This weekend there is a spectacular full moon. The news media has called it the Sturgeon Moon but, in our region, the traditional name for the August full moon is the Green Corn Moon. Most full moon names come from traditional Indian names. However, since the names Indians gave to full moons were based on seasonal events, most full moons have more than one name depending on the location of the Indian nation.
The Green Corn Moon is the southeastern Indian name for the first full moon after the last planted corn has ripened. That was usually between late July and early September. So, the August full moon took the name of the Green Corn Moon.
While a few names, such as Harvest Moon, are familiar to people, the names of all the full moons are not so well known. The Maine Farmer’s Almanac began publishing Native American names for full Moons in the 1930s. Traditionally the full moon of each month has been named, with its ancient Indian name often surviving. National Geographic lists those names as: January- Wolf Moon, February- Snow or Hunger Moon, March- Worm or Sap Moon, April- Pink or Egg Moon, May- Flower or Milk Moon, June- Strawberry or Rose Moon, July- Buck or Thunder Moon, August- Sturgeon or Green Corn Moon, September- Harvest or Barley Moon, October – Hunter’s or Travel Moon, November- Beaver or Frost Moon and December which is Cold or Oak Moon.
What are the traditional names for seasonal full moons used by the Indians our area? Columbus is located in the Choctaw cession of 1816 and Starkville the Choctaw cession of 1830. Several different sources have provided some of the Choctaw full moon names. December was the Cold or Big Winter Moon. February was the Wind or little Famine Moon. March was the Little Spring or Moon of Wind. April was Corn Planting or Budding Moon. May was the Mulberry Moon. The full moon of June was the Blackberry Moon. July was the Moon of Fire. August was the Green Corn Moon. September was the Little Chestnut Moon. November was the Frost Moon, and December was the Big Winter Moon.
As to the Green Corn Moon, which was Friday, it was a time for a major celebration that had its roots in ancient times. It was a celebration of thanksgiving for a successful corn crop. Among the southeastern Indian nations, it was the most important of all the seasonal ceremonies.
Charles Hudson of the University of Georgia, in his classic book, “The Southeastern Indians,” succinctly described the Green Corn ceremony as being as, “if we combined Thanksgiving, New Year’s festivities, Yom Kippur, Lent, and Mardi Gras.”
In Southeastern Native American lore about the moon several traditions appear. The cosmos as viewed by the people of the southeast consisted of “this world,” an “under world” which was found under the earth and under water and the “upper world” above the sky of “this world.” Within the upper world was found the moon which the Cherokees considered to be their grandparent. They viewed both the sun and the moon with respect as their ancestors from the remote past.
Some Native American people believed that an eclipse of the moon was caused by (depending on the nation) a giant frog or even a giant rat eating the moon. People would beat drums and make loud noises to scare the vermin off thereby saving the moon. The Chickasaws in Mississippi had a totally different view. They called the moon “hushi ninak aya” or “the sun of the night.” They believed that an eclipse of the sun or the moon was simply an unexplainable phenomenon over which they had no control and should not be concerned. They referred to an eclipse as “hushi kunia” or “lost sun”.
Interestingly, an animal and moon tradition is also found both in Chinese folklore and the U.S. space program. In an ancient Chinese legend, a great hero by the name of Hou Yi was given an elixir by the queen of heaven. It was a drink by which he could ascend to heaven and become a god. He gave the vial to his wife Chang E for safekeeping. One day when Hou Yi was away from home, an evil person tried to get the elixir from Chang E and she drank it to prevent it from falling into evil hands. She then ascended to the moon where she became a goddess.
Later a rabbit was rewarded for an act of self-sacrifice by being sent into the heavens to be a jade rabbit living in the moon palace with Chang E. Then there is the little-known incident forever linking the Apollo 11 moon landing with Chang E and a jade rabbit.
Shortly before man first landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, there was a communication between NASA Capcom and Apollo 11. Houston advised the Apollo crew to be on the lookout after landing on the moon as a “beautiful Chinese girl called Chang’e has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree.”
One of the astronauts on board responded: “Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.” The part of the flight transcript which would identify whether it was Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin or Michael Collins who responded is missing. It seems moon lore is still being created.
Thanks to Carolyn Kaye for helping with this column.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.
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