God made the first man and named him Moon. He put the man in a lake and gave him a horn filled with oil. After a while, Moon said, “I want to go onto the Earth.”
God replied, “You’ll regret it.”
“Nevertheless, I want to go onto the Earth.”
“Okay, then. Go.”
So Moon went onto the Earth. The Earth was cold and empty. There were no grasses or trees. There was nothing on the Earth. Moon wept. “How will I live here?” he cried.
“I told you”, said God. “You have started on a course which will end with your death. However, I will give you a companion.” God made a woman and named her Massassi. He said to Moon, “Massassi will be with you for two years.” God gave Massassi a firemaker.
In the evening, Moon and Massassi went into a cave. Massassi said, “I will gather wood. You can twirl the firemaker.” Massassi gathered wood. Moon twirled the firemaker. Soon, there was a nice little fire going. Massassi lay down on one side of the fire. Moon lay down on the other side.
Moon pondered the situation. “What am I supposed to do with this companion God has given me, this woman, Massassi?” He thought about it for a while. He moistened his finger with oil from the horn and announced, “I am going to jump over the fire!” Moon jumped over the fire to where Massassi was. He touched her body with his finger, rubbing the oil on her skin. Then Moon went back to bed and slept.
In the morning, Massassi’s body was swollen. She began to give birth. She gave birth to grasses, bushes and trees. She did not stop until the Earth was covered. The grasses, bushes and trees grew. Soon the tops of the trees touched the sky and then it began to rain.
Moon and Massassi had plenty to eat – fruits, vegetables and grain. Moon made a shovel and a hoe and planted crops. Massassi gathered wood and fetched water. Massassi cooked the food that Moon harvested. They were happy together.
After two years, Moon came home and Massassi was gone. God had taken her back. Moon wailed. He wailed and wept for a long time. Finally, God came to him. Moon said, “What will I do without Massassi? Who will gather wood and fetch water? Who will be my companion?”
“I have warned you that you are going toward your death. Nevertheless, if you wish, I will give you another companion. I will give you Morongo. She will be with you for two years.”
Morongo came to live with Moon. In the evening, Morongo lay down beside the fire. Moon lay down on the other side. Morongo said, “Don’t lie over there. Come lie with me.” Moon moistened his finger with oil. Morongo said, “No. I’m not like Massassi. Rub the oil on your legs, then rub oil on my legs.” Moon did as he was told. “Now couple with me.” Moon did as he was told. They both went to sleep.
In the morning, Morongo’s body was swollen. She gave birth to chickens, sheep and goats. The next night, Moon and Morongo slept together again. The next day, she gave birth to deer, asses and cattle. After another night, she gave birth to children. The children who were born in the morning were full grown by evening. That night there was a thunderstorm. God said to Moon, “Let be. You are going quickly to your death.” Moon was afraid.
When the thunderstorm had passed, Morongo said, “Make a door. Then God won’t be able to look in and see what we’re doing.” Moon made a door. When the door was closed, Moon laid down with Morongo. The next day, she gave birth to lions, wolves and snakes. God saw this. He said to Moon, “I warned you.”
Moon wanted to lay down with Morongo again. “Look,” she said, “the girls I gave birth to are women now. Go lie with them.” Moon went and lay with the women. They gave birth to children. Soon, Moon was the king of a great people. Morongo went to live with the snake. She slept with the snake and did not give birth anymore. After a time, Moon wanted to lay down with Morongo again. He went to her. “Let be”, she said.
“But I want to”, said Moon. Moon lay down with Morongo. The snake was under the bed. The snake bit Moon.
Moon grew sick. It did not rain. The plants began to dry up. The people didn’t know what to do. They decided to pray to God for an answer. God told them, “Moon is sick. He must go back to the lake.”
The people strangled Moon. Morongo took Moon’s body back to the lake. It had been two years since she came to live with him.
The people chose a new king. They continued to live on the Earth.
The above myth comes from the Wahungwe Makoni tribe of South Rhodesia. It was collected and translated by Leo Frobenius and Douglas C. Fox and published in their book, African Genesis, in 1937. Joseph Campbell included it in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, no doubt altering it slightly to suit his own style, which is where I found it. Of course, I took a few liberties with it to suit my own style and there it is.
Our myth begins with the fact of God and His desire to create. The existence of the Earth is assumed here – God must have fashioned it before the story properly began. The first man, formed out of whatever God chose to form him out of and by whatever method God chose to employ, not that it’s any of your business, was named Moon and he was placed into a lake. This first man was not a man, then – he was a titan, a being lower than the ultimate Creator, but greater than the human race which will proceed from him. He is, in fact, the smaller and lesser of the two great celestial bodies that appear in the sky, the Moon. God, of course, is the larger and greater of the two, the Sun. The myth follows the first man, Moon, through his beginning, rise to power and fall – all of which we see played out in the night sky every month. So the myth is not a history, not a repetition of events which took place only in some distant past, but a living story which is constantly occurring. The lake, of course, is the cosmic water of the Heavens, visible, but inaccessible. We can ignore the fact that humans have traveled to and walked on the moon because this and every myth is not about historical or physical facts.
When God placed Moon into the lake, He gave the first man a horn filled with oil, which served no purpose in the Heavenly realm. Clearly, God knew what was going to happen and intended it. God had made the Earth incomplete. It was His design from the outset that Moon should do all that Moon went on to do. The completion of the Earth and the generation of offspring were Moon’s work and it didn’t matter at all that Moon didn’t know what he was doing. He, Moon, was moved all along by his own innate desires, activated by the same urge to bring forth that had caused God to create him in the first place, because Moon was animated by the creative Spirit of God, which is another way of saying he was made in God’s likeness – not in God’s physical form, of course because God has no physical form. Rather, he was like God in his desire to make, to beget, to bring forth, so he was given the necessary tool with which to do so, and that tool was necessarily phallic.
The first Noble Truth of the Buddha states that all living things suffer. Suffering is a condition of being alive because life must lead to death. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha of our present age, spent a while working on the problem of suffering and came up with a way of eliminating it. This was a fine thing to do, but certainly not the only response to the fact of suffering. Another way of dealing with it is to simply accept it. Moon chooses this course: when God tells him he will regret going onto the Earth, he simply states again his desire to do so. To live is his wish, and if suffering is to be part of that, then he will suffer, but he will live.
Moon goes upon the Earth and discovers that it is not good. Perhaps he thought that everything would be just right, as a child imagines that Mommy and Daddy will always put food on the table. But Moon is not a child anymore – he is a young adult now, moving out of God’s home and into his own. He must learn to do for himself if he is to live. Of course, God knows that Moon will be lonely – and, let’s face it, Moon isn’t all that bright. He will need a companion and helper. So God creates one, Massassi, whose name refers to the morning star, Venus in one of her aspects. For a time - here called “two years”, though “two-hundred-billion years” would be closer to the truth – Massassi will dwell on the Earth with Moon. She is the personification of the creation-urge, the life-force, which has motivated both God and Moon. As such, she is closer to the Source than Moon and requires less instruction. She starts giving instructions right away – I’ll gather wood and you start the fire. She is able to gather wood prior to the creation of trees because she is to be the mother of all plants – wood is of her own substance. The firemaker, like the horn filled with oil, is a phallus. Fire exists within it and must be brought forth by rubbing. The making of fire foreshadows Moon impregnating Massassi by rubbing her with oil from his horn. The generative act, at this point in the story, is still done by magical means.
When the Earth is covered with vegetation, Moon and Massassi are quite happy. They have done all the creating they need to do and are able to enjoy an idyllic time together in their Eden. The division of labor is spontaneous and natural to them, with no hint that either resents or envies the other. Certainly, this part of the myth would reflect and reinforce the division of labor between the men and women of the Wahungwe Makoni tribe during the time that this myth was active among them, though not necessarily with such contentment from all parties. We do not need to be concerned about that, though. We are examining a myth, not judging the mores of a culture. For us it is enough to recognize that this passage refers to the state of bliss in the garden primeval, where blood is not shed and there is no strife. Alas, it cannot last. Time does not pause, though we might wish it would, and Massassi must return to the sky-lake from whence she came.
Devastated by loss, Moon wails. The first epoch has ended and he has no idea how to go on. God provides him with a second companion/wife, Morongo, whose name refers to the evening star, Venus in another season, another aspect. Morongo states that she is not like Massassi – this is only partly true. They are alike and different in the same ways that beginning and ending are alike and different.
Morongo will not become impregnated by the touch of an oily finger. She is one step further from the Source than Massassi – though still an aspect of the creative urge, the life-force. She instructs Moon in the generative act and he seems to find it enjoyable. First, she bears the domestic, dooryard animals from which people sometimes get meat, but which are more usually kept for their eggs, wool and milk. Next, she bears the larger food animals and beasts of burden. Finally, she brings forth people, the first humans, who grow to maturity in a single day. These first people are not yet like us. They are the offspring of the celestial parents and are therefore still a bit magical. Their children will take longer to grow and will be as we are.
At this point, God interrupts the action in the form of a thunderstorm, the booming voice in the sky. The association of God with thunder is ancient. Many religions assign divinity to thunder – Thor, Yahweh and Indra being just three of the commonly known thunder gods. God has, of course, given Morongo to Moon in order that the work of creation should be carried through to its completion. He does not want Moon to stop begetting altogether, just to slow down a bit. God here is like any parent who knows that his child must grow to adulthood, but who would like to slow the process down occasionally. “Stop growing up so fast” is a common thing for parents to think or say. Perhaps God would like to see Moon enjoy another idyllic age with Morongo as he did with Massassi – tending his goats and bouncing fat babies on his knee. And so it might have been if Morongo had been willing to wait a while to complete the job at hand, but she is the embodiment of the process of making a world, the inspiration that caused God to move His hand in the beginning and she isn’t going to stop now that things are so close to being done. Just one more night and day of begetting and bearing and the world is as it was always meant to be. Sure, the wild animals will be problematic for humans at times, but really, the world is not for humans. It is for itself and humans are just one part of the greater whole. God may favor Moon and his offspring, but She – the ultimate and ineffable which is behind God, Himself, and which has only taken form in Massassi and Morongo temporarily – is impartial. All creation is equal in Her eyes.
Having finished her work, Morongo is less inclined to indulge Moon in his desires. She sends him off to couple with the human women, who are his daughters. Incest – one of the very few taboos observed by all known cultures – is common in myth. The individuals involved are not, after all, individuals. They are entities, energies, natural forces and cosmic musings. Do you imagine that the moon had children with Venus? Of course, such a thing never occurred.
So Moon begat children with his daughters and became a patriarch. His people populated the Earth and all was well for a time. He sat in his great chair, surrounded by his descendants, not useful for much, but generally well-regarded and worthy of respect.
Morongo went to live with the snake, that same strange animal that played the villain’s role in Genesis. Hardly surprising, really. The snake is universally associated with the moon because it sheds its skin as the moon sheds its shadow. Our hero, Moon, is really a version of the snake – anthropomorphic and a little dense, or perhaps, the snake is a version of him – just as Massassi/Morongo is a version of Venus. Creation is finished and the life ways of the people have been established. The epoch of the titans is drawing to a close. Moon is an anachronism now, an old king in danger of becoming a doddering tyrant. He must exit the scene soon.
Moon thinks back to the days of his prime, when he spent his nights with the evening star and he returns to her. Morongo demurs, but without much feeling. She, too, is past her time. She has created creation and has enjoyed watching the world unfold for a while, but her place is in the Cosmic Lake, not here in this temporal and finite zone. The time has come and she allows Moon to lie in her bed and be bitten by the snake, his own other side. Moon sickens and the whole world sickens, too, for a moment, dragged down by the illness of the old Adam.
Moon’s children, distressed by his suffering, go over his head to God, who tells them that Moon must be sent back to his original home. The cycle that began when Moon went upon the Earth must be completed. No more will a superhuman dwell on the Earth. Now it is up to people to find their own way. They kill the old man as mercifully as possible and Morongo returns him to the cosmic water from whence he came. He is there still and his rise and fall can be seen played out again and again. Massassi and Morongo, two aspects of one divinity dwell also in the celestial lake and can be seen now one, now the other.
The people, Moon’s children, have inherited the Earth. It is right and good that they should remember and honor their primal ancestors, better still that they remember they are children of gods and best that they not forget that all seasons must pass, including their own.
The story of Moon, the first man, like many origin myths, is an origin myth on the surface only. Behind the strange fantasy of the Earth being made as we know it by magic oil and the couplings of our moon and the planet next door, is a lesson about letting go and passing on. To everything there is a season and each of us will grow and create, will rejoice and suffer, and will finally reach the end of our allotted time. This is not merely a fact of life – it is the fact of life. There is no good without bad, no morning without evening, no going onto the Earth without returning to the lake. We will wail when it is our time to wail, laugh when it is our time to laugh and in the end, we will die, but death is not really death. Around and around the heavens turn and so we can expect to turn with them, though whether we will know ourselves from one turning to the next is anyone’s guess.
And also, the story about Moon is a story about saying “yes” to being alive. God knows, it isn’t always going to be easy, but it will be worth the effort.