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Author Comment
Unregistered User
(12/5/04 11:58 am)
Drowned Moon
I recently came across the story of the Drowned/Buried/Dead Moon, in which the Moon is trapped in the bogs by dark creatures. It seems different from 'standard' fairy tales, having a darker tone (such as a bramble that twines around her arms and holds her in the water). All right, so most fairy tales are pretty dark in their original form. But I was wondering if there are other variations on it. I did read the retelling 'The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep'. Are there more out there?

Registered User
(12/7/04 9:45 pm)

Re: Drowned Moon
I looked around and had basically no luck finding a similar story online. I was thinking, though...there seems to be some relation to the idea that one's reflection can be "trapped", and so your essence or soul is also trapped. The moon shone down on the water, which captured its reflection, causing it to appear to be caught under the water. Bogs, especially, were eerie places where dark things happened...and pools of still water abounded reflecting the moon back a thousand times. The moon symbolism is tied in with water, mirrors, and magic. Just some rambling thoughts...

Unregistered User
(12/8/04 12:38 pm)
Phases of the moon
An old South African nursery rhyme, roughly translated into English: (That's why it doesn't rhyme)
Mom, the moon is gone
Did the black wolf eat it?
Perhaps by tomorrow
He will have wolfed down all the stars also...

Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(12/8/04 2:13 pm)
Re: Phases of the moon
Oh, that's interesting. Doesn't a black wolf eat the sun in some apocalypse myth? Maybe the Norse Ragnarok? Or am I thinking of the Black boar that eats the sun in Celtic myth? Or am I making the whole thing up.

Helen J Pilinovsky
Registered User
(12/8/04 4:45 pm)
Re: Phases of the moon
Yep, Ragnorak - I think that the wolf's name if Fenrir.

aka Greensleeves
Registered User
(12/8/04 6:57 pm)
Re: Phases of the moon
This is almost certainly completely unrelated, but your story called to mind the 'moonrakers' of--well, I hesitate to call it folklore, exactly... but a tale out of various villages in England about villagers found attempting to fish the moon out of a pond:]Moonrakers[/link]

Well, I suppose we can call it folklore if we stretch it to be a version of the trickster tales....

Anyway, sort of interesting.

Edited by: aka Greensleeves at: 12/8/04 6:58 pm
Registered User
(12/11/04 2:45 am)
Re: Phases of the moon
Yes, the wolf's name is Fenrir and he consumes the moon, bringing the cold of Ragnarok. He breaks free of the special chain the dwarfs made to keep him bound. And his appetite is ferocious. Eventually he also consumes the sun, the stars, and all the other celestial bodies.
As a side note, the concept of one's soul being trapped by reflections is everywhere in myth. It seems to be related quite often to a door or window into the Other. Hence it's bad luck to break a mirror because you might be letting something out. Also you can seek visions in mirrors and the reflection of the moon on water.

Gunnlods Cup
Registered User
(12/18/04 2:24 pm)
Swallowing the moon
"Yes, the wolf's name is Fenrir and he consumes the moon, bringing the cold of Ragnarok. He breaks free of the special chain the dwarfs made to keep him bound. And his appetite is ferocious. Eventually he also consumes the sun, the stars, and all the other celestial bodies."

Actually, Moon is consumed by Hati, who has chased him from the beginning; and Sun with be eaten by Skoll, at the end. They're both wolves, and sons of giantesses, like Fenrir, but not related to Fenrir.

The wars come first, then the endless winter, then Hati eats the sun, and Skoll, the moon. And the stars will fall from the sky, though I could find no direct explanation of that part. The earth will begin to convulse and Fenrir will break free. At Ragnarok, Odin will make straight for Fenrir and Fenrir will swallow him, only to be killed immediately after by Vidar, Odin's son.

Can you tell I'm a bit obsessed with Norse myths?:D

Registered User
(12/19/04 11:13 am)
Re: Swallowing the moon
A quick Google on "The Moon Is Drowning While I Sleep" leads to this webcomic:

I haven't looked at it, but she makes reference to the story here:

Might be interesting.

Registered User
(12/20/04 9:40 am)
No Rest for the Wicked
Actually, that's how I came across the story in the first place! The webcomic is a recombination of several well-known fairytales, with the Drowned moon as the background. There are some very nice twists on the stories being used.

Unregistered User
(12/20/04 11:56 am)
And Then There's Vachel Lindsay's Take On It...
... "The moon's the North Wind's cooky.
He bites it, day by day,...

(Full text here: <>)

That poem just delighted me when I was a little girl. It's not ominous, though, like a wolf eating the moon or the moon drowning.

Unregistered User
(12/22/04 6:19 pm)
found some moon stories!
on this page

you will find frametales

there are a few students at oklahoma university who have told stories about the moon
and ragnorak

ps this is how i found out about surlalunefairytales in the first place
i found it on one of those pages


Unregistered User
(12/22/04 6:27 pm)
hey again
this person's webpage was the best

i hope you enjoy her story/retelling

Ari Berk
Unregistered User
(12/22/04 11:12 pm)
The Drowned or Dead Moon
To be sure, this is a strange and rare tale.

It was first published by the Folk-Lore Society in 1891 as one of several legends collected by Mrs M.C. Balfour from the Lincolnshire Cars, or Fens. She says that she heard this tale from a girl of nine who had listened to it at the knee of her grandmother. But, Mrs Balfour adds, "it was tinged by her own fancy, which seemed to lean to eerie things..." So whether it is folklore or fiction, or something in between is hard to know. I think there is something at the heart of it that rings true, and if it is proper folklore (which has, in my opinion, rather fuzzy boundaries anyway) it is one the only mythological tales appearing in the corpus of English folktales (as it appears to explain the cycles of celestial objects/persona).

I know of two retellings.

A very fine one may be found in the (out of print, I believe) book, THE DEAD MOON, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. An excellent collection of retellings of tales from East Anglia and the Fen Country.

Another may be found in my book (with artist Brian Froud)
THE RUNES OF ELFLAND, where I have retold it in a shorter, slightly more colloquial style under the heading of "A Rune of Fortune."

Hope this helps!

--Ari Berk

Black Sheep
Registered User
(12/23/04 9:07 am)
I tend to use terms without precise definitions for general conversation but I'd say that the 1891 version of the story is a "folk tale which was first recorded in the late 19th century" it is also technically a "legend" (if the teller presented it as a true story) or a "fairy tale/wonder tale/magic tale" (if it was presented as fiction). It would only be a "myth" if it was presented as a story about a Divine Being and it probably couldn't be an "English myth" because when the English language was gendered the moon was male and in the oldest recorded native "English" tales the moon is a man (the man in the moon!).

But all that verbal classification is just pedantic linguistic blah-blah which doesn't affect the impact of the story (I hope) which I enjoy very much.

Ari Berk
Unregistered User
(12/23/04 11:59 pm)
dead moon definitions
Black Sheep,

Enjoyed your comments!

Well, while I certainly agree that basic definitions are pretty handy items (indeed, I spend the whole first meeting of my undergrad folklore courses discussing them), but they are problematic for this particular story which presents us with some complex issues, not the least of which is authenticity. Balfour suggests that the little girl may have made it up. But she wasn't sure. Briggs suggests that the Fens is a strange place and strange tales emerge from it, but she's not quite sure either since no other version have been collected.

It was, I believe, also Katherine Briggs who first considered this tale a "mythic story." She did so, I suspect, because it *does* deal with the actions of a divine being: the Moon. I can't really comment on your idea about the "Man in the Moon" though. You're right about the antiquity of this phrase (early, early 14th century, no?), but the notion of a male moon didn't seem to impress the nine year old girl who first told the tale, and any way you look at it, at the end of the day, it's her story.


Black Sheep
Unregistered User
(12/24/04 9:30 am)
Definitions again...
I see you are a fellow pedant Ari so shall we play some more?

I believe, as you also point out, that there is a strong possibility this story (at least in this form) originated from the girl informant or maybe whoever told it to her (her Grandmother?). I haven't read the 1891 publication for several years (and I'm currently staying with my father so no ref. sources) but I don't recall the story being presented by the collector in a verbatim form. This implies that the collector also had a hand in creating/shaping the story in its oldest recorded/published form. I still have no problem with calling the story a folk tale (although it's not strictly "folklore") from our 21st century perspective (which is the only time-based perspective currently open to me as a temporal relativist). Whether or not it was a folk tale when the informant told it to the collector is another question which we can only speculate about unless more evidence comes to light.

I wouldn't rely on Briggs as an authority for definitions as her work has been built on and reassessed since it was first published (as I'm sure you know if you've been a student). As I said, I haven't read the 1891 text for some years so you'll have to correct me on the details but how Briggs chose to present the story is irrelevent. What matters is how the informant presented it and how the collector re-presented it because the 1891 text is our source. Did the informant, who was presumably a Christian, and the collector, a Christian, present the moon as a Divine Being in the story? If not then it can't be a "myth". As you implied yourself, we can't legitimately redefine other people's beliefs to suit our worldviews. You say "it *does* deal with the actions of a divine being: the Moon." Give evidence that the moon in this tale is presented as Divine, please (if you have a text)?

The moon is masculine in early English languages (and all gendered Germanic languages AFAIK). The earliest English cultural evidence for a man in the moon is a medieval seal which I believe slightly predates the OED phrase history but I'd need to check my memory against a ref. source.
(If we're talking ancient myths then the moon was never recorded as a Deity in any English source culture except the Roman.)

My favourite retelling is De Lint's version (although I wish it had been longer and more thoroughly explored).

Ari Berk
Unregistered User
(12/24/04 10:16 am)
Oh,Black Sheep, you have so much more energy than I do at the end of a long term....

I do have a copy of the original publication, but getting to it shall mean exploring (and perhaps excavating) a dark corner of my I may be a day or two getting back with particulars.

In the meantime, let me bounce a question back to you:

I have no argument with your comments regarding a male gendered moon in most, if not all, English (Old as well) sources (though I wouldn't be too quick to toss out Roman influence), but why throw out Brigg's tentative suggestion? Oh, I know she's be "re-assessed," everyone gets reassessed --- that's how we keep graduate students busy and Great Wheels of the Academe turning --- but why don't you like the notion of considering a personified celestial (as the moon is this story....she goes "walking" does she not? And draws a hood over her head? She helps the people of the Fens who greatly appreciate her light (ok, maybe they don't worship her in the strict sense, but this is England and we are dealing with shards and shadows)? Fair enough if you don't want to answer until I come up with the "goods." But I am interested in your thoughts on this. In the meantime, I'll go downstairs start digging and decide whether in this matter I am speaking as the pedant or the poet...

With thanks for the fun,


Ari Berk
Unregistered User
(12/24/04 12:21 pm)
definitions p.s.
p.s. Black Sheep, I think the text is presented verbatim.

Would it make things any easier (I boring!) if I altered Briggs' term "mythic story" and just called the tale "myth-ish"?

Myth-ish:refers to a story or tale, real or invented (or merely told to an anthrolpologist for candy or money) that contains elements/motifs, and/or partial elements or vague references to motifs that either refer, or seem to refer to something you heard in another story that lots of other scholars (mostly dead ones) at one time referred to as a myth.

Your thoughts?

Happy holidays!

Black Sheep
Registered User
(12/26/04 10:48 am)
Re: definitions +
I think you're right Ari about Marie Clothilde (what an excellent name!) Balfour claiming that she was recounting the story exactly as it was told to her, and I certainly appreciate her pioneering efforts to treat the cultural and linguistic differences of her informants with respect, but I don't believe that her recounting was verbatim by today's scrupulous standards. It's one of those temporally relative opinions again.

There's no need to dig out your ref source at all and certainly no hurry. I asked for your point of view because I'm genuinely interested in different opinions. I find them helpful in giving me an alternative perspective on my own current (but ever changing) views.

I don't think I can give you "myth-ish" (although I'm open to further persuasion) but you can certainly have magical, wonderful, marvellous, fantastic, fabulous, and probably awesome and terrific. I still can't allow that it's alright for us (or dead-white-scholars) to impose terms on folk and their tales which those folk didn't (seem to) intend when they told their (now our) tales.

My main problem with your (Briggs's?) reason for defining the personified moon as a Divine Being is that you seem to be making a case for celestial=divine which only stands up in a minority of religions. One of humanity's most commonly recognised Divine Beings is the earth which/who is clearly terrestrial=divine. "Heaven" is upwards in popular Christianity but that's merely one possible worldview. I refuse to disrespect downwards as a possible divine direction. :)
So why should a celestial/upwards being be anything more than "merely" magical?

Black Sheep
Unregistered User
(12/26/04 2:51 pm)
Re my post above: I accept that in this story up is good and down is bad.

I had a search around the net and there are several retellings posted as Buried Moon, Captive Moon or Captured Moon. No Balfour version but Jacobs retelling of Balfour is here:

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