• Ali Isaac

Gealach | An Irish Moon

Updated: May 12, 2020

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to witness the autumn equinox. This Sunday, I got to witness another rare and special celestial event… what a week!

So I was intrigued to see how the supermoon would look tonight. It is one of those rare Irish evenings; a lovely clear night, and the moon is big and radiant, dominating the sky. We live out in the sticks, so the sky is always stunning on cloudless nights, as there is no light pollution.

If getting up early for the equinox was hard, staying up late to observe the lunar eclipse is looking highly unlikely. In the meantime, here are a few pics I took earlier.

The Irish word for moon is gealach (pronounced gyal-akh). Our Irish ancestors didn’t seem to have a dedicated god or goddess of the moon, as most other cultures did, but there are some who have been tentatively associated with it for various reasons.

Aine, for example, is said to be the goddess of love, cattle and light; in fact, her name is said to mean ‘bright’, and therefore this is enough to associate her with the moon.

Similarly with Epona, a Celtic goddess of the night and dreams, who rides her white mare across the sky, running from the sun. Rhiannon, another Celtic goddess also rode a white horse through the night sky, and thus she is also said to be a goddess of the moon.

Although most ancient cultures equate the moon with the divine feminine, there are also many male deities thought to be moon gods.

In Ireland, Elatha, a Fomori prince who fought the Tuatha de Danann at the second Battle of Moytura, is believed to have originally been a moon or sun deity due to the imagery which surrounds him.

Admittedly, this is just one part of his story, in which he is described by his lover, Eriu, as a ‘beautiful young man with yellow hair who arrived over a flat ocean on a silver boat, wearing cloth of gold and five gold torcs’. Sounds like the sun was shining out of his… ahem!

The ancient people of Ireland counted their days as starting from sunset, in other words, their day started with the night, not the morning. So it would be logical then that the moon and the stars would have great significance to them.

They counted the year by thirteen lunar cycles, rather than twelve months, as we do today. This corresponds with the thirteen menstrual cycles women experience in a year. The moon was also associated with fertility. In fact, the ancestors did not see the face of a man in the moon, as we do today, but the shape of a hare, and hares and rabbits were seen as signs of good fortune and fertility.

As time passed and the new religion took hold, the moon held less sway over the people, and half forgotten beliefs degraded into superstition and fear. For example, it was thought lucky to see the full moon over your right shoulder, but to see it over your left was unlucky.

Even worse, if the light of the full moon was to shine on your face while you were sleeping, it was considered very unlikely that you would live to see out the end of the year. So make sure to draw your curtains at night… scary stuff indeed!

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