Seven Facts about An Ghealach

As the most prominent feature of our night sky, it’s hardly surprising that humans all over the world have shown an innate interest in the workings of the moon - whether poetic, scientific or anything in between.

The light of an ghealach shines brightly through Irish culture, all the way from ancient mythology to the hustle and bustle of today’s modern life. Much like observing its own physically changing phases throughout a cycle, it’s fascinating to see the multitude of ways it has inspired our heritage here on the Emerald Isle, and the different shapes it takes within our dreams and imaginations.

I myself have been entranced by the manner in which an ghealach has creatively inspired so many artists in my home country, which led to the very special box that has been curated for you in the month of Deireadh Fómhair (October). While we wait for these secrets to be revealed, here are a few moon nuggets of information to tide you over until that lunar box of loveliness lands on your doorstep.

1. An Ghealach doesn’t REALLY mean the moon…

 

In ancient Celtic times it was believed that the moons and stars were a representation of gods and goddesses, and so to refer to them directly would be a mark of grave disrespect. In ancient Irish times the concept of a ‘Geis’ was applied, meaning to write or speak the moon’s name was entirely prohibited, and those who did so would be cursed. This is why the word ‘Ghealach’ is used to refer to the lunar light in our night’s sky – a word which simply (and rather beautifully) means “brightness”.

 

 

2. An Ghealach appears in the most unlikely places…

Such as in the humble, yet delicious, potato. What, you may ask, does this splendid starch have to do with the moon? The answer lies in the method…

 

Picture Credit - RTE.com

When work was hard and food was scarce, it was traditional to parboil potatoes at a high heat, resulting in a soft and fluffy outside, but a circular centre that remained hard and waxy – rather like a full moon. The reason for this was that the soft part would provide immediate sustenance, while the hard centre would lie heavy in the stomach and be more difficult to digest – providing a feeling of fullness for longer. This idea was that this would allow the workers to labour in the fields for extended periods of time on smaller amounts of food.

 

3. There is no particular “moon god” in Irish mythology

 

However, that’s not to say that an ghealach didn’t feature prominently in the characteristics of certain deities. For example, Elatha – prince of the Fomorians - is often associated with the sun due to the illuminating imagery with which he is depicted. However, a “prince of darkness with golden hair” seems which more symbolic of the light the shines out of the night’s sky than that of the day. He is also said to travel across waters on a vessel of silver – which strikes me as a beautiful recreation of the moonlight’s reflection on the dark waters.

 

 

4. The moon used to herald the beginning of a day

 

The Celts followed a lunar calendar, mapping the segments of a year (months as we know them today) with the waxing and waning of each moon. With lunar phases playing such an significant part in the tracking of time, it seems logical that a new “day” would begin with nightfall rather than sunrise. Similarly, a new year began with the festival of Samhain (October 31st), so perhaps instead of thinking of that as the beginning of the “darker” part of the year – we could consider it as the months when an ghealach holds most prominence!

 

5. The oldest lunar map in history was found in Ireland

Until the turn of (the most recent) millennium, it was though that the oldest mapping of the moon’s surface was created by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 1500s. However, it has since been discovered that a rock that lies within the Neolithic site of Knowth has been etched with diagrams of the moon as it would have appeared around 5000 years ago!

 

The discovery has highlighted that the heritage of Ancient Ireland’s fascination with the moon was not just mystical, but also deeply scientific. If you want to delve into the details of Orthostat 47 (the name of the rocky canvas) then you can jump on over to our gazette – which explores its discovery in more depth.

 

What's Inside?

Each month we choose a wonderful theme to base our product curation around.

Whether it's Dublin, The Wild Atlantic Way or St Patrick's Day, we strive for every box to have something wonderful to wear, a gift to share, a treat to eat and a treasure to live in your home.

Every month we work with fantastic small Irish businesses; so no matter where you are in the world, you're helping Ireland!

6. Part of the moon can be found on the Emerald Isle itself

 

In fact, there used to be five parts! US President Richard Nixon gifted the people of Ireland the small fragments of moon rock which had been brought back from the Apollo 11 mission, along with an Irish flag that had accompanied the astronauts on their mission. This was a gift that was given to each of America’s fifty states, and all other countries in the world at the time. Unfortunately, these four fragments of moon rock that were previously on display at the Dunsink Observatory in Dublin went missing after a fire and have yet to be recovered. Don't fret though - there is still lunar representation on the Emerald Isle!

In 1973 a second commemorative plaque was gifted to Ireland, this time featuring a single larger fragment of moon rock that was cut from a piece collected during the Apollo 17 lunar mission. This display is now safely held at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

 

7. The moon can determine your monthly fates…

 

Or so our ancient ancestors believed… It was thought that your behaviour during certain phases of the moon’s cycle could have a direct impact on your future wellbeing – for better or for worse!

For example, it was said if one were to fall asleep with the full moon shining on their pillow it was said to have a harmful effect on their mental health – one of many superstitions that the word “lunatic” likely stems from.

Catching sight of the new moon through glass is a no-no, as that means you will be plagued by sorrow until the next moon is born, and seeing it full on in front of you means that you are set for a fall. Before you start thinking that the new moon heralds in all kinds of mischief – if you glimpse it over your right shoulder then you should be fortunate with the fates in the coming days (just avoid the left shoulder… as the results are the opposite).

 

However you choose to peek at the moon’s first phase, just be sure to turn a piece of silver in your pocket… that way you’ll at least have a chance of increasing your wealth before the next moon pops up!

Do you know anymore Irish stories of traditions about the moon? Let me know in the comments below, or head to our wonderful Facebook community to join in the conversation!

 

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