“Tell me the story about how the Sun loved the Moon so much he died every night to let her breathe.”
Oh and yes, it’s breathe. You take in a breath that allows your lungs to breathe. Seems there has been some debate about that too.
The quote itself has captured the imagination of people world-wide. But what is the story and where did it come from? What’s the history or origin of the phrase? Who said it? And what’s the whole story?
I’ve spent a good deal of time searching and delving into the history of this phrase. And continue to search, for the original source. My initial assessment hasn’t changed. No one actually knows where it originated. So far…
Some believe it’s a spin on a much earlier folktale “Why the Sun Chases the Moon”. But there’s no real factual evidence linking these two together. Mostly supposition and that doesn’t make the link clear. It makes it a theory based on opinion. Not good enough for me.
Whither it’s a claim that the story was inspired from the Bible, the Australian Aborigines, Indo-European Pagans, the Norse, the Mayans, various Native American Nations or any other variety of cultures, people want to be “the originators” of this grand phrase and subsequent story. It’s such a great line, everyone simply wants the quote to come from “their” cultural origin and their history.
In the scheme of things I thought I found the source when I discovered a story about the Sun and Moon from Cherokee origins. After I found the full context of that tale, it was obvious that wasn’t the story (See Native American Indian Legends). Again I discovered a potential source when I found a tale from China. But sadly, that one didn’t pan out either (See Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky).
Through all this I did find a very good reference site for tracking down clues that helped lead to more research. It’s called Ancient-Mythology.com and doing a quick Google search for the “Sun loved the moon” on their site you’ll find a multitude of search results that give you a small indication of how many myths and legends from around the world there are to read about these two celestial bodies. But none have really panned out.
Every culture around the world has a Sun and Moon myth. Some places depict the Sun as female chasing the male Moon around the sky. Others see the Moon as the female, being chased by the male Sun. In some myths they’re siblings; in other myths they’re lovers and still others depict them as Mother Moon who gave birth to her son the Sun. Face it, the cryptic quote can be applied to any scenario or relationship you can think of and there’s probably a legend to support that perspective.
Some believe the view of Father Sun and Mother Moon comes from the pagan perspectives of Indo-European origins. The Sun (Lugh the god of light and fire) is in love with the mistress of the night Mother Moon who becomes GrandMother Moon once Mother Earth has been born and springs forth life. But in my research, there are no mythological legends that support this claim. There are plenty of Sun and Moon stories. But not “this” story.
In most Indo-European pagan cultures, the Sun God waits for his bride Mother Earth under the watchful eye of Grand Mother Moon. But this isn’t written in stone for all European Shamanistic cultures. It’s only one of the most prevalent. And even this one is a little unclear in its origination. Is it Celtic or Norse or a combination?
In some legends The Father Sun mates with Mother Earth to grow children (us), while Grand Mother Moon watches over their children at night as they sleep. Grand Mother Moon is depicted as the Triple Goddess; Maiden and consort to the Sky/Stars; Mother who births the Earth and Crone, the wise Grand Mother who watches over her grand children as Father Sun goes off to hunt and Mother Earth falls into slumber.
The Moon in Myths – from: Mythencyclopedia.com
A Native American myth says that the sun and moon are a chieftain and his wife and that the stars are their children. The sun loves to catch and eat his children, so they flee from the sky whenever he appears. The moon plays happily with the stars while the sun is sleeping. But each month, she turns her face to one side and darkens it (as the moon wanes) to mourn the children that the sun succeeded in catching.
The Efik Ibibio people of Nigeria in West Africa also say that the sun and the moon are husband and wife. Long ago they lived on the earth. One day their best friend, Flood, came to visit them, bringing fish, reptiles, and other relatives. Flood rose so high in their house that they had to perch on the roof. Finally he covered the house entirely, so the sun and moon had to leap into the sky.
According to the Greek myth of Endymion and Selene, the moon (Selene) fell in love with a handsome young king named Endymion and bore him 50 daughters. One version of the story says that Selene placed Endymion in eternal sleep to prevent him from dying and to keep him forever beautiful.
In a myth of the Luyia people of Kenya in East Africa, the sun and moon were brothers. The moon was older, bigger, and brighter, and the jealous sun picked a fight with him. The two wrestled and the moon fell into mud, which dimmed his brightness. God finally made them stop fighting and kept them apart by ordering the sun to shine by day and the mud-spattered moon to shine by night to illuminate the world of witches and thieves.
From the poem Vafþrúðnismál in the Norse Eddas – Wikipedia
The god Odin tasks the jötunn Vafþrúðnir with a question about the origins of the sun and the moon. Vafþrúðnir responds that Mundilfari is the father of both Sól and Máni, and that they must pass through the heavens every day to count the years for man.
In one poem of the Eddas, the Sun is referred to as the bright God. In another the Sun is referred to as the shining Bride.
Even J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about the Sun and Moon, placing the Sun as female and the Moon as male. But some point out that this was written in the Silmarillion. Because J. R. R. Tolkien died before he finished revising the various legends in this work, his son Christopher gathered material from his father’s older writings to fill out the book. In a few cases, this meant that he had to devise completely new material in order to resolve gaps and inconsistencies in the narrative. Some suggest the line was added by Christopher, while others say it was originally written by his father. Either way, it doesn’t matter because the phrase was around as early as the 1830s, long before either Tolkien began writing.
That 1830’s citation comes from an article written in a woman’s periodical in the United Kingdom. The article discusses romance for the young English woman and mentions the phrase as an “ole fable”. One could take that description as an indication there is indeed an old story that goes along with the phrase. But without more evidence or description, this is a guess on anyone’s part. Fables tell the reader or listener about lessens of good and evil, right and wrong, and moral values. Oral traditions are also forms of fables that share the history or knowledge of a place or people. So the phrase could be part of either scenario.
I found an academic discussion of fables and how they played in English culture. The author suggested that by being called a “fable” the story was generally connected to a Germanic tale. Think of the Brothers Grimm and you have an idea of where this paper was going. By the end of the discussion (which was considerably long and covered in several years), the final result was this was an assumption that had no supporting documentation to back it up. It was however an interesting discussion.
While the quote is a lovely one, many people have taken the line and created their own tale. And why not? It’s a great first line to any story, poem or song. There are some beautiful and entertaining tales out there that used this line as their inspiration. But be cautious of those who claim the phrase as their own or originating with them. It ain’t so. There may have once been a grand tale that was shared orally from one storyteller to another. But as we walked away from telling stories and focused on a radio, movie theater film, or TV we have lost a large number of oral tales that no one thought to write down.
If you’re determined to find the original source; good luck! This is one case where finding the first written instance of a phrase may not be possible and even then, it may not be the original source of the tale. Around the world the story of the Sun and Moon shines with intrigue, kindness, love and lessons for kids of all ages. Read the stories that have been inspired by this quote, enjoy them and maybe let them inspire you to write your own legend of the Moon and the Sun.
If you’re interested in Storytelling and helping to keep the oral history of the world alive, I strongly suggest visiting The International Storytelling Center, which is dedicated to inspiring and empowering people everywhere to capture and tell their stories. The center is located in Jonesborough, Tennessee (the oldest town in the state). Each year they hold a grand festival, visited by enthusiasts from around the world.
© 2014 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.