Who’s that on the moon?

Children of the Western world have interpreted various markings on the surface of the moon as a face of a human being, which has since been half-seriously dubbed the Man in the Moon.

An old German tale suggests that the face is that of a man who offended God by cutting sticks on a Sunday, and was condemned to eternal imprisonment on the moon.

Some Germanic cultures thought he was a man caught stealing from a neighbor’s hedgerow to repair his own. There is a Roman legend that he is a sheep-thief.

Another story labels him as a Christmas Eve cabbage thief, who on each anniversary turns around and reveals his bundle of cabbage to the world.

An implausible Puritan story claims that he is being punished for using brambles and thorns to block the path to the church. (The Puritans were a group of English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to “purify” the Church of England from its “Catholic” practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed).

Judas Iscariot. A name synonymous with betrayal. Ninety-nine percent of people who have heard of the name say that he was the man who betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. However, various theories and traditions over the years have put forth different scenarios and outcomes as to what could have happened to him after he hanged himself the very next day. One of them says that he is being imprisoned on the Moon!

Common interpretation of the Man in the Moon as seen from the Northern Hemisphere. (Wikipedia) 

To the Masai tribe of Kenya, the markings depict the face of a woman whose lips are swollen and an eye is missing. These injuries were supposedly caused in a quarrel, with her husband, the sun.

A very old European tradition sees a figure of a man carrying a wide burden on his back. He is sometimes seen as accompanied by a small dog.

One medieval Christian tradition claims him as Cain, the Wanderer, forever doomed to circle the Earth. Dante Alighieri’s Inferno alludes to this:

For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine
On either hemisphere, touching the wave
Beneath the towers of Seville. Yesternight
The moon was round.

Inferno, Dante Alighieri

This is mentioned again in his Paradise:

But tell, I pray thee, whence the gloomy spots
Upon this body, which below on earth
Give rise to talk of Cain in fabling quaint?

Paradise, Dante Alighieri

There is also a Talmudic tradition that the image of Jacob is engraved on the moon,although no such mention appears in the Torah.

In Haida mythology (The Haida are one of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America), the figure represents a boy gathering sticks. The boy’s father had told him the moon’s light would brighten the night, allowing the chore to be completed. Not wanting to gather sticks, the boy complained and ridiculed the moon. As punishment for his disrespect, the boy was taken from earth and trapped on the moon.

The Chinese, tell gender tales. They see the Man in the Moon as a toad, a rabbit pounding rice, or an old man who binds married couples with a silken cord.


There are so many beliefs as to what the markings on the moon stand for, and if they do belong to some form of human, or more generally, a physical entity. If so, then the question about its identity and characteristics is answered by various tales, stories and beliefs such as these.


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