pretty evocative one, and has been for a long time. I guess that’s the way it goes when you control the tides.

Medieval people were obsessed with the moon as well. I don’t know if anyone hexed it, but that may just be because the archival records of baby witches do not survive to the present day.

In the Middle Ages the moon was considered to be a planet. It was one of seven (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) moving around a central fixed earth. All the planets and the zodiac signs were, of course, important. The moon was particularly important though because medieval people used the moon in order to plan their day to day lives and calendars. Observation of the Moon was necessary, for example, in order to determine the dates of moveable feasts like Easter.

The Northumbrian monk Bede (672-735), wrote a whole book, The Reckoning of Time, about how exactly one could determine when Easter was by low-key stalking the moon. He also managed to explain how tides were influenced by her, lest you think that just because medieval people called the Moon a planet they did not know what was up.

They affected the humoral balance within the human body, the climates and seasons were ruled by different planets and the waning and waxing of the moon should be considered when planning daily activities. The link between planetary bodies and the human body was nicely underscored in one of the most common medieval medical illustrations, the Zodiac Man. Check it:

Drawing Of Zodiac Man, In The Guildbook Of The Barber Surgeons Of York, British Library.

This one is from the fifteenth century Guildbook if the Barber Surgeons of York (now at the BL). This very naked young man with a very trendy fifteenth-century hairstyle is demonstrating to you and I (and the barber surgeons in York that commissioned this book) the relationship between the star signs and the human body. Pisces was associated with the feet. This rotund dragon like Scorpio with the groin. Aries with the head. You get the picture.

The sun moves through the zodiac in about a year. Likewise, our girl the moon, moves through the zodiac in about 28 days. That means that she is in each zodiac sign for like two and half days, and when she is in a particular sign you should avoid medical treatments or procedures on the part of the body associated with that sign. For example, if the moon is in Gemini – try to avoid phlebotomy of the arms.

Some medical writers, like fan-favourite Hildegard of Bingen, thought that you should also avoid blood-letting when our girl was getting fuller. Instead she counciled that “One should bleed when the moon is on the wane, that means on the first day the moon begins to wane, or on the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth day. Then one should stop, because any earlier or later bloodletting will not be effective.”[1] See your the moon would straight hold blood in with her tide-like ways if you tried bleeding while she was simultaneously flexing.

Maybe it was this, on the surface, adversarial relationship that led her to be hexed?!

The moon’s ability to restrain and retain liquid meant you also had to think about what her deal was when planting seeds. It was thought that water could be drawn deep into the soil when the moon was waxing (getting bigger), but would be released when it was waning. As a result, you should plant the seeds of watery vegetables and fruits, like melons, oats, and cucumbers, when the moon was on the wane, and you should undertake work like tree grafting when it was waxing in order to avoid sap loss. Look just cuz you don’t worry about sap loss doesn’t mean you will catch medieval people sleeping.

But the moon crops up in other contexts as well! Like here for example on the Mathilde Cross.

She pretty.

This cross was produced in the early eleventh century for all sorts of interesting and complicated dynastic reasons. The artists employ a tone of complicated iconography to draw a direct line between not just the empire of Ancient Rome, (who medieval people saw themselves as the obvious inheritors of), but previous generations of abbesses at Essen Abbey. If you look at the right of the cross, you see what looks like an angry lady getting ready to punch someone (next to an ancient roman cameo or spolia, which is what we call ancient Roman pieces inserted into medieval artworks).

Baby tiktok witches about to catch these moon hands.

That’s the moon! The sun is also being appropriately sad on the other side. Together like this they represent how all of the world wept for Christ when he died on the cross. She is taking on the role of not just the moon but the universal feminine who is very very mad about this whole crucifixion thing.

These are just a few of many (many, many) examples of people in the middle ages obsessing over the moon. An old tradition that we correctly continue to this day.

For those of you worried about the moon being hexed, don’t be – she is far too powerful for some baby witches, with or without the help of the fae. Because in the words of important philosopher LeeAnn Rimes, well…

[1] Margret Berger (ed.), Hildegard of Bingen: In Natural Philosophy and Medicine: Selections from Cause et Cure (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 89.

If you enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my patreon. If not, that is chill too!

For more from Sara, see:
Religious iconography has always been a prop
On QAnon and Systems of knowledge

For more on art and art history, see:
Look up, this church is judging you
On the concept of the Renaissance and Outkast’s Hey Ya

Author: Dr Eleanor Janega

Medieval historian, lush, George Michael evangelist.

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