By Brooke O’Connor
My father told me the moon was made of cheese when I was a child.
“See all the holes?” he asked, and I believed him.
Why was the moon made of cheese? He couldn’t answer that, but I wondered if the moon tasted anything like my ham and cheese sandwich on a warm day.
Later, I was told there was a man’s face on the moon. He looked down on the children of the world to see if they were behaving properly and reported to the parents if any mischief was at hand. It was a bit creepy, but my best friend assured me it was only a way for parents to instill fear in us.
The Agricultural Moon
Ancient cultures studied the moon and its cycles, and people were more in tune with those cycles than we are today. Planting under a certain moon cycle could grow stronger crops. Harvesting under a certain moon cycle would yield better-tasting produce.
These practices are being revived. I worked with an organic chamomile farm that harvested on the night of a full moon. Laboratory tests showed the highest level of azulenes (a blue chemical used as an anti-inflammatory and emollient) were available from 11 pm to 1 am on full moons. Their chamomile essential oils were so potent, they were only used for medical purposes. One drop would stain your hand for a few days.
Here in Mexico, the traditional milpa method of gardening – small, intercropped plots typically growing corn, climbing beans, and vining squash –is still in use today and uses the moon cycles to maximize production.
As any gardener knows, one of the essential parts of gardening is factoring in the fauna, and rabbits are omnipresent in that ecosystem. In fact, rabbits have been a food source for humans and other animals for many millennia.
The Moon of Mexican Legends
So how did the Aztecs decide there was a rabbit on the moon?
Let me tell you …
As many good stories start, this one started long ago and began with a god. Quetzalcóatl is related to the gods of the wind, of the dawn, of merchants, of arts, crafts, and knowledge. He was also the patron god of the Aztec priesthood, and of learning and knowledge. Quetzalcoatl was one of several important gods in the Aztec pantheon and is known as the Precious Serpent or Feathered Serpent.
One day, shortly after Mexico was created, Quetzalcóatl was curious to see this beautiful land and transformed himself into human form to walk around and explore. He was amazed at the exquisite variety of trees, flowers, and terrain he found. He walked far and wide. The sun was hot, the day was long, and he became tired. As the moon rose, and the stars started to twinkle, he realized he was hungry and started searching for food.
As Quetzalcóatl looked for food, he tripped over a rabbit.
“Who are you and what are you eating? I am hungry and looking for food.” The god said.
“I’m just a little rabbit, and I eat grass. I will gladly pick grass for you to eat because I see you are a great god,” the rabbit said.
“I will die of starvation if I eat grass. There must be something else.” Quetzalcóatl said.
The rabbit replied, “Very well, I will offer myself to you as a sacrifice. Eat me and you will have the energy to continue your journey.” =
“You are very brave for such a small creature!” Quetzalcóatl said.
“I am here to serve you.” The rabbit said.
Quetzalcóatl was touched by the courage and dedication of the rabbit. He picked him up and caressed the soft fur. Then, instead of eating him, he held the rabbit up to the moon and imprinted the rabbit’s silhouette. The rabbit would forever be known for his good heart and sacrificial attitude.
This is why the Aztecs say there is a rabbit on the moon.
It’s interesting to note that the Chinese and Japanese also have myths about the rabbit on the moon. The Japanese story talks about a god disguised as an old man who wanders in the forest for food. A monkey offers some stolen fish and a fox offers some nuts, but the rabbit has nothing to offer but grass. The rabbit then offers himself to the old man, and the god reveals himself, then gives the rabbit eternal life on the moon.
I always scratch my head when myths of different cultures collide, particularly when they are so specific but geographically distant. What does it mean? Could there really be a rabbit on the moon?
I doubt it, but there’s definitely a connection in human history yet to be discovered.