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Folklore and Mythology About the Moon From the Philippines

Errah is a bookwormy and logophilic writer and educator. He often writes about the world's politics, mythology, culture, and more.


The Whole World Sees the Moon

What is the brightest thing you can see in the night sky? It is, of course, the Moon. It is an astronomical object and Earth's only natural satellite. The Moon has long been linked to superstitions, myths, and legends all over the world. Stories have been told throughout history and across cultures to explain the Moon's phenomena, such as eclipses, phases, and supermoons.

In Hinduism, the lunar eclipses are attributed to a demon drinking the immortality potion. In Norse mythology, the sky wolves chased the Sun and the moon as they awaited Ragnarok. Additionally, there are lunar deities from various mythologies all over the world. Examples include the goddesses Selene in Greek mythology, Luna in Roman mythology, Khonsu in Egyptian mythology, Rhiannon in Celtic mythology, and Chang'e in Chinese mythology.

The mythologies and indigenous religions of the Philippines from pre-colonial times to the present are referred to as anitism. The term derives from the word "anito," which alludes to the various nature spirits, ancestral spirits, and the divine in the nation. There are a lot of Filipino folktales, beliefs, stories, and myths involving the Moon, including the ones we explore below.

Bakunawa: The Moon-Eating Monster

Numerous tales about moon-eating monsters are told in the Philippines. The Bakunawa is one of the most typical moon-eating creatures. This gigantic mythical sea creature was described as having the head, gills, and scales of a fish, fin-like wings, and the body of a snake. It would emerge from the sea and rise to swallow the Moon whole. What we now refer to as a lunar eclipse was the indication that the Bakunawa was trying to eat the Moon.

Essentially, the shadow cast by the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse was believed to be the shadow of the monster that was attempting to devour the moon. People would bang pots, beat drums, and play instruments to make raucous noises to frighten away the beast. This creature was disturbed by these noises. In addition to lunar eclipses, the Bakunawa was said to be the cause of earthquakes — its underground movements would shake the upper world.

Stories of Bakunawa From the Bicol Region

Stories about serpent-like creatures from various tribes or geographical areas are common. In the Bicol region, Bakunawa was actually a beautiful goddess who fell in love with Bulan, the god of the Moon, (who has a sister, Haliya, the goddess of the moonlight). Bakunawa went above and beyond to win Bulan's love. She commanded the stars to sparkle and astonish him with their beauty, she commanded the birds and sirens to sing for him, she commanded flowers to send him fragrance, and she commanded clouds not to cover him, but Bulan refused her affection.

When her love was unreturned, the goddess became angry. She transformed into a giant serpent (Bakunawa) to devour both Bulan and Haliya. Bulan and Haliya, on the other hand, defended themselves. The supreme god witnessed the fight and became enraged at the Bakunawa.

As punishment, he cursed the broken-hearted goddess to remain a serpent for eternity. This curse did not quell the goddess's desire to eat and kill the Moon-god and his sister, and she continues to attack them even to this day. To avoid being easily seen by the Bakunawa, Bulan and Haliya, sometimes, occasionally hide. According to this myth, the phases of the Moon are explained by the occasional hiding of both the god of the Moon and the goddess of moonlight.

Bakunawa in Visayan Tales

The Bakunawa also appears in the Visayan folktale. According to this legend, there used to be seven moons, each of which shone on a different night of the week. There is currently only one Moon today because the Bakunawa were able to successfully consume the other six. The last Moon was saved when people made raucous noises awakening the supreme being. He saw Bakunawa's devilment when he awoke and battled it until it was vanquished.

He then advised the populace to rouse him once more with loud noises if the monster ever attempted to eat the Moon again. He would repeatedly wake up to battle the Bakunawa again. The supreme being is said to have then placed pointy sharps bamboo shoots on the moon's surface to keep the enormous serpent away. The bamboo shoots are the black stains on the celestial body that we see from far away today.

In another story, the Bakunawa had a sibling that was a giant sea turtle. Every time it went to the beach to lay eggs, it caused a tsunami, so people slaughtered it. As revenge, the Bakunawa attempted to swallow the object that provided the people with light in the evening. The residents prayed to the Creator for help in fighting the Bakunawa. Unlike in the Visayan story, however, he refused to do it. Instead, he told the crowd to gather drums, pots, and musical instruments from their homes and make loud noises to annoy her.

Another moon-eating monster that appears in stories is a giant bird with the name Minakowa. When it flew, its massive body covered the entire sky, turning the day into night. It was thought to be the cause of both solar and lunar eclipses. Other moon-eating creatures include the lion-like dragon Arimaonga, the winged serpent Olimaw, and the giant crab-like, scorpion-like, or tarantula-like creature Tambanakua.

Why Is the Sun Brighter Than the Moon?

In Tagalog mythology, there was a supreme being named Bathala who ruled the world. Among his children were Mayari, the female lunar deity, and Apolaki, the solar god. When their father died, the two siblings quarreled about who would rule the world. Apolaki wanted to rule it by himself, but Mayari wanted it equally. Their disagreement led to divine war.

In Tagalog mythology, all of the divine have eyes that emit lights. In the battle between Apolaki and Mayari, the fighting only stopped when Apolaki unintentionally stabbed Mayari in one of her eyes. He apologized and relented to his sibling's desire to share his rule of the world. Apolaki ruled the world in the day and Mayari ruled it in the evening. However, the light in the evening (the Moon) is dimmer than the light in the day (the Sun) because the Mayari, the Moon goddess, can only use one of her eyes.

Mayari, the lunar goddess in Tagalog mythology, covers her severed eye.

Mayari, the lunar goddess in Tagalog mythology, covers her severed eye.

Why Are There High Tides During a Full Moon?

Once upon a time, only three divine lived in the world—the god of the sea, the sky, and the earth. The sky god had a beautiful daughter, Luna—the Moon. One day, Luna found herself outside her kingdom. She discovered the sea and the earth and was amazed at their beauty. She wandered until she met Mar, the son of the sea god. They became friends and fell in love with one another, even though it was forbidden by the immortal law.

One day, Luna revealed to her envious cousin about the affair. Her cousin then informed the sky god about what Luna had shared with her. He got angry and shut Luna in the garden, so she could not get out. The sky god then told the sea god, who also became enraged with his son, imprisoning Mar in a sea cave.

Luna managed to escape the garden one day and went to the place where she and Mar used to hang out. Mar, who was being held captive, saw her reflection in the water and yearned to meet her. He made a valiant effort to escape his cave, stirring up the water but was unsuccessful. Luna waited for him for a while, but he never showed up. Dejected, she returned home. Mar still tries to leave the cave in the hopes that they can be reunited, but to this day, every time Luna escapes and returns to the meeting place, the sea level rises.

I've Made My Own Story: The Pointless Buwan

Once upon a time, the Sun (Araw) was the king of the solar system, and he had a daughter, the Moon (Buwan). They shared a home in the skies. Both of them were awake during the day and asleep at night. Because Buwan didn't emit lights, she was invisible to the people. She had a beautiful face that they did not notice. Unlike her father, she had no rays to be used as hands, so she was unable to work. She felt futile, useless, and miserable. One day, she had difficulty sleeping, so she went outside and wandered in the sky. She saw that the earth was very dark and noticed that people have lots of problems at night. They were lost and couldn't see things that they were looking for. The next day, she reported it to her father. The king became worried.

"Buwan, do you want to help them? I have an idea. You'll be the one who will give them light at night," the king said.

"How? I don't illuminate," she replied.

"This is one of my rays, take it to the sky every night." He gave her a ray. "It will give them light at night, however, it will vanish after three weeks," he continued. She took it.

They then wondered why people gathered and looked up at the sky.

"What is that beautiful object in the sky?" people said.

"You've become visible to them!" the king said.

Buwan was happy to be appreciated by the people. From now on, she happily displays her beauty and gives light at night. However, whenever the light has vanished, she disappears again.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Errah Caunca