What Does the Moon Symbolize?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureToday, August 21, 2017, millions of Americans traveled near and far to witness a spectacular total solar eclipse that cast the moon’s shadow as a wide swath of darkness, the path of totality, (about 100 miles wide) that swiftly swept across the nation (about 10,000 miles long), traveling at a speed of 1,243 miles per hour — more than twice the speed of sound (for comparison, the fastest jet fighter travels 1,550 mph). While we wait for the next total solar eclipse to cross the United States in April 2024, it is worth pondering the rich symbolism of the moon as it appears in literature, cinema, and art. In the context of the humanities, what does the moon symbolize?

One of the most comprehensive reference books on symbolism is A Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant originally published in French in 1969 and translated into English in 1994. At over 1,100 pages, it dwarfs the well-known seminal work, A Dictionary of Symbols by Spanish poet and mythologist Juan Eduardo Cirlot, published in 1958. The entry for moon in Chevalier and Gheerbrant’s book continues for seven pages. Here are some of the key concepts that the moon symbolizes:

bad luck
death and resurrection
female deity
good fortune

the passing of time
periodic change and renewal

For further reading: The Symbolism of Storms in Literature
Do Authors Plant Symbolism in Their Work?

For further reading: A Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant

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