The alleged predominant influence of the moon's wax and wane over the growth and welfare of vegetation was formerly generally recognized. Thus in an almanac of the year 1661 it is stated that:--
If any corn, seed, or plant be either set or sown within six hours either before or after the full Moon in Summer, or before the new Moon in Winter, having joined with the cosmical rising of Arcturus and Orion, the Haedi and the Siculi, it is subject to blasting and canker.
Timber was always cut during the wane of the Moon, and so firmly rooted was this superstition that directions were given accordingly in the Forest Code of France.
An early English almanac advised farmers to kill hogs when the moon was growing, as thus "the bacon would prove the better in boiling."
Even at the present time a host of credulities regarding the moon is prevalent among the ignorant classes of different lands. Thus, for example, the negroes in the vicinity of Washington, D. C., believe that potatoes should be planted before the new moon in order to thrive, and among the negroes and Indians of the State of Missouri, the proper time for weaning a baby or calf is determined by the lunar phases.
Moon-worship was one of the most ancient forms of idolatry, and still exists among some Eastern nations. A relic of the practice is seen in some parts of Great Britain in the custom of bowing to the new moon.
Astrologers regarded the moon as exerting a powerful influence over the health and fortunes of human beings, according to her aspect and position at the time of their birth. Thus in a "Manual of Astrology" by Raphael (London, 1828), she is described as a "cold, moist, watery, phlegmatic planet, and partaking of good or evil as she is aspected by good or evil stars."
The growing horned moon was thought to exert a mysterious beneficent influence not only over many of the operations of agriculture, but over the affairs of every-day life as well. Hence doubtless arose the belief in the value of crescent-shaped and cornute objects as amulets and charms; of these the horse-shoe is the one most commonly available, and therefore the one most generally used.
In astrology the moon has indeed always been considered the most influential of the heavenly bodies by reason of her rapid motion and nearness to the earth; and the astrologers of old, whether in forecasting future events or in giving advice as to proper times and seasons for the transaction of business affairs, first ascertained whether or not the moon were well aspected. This was also a cardinal point with the shrewd magicians of later centuries. And should any one require proof of the existence of a modern belief in lunar influences, let him consult Zadkiel's Almanac for the year 1898. Therein he will find it stated that when the sun is in benefic aspect with the moon, it is a suitable day for asking favors, seeking employment, and traveling for health.
Venus in benefic aspect with the moon is favorable for courting, marrying, visiting friends, engaging maidservants, and seeking amusement.
Mars, for consulting surgeons and dealing with engineers and soldiers.
Jupiter, for opening offices and places of business, and for beginning new enterprises.
Saturn, for having to do with farmers, miners, and elderly people, for buying real estate and for planting and sowing.
For, says the oracle of the almanac, astrologers have found by experience that if the above instructions are followed, human affairs proceed smoothly.
In his work entitled "The Evil-Eye" (London, 1895), Mr. Frederick Thomas Elworthy calls attention to the fact that the half-moon was often placed on the heads of certain of the most powerful Egyptian deities, and therefore when worn became a symbol of their worship. Indeed, the crescent is common in the religious symbolism not only of ancient Egypt, but also of Assyria and India. The Hebrew maidens in the time of the prophet Isaiah wore crescent-shaped ornaments on their heads.
The crescent is the well-known symbol of the Turkish religion. According to tradition, Philip of Macedon (B.C. 382-336), the father of Alexander the Great, attempted to undermine the walls of Byzantium during a siege of the city, but the attempt was revealed to the inhabitants by the light of a crescent moon. Whereupon they erected a statue to Diana, and adopted the crescent as their symbol.
When the Byzantine empire was overthrown by Mohammed II., in 1453, the Turks regarded the crescent, which was everywhere to be seen, as of favorable import. They therefore made it their own emblem, and it has since continued to be a distinctively Mohammedan token.
In the Mussulman mind the new moon is intimately associated with devotional acts. Its appearance is eagerly watched for and
The moment the eye lights on the slight thread of silver in the western twilight, it remains fixed there, whilst prayers of thanksgiving and praise are offered, the hands being held up by the face, the palms upward and open, and afterwards passed three times over the visage, the gaze still remaining immovable.
Golden crescents of various sizes were among the most primitive forms of money. Ancient coins frequently bore the likenesses of popular deities or their symbols, and of the latter the crescent appears to have been the one most commonly employed. It was the usual mint-mark of the coins of Thespia in the early part of the fourth century B. C.; is seen on the coins of the reigns of Augustus, Nero, and other Roman emperors; and on the silver pieces of the time of Hadrian is found the Luna crescens with seven stars.
A crescent adorned the head of the goddess Diana in her character of Hecate, or ruler of the infernal regions.
Hecate was supposed to preside over enchantments, and was also the special guardian and protectress of houses and doors. The Greeks not only wore amulets in the shape of the half moon, but placed them on the walls of their houses as talismans; and the Romans used phaleroe, metallic disks and crescents, to decorate the foreheads and breasts of their horses.
Such ornaments are to be seen on the caparisons of the horses on Trajan's Column and on other ancient monuments, in the collection of Roman antiquities in the British Museum, and in mediaeval paintings and tapestries.
In the portrayals of combats between the Romans and Dacians on the Arch of Constantine, the trappings of the horses of both armies are decorated with these emblems, as are also the bridle reins of a horse shown in a French manuscript of the fifteenth century representing "gentlefolk meeting on horseback."
Charms of similar shape, made of wolves' teeth and boars' tusks, have been found in tumuli in different parts of Great Britain.
A sepulchral stone, which is preserved among other Gallo-Roman relics within the chteau of Chinon, France, bears the effigy of a man standing upright and clad in a large tunic with wide sleeves. Above the figure is a crescent-shaped talisman, a symbol frequently found in monuments of that period.
But the use of these symbols, although so ancient, is by no means obsolete; the brass crescent, an avowed charm against the evil eye, is very commonly attached to the elaborately decorated harnesses of Neapolitan draught-horses, and is used in the East to embellish the trappings of elephants. It is also still employed in like manner in various parts of Europe and in the England of to-day. In Germany small half-moon-shaped amulets similar to the ancient lunul¾ are still used against the evil eye.
In Sweden and Frisia, bridal ornaments for the head and neck often represent the moon's disk in its first quarter; and it is customary to call out after a newly married pair, "Increase, O Moon."
Elworthy remarks that the horse-shoe, wherever used as an amulet, is the handy conventional representative of the crescent, and that the Buddhist crescent emblem is a horse-shoe with the curve pointed like a Gothic arch.
The English fern called moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) is thought to owe its reputed magical powers to the crescent form of the segments of its frond. Some writers regard it as identical with the martagon, an herb formerly much used by sorcerers; and also with the Italian sferracavallo.
According to the famous astrologer and herbalist, Nicholas Culpepper, moonwort possessed certain occult virtues, and was endowed with extraordinary attributes, chief among them being its power of undoing locks and of unshoeing horses. The same writer remarked that, while some people of intelligence regarded these notions with scorn, the popular name for moonwort among the countryfolk was "unshoe-the-horse."
Du Bartas, in his "Divine Weekes," says in reference to this plant:--
Horses that, feeding on the grassy hills, tread upon moonwort with their hollow heels, though lately shod, at night go barefoot home, their maister musing where their shoes become. O moonwort! tell me where thou hid'st the smith, hammer and pinchers, thou unshodd'st them with.
The horse-shoe has sometimes been identified with the cross, and has been supposed to derive its amuletic power from a fancied resemblance to the sacred Christian symbol. But inasmuch as it is difficult to find any marked similarity in form between the crescent and the cross, this theory does not appear to warrant serious consideration.