Grandmother Moon

An indigenous wisdom-keeper remembers the first night she saw the moon die.

Transcribed from an oral narrative by Fawn Journeyhawk


Women are connected to Grandmother Moon. She is the power of Women’s Medicine Way.

Fawn was too young to remember had it not been so traumatic. The lesson was so strong it made a definite imprint in her memory bank.

She had heard talk of the moon but it was grown-up talk, most of it beyond her level of understanding. The moon was seldom in the Pacific Northwest due to continuous fog, overcast and rain. You would see it only if you lived in a rain forest area. It wasn’t completely foreign but it wasn’t something as obvious and reliable as the Sun and the rain.

It was a warm summer night when she sat with an elder aunt to gaze at the moon. This aunt knew all the old stories. She knew about the moon Camp that no longer exists and she always told funny stories about things that happened to her there. She nodded toward the full moon, “She’s big and full right now because so many people are admiring her, but in a few days they’ll forget her and she’ll start to die. She can’t live without our love and we can’t survive without hers.”

Fawn wondered if the Grandmother Moon could really die. She thought about the dark nights when it rained and there was no moon, which was often in the winter months. When indoors, the moon was easily forgotten. She liked it when the clouds let the moon join them. She didn’t think the moon dying would be good at all.

The next time she thought about Grandmother Moon was when she noticed moonlight streaming into her bedroom window. She went to the window and—to her horror—the moon was half gone!

In typical little girl fashion she rushed into the living room all aflutter to alert everyone. Suddenly there stood this little girl in a pink nightgown demanding their full attention. (Add to the scene that Fawn was usually drenched in passion when she believed in something.)

“Grandmother Moon is dying because I forgot her!”

I’m sure no one knew quite how to respond. Everyone just looked at her. With the depth of drama only a little girl could express, she went on. “She’s already half gone.”

At least now they understood what she was talking about. She didn’t know the moon had a cycle. Her father chuckled. Fawn informed him that a dying moon was no laughing matter and she needed to talk to Auntie about it right away.

Looking back on the situation, Fawn is grateful there was no scientific explanation given to her at the time. She was truly caught between two cultures. Her parents allowed legends and fantasy during her innocent youth, knowing it would eventually transform the stories into mature understanding. Besides, her mother loved fantasy and encouraged Fawn to develop her imagination.

Fawn was devastated that she killed the moon. That’s a pretty heavy burden for a child. She was glad the adults were so understanding.

At Fawn’s insistence her mother went to the window with her.

“She’s right, the moon is half gone.”

She agreed that they needed to a pay a visit to her elder aunt. This confirmation helped a lot. Fawn apologized to the moon and went to bed, eager for the morning to come. This was as important to her as waiting for Christmas morning.

She had a difficult time getting to sleep. She was drowning in guilt and focused on how she was going to fix it. She got up twice to tell the moon she was sorry and noticed it was in a different place each time. That puzzled her little mind.

When they drove into her aunt’s driveway, Fawn bounded out of the car and into the house ahead of everyone. Her aunt was in the kitchen making a pot of Indian tea from the leaves of a bush that grew in the tidal flats. This brew was made in a large pot and set on the back of the woodstove. When you took out a cup you added a cup of water. This was good for four days.

“Auntie, Grandmother Moon is dying and now when I talk to her she’s running away!”

Her aunt turned to look at her. “Really?”

“Yes, really! She hid behind the trees!”

The energy of excitement summoned her little cousins, who filled the kitchen.

Fawn told them what had happened and they were all concerned. Her cousins ranged in age from two to eight-years-old, and all six of them joined in the cause. They circled around the elder, hoping she would tell them how to save Grandmother Moon. They knew this was serious.

At that point, she could have explained the cycle of the moon, but she didn’t. She let this legend run its course.

“Well, first I’d remember to talk to her and make an offering every night. Maybe that will work.”

They agreed. The children became busy with plans and discussed what they should give as an offering.

Auntie had saved the day.

“Grandmother Moon loves the water, so maybe she’d like a nice shell or something from the ocean.”

They talked an older cousin into going with them to the beach to look for shells as they were too young to go alone. So off they went on a mission to save the dying moon.

The plan was that everyone would sleep outside together on her aunt’s porch. They would gather firewood and build a fire at sunset. They would hold an honoring ceremony to ask the moon to stop dying.

There is nothing more honest and sincere than a group of focused and concerned children.

They built a little altar to put the gifts they had gathered, which consisted of a little pile of shells, sea glass, driftwood and love.

The ceremony went well and ended with cookies and hot chocolate. It was always good when you stayed with an elder. But, to their dismay, the moon continued to grow smaller. The elders all told them not to give up. They told the children to keep honoring the Grandmother, even if she died, just as we honor our earth grandmothers when they die. The children were no longer able to con the older cousins to take them to the ocean—they switched from shell offerings to flowers.

The children did their best, but they were pretty discouraged when it continued to wane. The little boys lost interest, but the girls hung in there. It seemed to them that she was getting larger but they couldn’t be certain. When they were sure, the news spread like wildfire.

“Grandmother Moon is coming back!”

The girls scolded the little boys for losing faith and leaving the job to the women. By now there were about 10 more children involved.

When the moon was full, Auntie gathered all the children and explained that the moon will die thirteen times every year, but she would return. She does this to remind us that we must remember and honor her, or else one day she might not return. She explained that they hadn’t really killed the moon, but they should remember how scared and awful they felt when they thought she was dead.

We must never forget Grandmother Moon.