There are approximately three hundred kilometres between the earth and the moon. Mankind has found a way to overcome this distance through our intelligence and technology or is it our stubborn attitude? Nevertheless, instead of racking our brains to figure out the complexities of human desire, let’s remember, our planet had already set its heart on the moon, even before the beginning of civilization, bringing us closer to the moon in more ways than one.
The connection of the oceans with the moon is awe-inspiring. All fields of life have looked up to the sky, watched the moon wane and wax in the night, and observed the waves crashing on the shore. It is only natural that a link between the two be made, sooner or later.
Everything starts with a story, and as the story goes on, people begin believing in it. Mythology relating to the moon and sea has existed in various cultures—differing in details—of course, but essentially containing overlapping cores that explore the profound bond between the two. More than being mere stories, myths of a certain place reveal the faith of that culture. However absurd it may sound to foreign ears, mythology holds belief. It is this belief that manifests itself as the stories passed on from generation to generation. Various myths morph into newer versions of themselves but their essence remains the same. It shows not only how times have progressed, but also gives an insight into past thinking.
Amphitrite, originally an African goddess of the sea and the moon, was considered responsible for all sea life and was the creator of foaming waves. She used to be revered around Northern Africa in Caspian cultures. In recent years, however, she is more famously known as the Greek god Poseidon’s wife. Yet, she has continued to protect her individuality even after being forcefully married to Poseidon under the later patriarchal Greeks. Her devotion to the sea, though being a moon goddess, made Homer use her name synonymously with the ocean.
Another legend, from a Māori myth, tells of a grudge between the moon and the daughter of a sea god, named Rona. Once, the moon was hidden in the night by the clouds, making it impossible to see. Carrying a bucket of seawater, Rona tripped on a root sticking out of the ground. Upset, she carelessly spit swears at the moon. The moon, being disrespected, seized Rona and placed a curse on the land’s people. Since then, whenever it rains, it is believed that the Māori people can see the daughter of the sea carrying her bucket of water. This story symbolises the moon’s effect on the waters of the Earth, especially the rain and the tides.
A Filipino folktale speaks of a love story between Luna and Mar, children of the sun god and the sea god, respectively. Roaming on her chariot, Luna reached a place where the sky touched the sea. There, she met Mar, and fell in love instantly. Luna, ecstatic about her newfound love, told one of her cousins about it. The cousin grew jealous and reported the love affair to the sun god, who informed the sea god of his son’s disobedience. The sea god imprisoned Mar in a cave. Eager to get out of the cave, Mar exerted force and caused unrest in the sea. The fishermen say that whenever a full moon is visible and Luna appears, Mar is troubled, giving rise to high tides.
Science and myth are two sides of the same coin. Myth presumes, science proves. Be it stories or theories, they only strengthen the bond between the sea and the moon. Gravity claims that all objects experience mutual attraction to each other, the same can be said for the moon and the oceans. As our planet rotates, the area closest to the moon feels a gravitational pull, and tides form. When the moon is full or new, this attraction is stronger, the tides are higher. Whereas, if there is a half or crescent moon, they are less pronounced.
Spring tides, also called ‘King Tide’, occur when the sun and moon align to create the greatest gravitational pull on the oceans, giving rise to extremely tall tides. Neap tides, occurring seven days after the spring tides, happen when the sun and the moon are at right angles to each other. During this, there is the least amount of gravitational pull on the earth; hence, there are lower high tides and higher low tides. The moon’s influence on the ocean can also be seen in the behaviour of several sea creatures. Tides and the moon’s light play significant roles in the survival of life in the sea. For some organisms like crabs, algae and snails, being in the intertidal zone leads to immense physical stress as they are submerged in the water half the day, and exposed to air for the other half. Some others such as small fish find themselves stuck in a tide pool that is isolated from the seawater and have nowhere to hide, ending up as feed for various predators. Moonlight, on the other hand, acts as a clock for sea animals, akin to the sun for us. Corals, marine worms, and baby fish use the amount and intensity of moonlight to align specific life events like reproduction and growth. All of it adds to the fact that aquatic beings living in our vast blue oceans also possess a special relationship with the moon.
The moon and the oceans are linked through several imaginative and scientific relations. A moon path is an extended reflection of the moon on gently stirred seawater. In stories of fantasy, this path is said to lead to mysterious realms. Apart from the sea reflecting the moon and giving way to beautiful scenery, the sun too glistens on the earth’s oceans and clouds, and acting like a great mirror, gives way to the dull illumination of the unlit part of the moon. This phenomenon is ‘Earthshine’ also known as ‘Moon’s Ashen Glow.’ These wondrous occurrences make it seem as though the moon and the sea are nature’s lovers.
BREAKING BELIEF AND BUILDING BRIDGES
Science and myth are often used to counter each other- what is believed to be true in myth, science proves false. Myths are stories that people have passed down without any underlying meaning, however, in some cases, they could even be treated as tall tales with a deeper truth to them. In comparison to this, science explores truths of life that possess reason and logically make sense. Scientific truth is accepted by all, while myths are rejected or even undergo modification as time passes. It is said the moon can bring about changes in humans. The Latin word lunacy, meaning moonstruck, is usually used to describe erratic human behaviour. Criminologists suggest that outdoor
criminal activity—on desolate streets, or in natural settings like beaches, might be more when there is more moonlight. Cases of insomnia have also been attributed to a full moon. Although these studies involving us humans are yet to be verified, what is evident is that the moon bears a substantial influence on affecting our exquisite ocean tides.