Essay: Symbolism: The Sun and the Moon

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Symbolism: The Sun and the Moon

Symbolism is all around us: religion adopts its use; so do poets, painters, architects, and every kind of artist. The world is a rebus, as Terrence Malick says -- symbolism helps us understand the mystery of things. There are many symbols found in nature that one could use to discuss the variety of ways different cultures throughout time have attempted to explain their faith or spirituality or their relation to the cosmos. This paper will look at different ways cultures have defined themselves through the symbolic use of the sun and the moon.

The sun and the moon are as old as time itself and are two objects visible by all cultures of all times; therefore, it should be no surprise to find that all cultures have established a system of belief that has used the sun and/or the moon as a symbol to illustrate an aspect of that system.

In India, for example, Sanskrit tells us that the Sun, like God, is. It is firmness, strength, charity -- it sheds its light without fail. Unlike the Moon, the Sun is constant and is the symbol of constancy. The Moon, in India, however, is a symbol of alteration, of fickleness, of the life of the emotions -- which, like, the moon, are always changing faces.

Western sun and moon symbolism, on the other hand, give personality characteristics to the heavenly orbs: the moon is seen as feminine (partially because of its cyclical nature, which has been used to represent the womanly cycle, but also because it has been viewed as representative of feminine traits: the moon is seen as social, helpful, looking outward and reflecting what it finds in others). The sun, according to general Western traditions, is viewed as more masculine: it is still, unchanging, satisfied with its work and the daily exercise of its craft; it is self-interested.

A more in depth analysis of particular cultures in both the East and the West, however, reveals even more about soon and moon symbolism.

In Japanese culture, the moon is appreciated even more than the sun is. Yet in New Zealand (not too far from Japan, at least, geographically), the Maori tribe suspected the moon of being a man-eater. A similar attribute is given to the moon symbol by the Aztecs -- all the way on the other side of the world: the Aztec tribe considered the moon to be a hunter who stalked the night skies looking for victims to fee upon. The Navajo people viewed the sun as a symbol of work -- the sun for them was a worker who set out everyday to lighten the world.

On the other hand, back in the East in Polynesia, the moon had more of a positive role: the moon was a symbol of woman's hand in creation; the Persians of antiquity likewise saw the moon as a representation of "motherhood."

In other cultures, the moon has been viewed as a place for the dead: some ancient Greeks saw it thus as did some Hindus in India. Elsewhere in Greece, however, the moon was a symbol of Artemis, whose brother was Apollo, driver of the sun. A brother-sister relationship between the sun and the moon has also been found in South American symbology: The Incas used the sun to represent the man and the moon the maid -- members of an ancient royal Incan lineage. The Mayans likewise used the moon as a symbol of royalty, placing the image the moon goddess alongside the names of woman of nobility. The moon has long been associated with the soul, and Native American tribes used it as a symbol for eternity.

In Christian mythology, the sun and the moon take on a symbolic nature: the sun has multiple meanings: it is seen as a symbol for the Second Coming of Christ. It is also seen as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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