Crescent Moon Symbolism in Islam, Myth, Spirituality & More

The crescent is one of the shapes that best describes a phase of the moon where it is only partly visible. The crescent thus represents both changing shape and returning to the same shape. It is related to the feminine, passive, and watery principles.

 The crescent was widely connected with goddesses of hunting, fertility, and the moon in ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Greece, and Rome.

1.      Origin of the word “crescent”

The term “crescent” orginates from the Latin word “crescere,” which means to increase.

Thus, the crescent represented the start of a new lunar cycle or month, and so was a time to make wishes, plant seeds, and invest any silver coins left over so they can grow in numbers the same way a silver moon grows in size over the course of a month.

2.      A symbol of moon goddesses

The Ancient Greeks associated Artemis (Diana) with the Moon and frequently painted this “goddess of the night, splendor of the stars, protectress of the woods,” holding or wearing a crescent Moon in her hair.

Lucina, a Roman deity identified with Diana, presided over childbirth. Her hair was also adorned with a crescent Moon. Because she was also the goddess of chastity, the crescent Moon represented both birth and chastity, with the latter having a dual aspect of dark and light.

In Christianity, Virgin Mary is frequently linked to the Moon in litanies and is frequently portrayed as standing on a crescent Moon.

Most likely, the connection between the moon and the Virgin Mary in Christian art (which often shows the Immaculata standing on a moon sickle) comes from the fact that a crescent moon is a symbol of pregnancy and birth.

Cybele was an Anatolian Earth goddess, a sky daughter, Saturn’s wife, and the mother of Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, and Pluto. Cybele represents the energy contained in the Earth. She gave birth to the four elements and was the primordial, chthonian origin of all fertility. She was occasionally crowned with a seven-pointed star or a crescent Moon, symbols of her authority over Earth’s cycles of living growth.

Selene was the Greek moon goddess, who held domain over the moonlight that covered the fields. She Hyperion and Thia’s daughter and is commonly pictured in a long gown, veiled, with antlers or a crescent on her head, and bearing a torch.

The Egyptian Moon god Khonsu (meaning “traveler”) was depicted as a mummy with a crescent and disk on his head, while Thoth, the god of wisdom and intellect, was portrayed as an ape or an ibis crowned with a crescent. The moon’s phases likewise represented Osiris’ life, death, and resurrection.

The Hindu deity Shiva obtained the crescent Moon and wears it in his hair as one of numerous symbols of his ability to create and destroy.

Nanna, Sin, or Nanna-Sin was the Sumerian lunar deity who was Enlil’s son and Utu’s father. He, like Utu, was a judge of the dead, deciding the fate of mortals who came before him.

In human form, Nanna-Sin is crowned with a crescent moon and is depicted standing in a crescent-shaped boat as he travels the heavens. 

3.      The Crescent Symbol in Islam

The crescent is a central symbol of Islam, and represents divine power, growth, the afterlife, and, when paired with a star, paradise.

Manāt was a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess of fate, fortune, time, and destiny worshiped in the Arabian Peninsula before the emergence and spread of Islam. She was one of Mecca’s three principal deities, together with her sisters Allat and Al-‘Uzzá, but Manat was the first and oldest. The crescent moon served as her symbol and emblem.

The Moon Goddess was so prominent in pre-Islamic Arabia that her crescent symbol came to represent the entire kingdom, and it does so today since it is present on many flags of Muslim countries.

In many Muslim nations, the crescent Moon is accompanied by a star and, in this form, is said to represent paradise. Many Muslim tombs in the Maghreb area of Africa are adorned with a star and crescent, which represent the triple flame of the spirit.

Even though it’s close, a crescent is not a completed shape like a closed circle. According to Muslim thinkers, the crescent is both open and closed, expanding and contracting. Just as the horns of the crescent are about to touch, they stop and leave a space between them. Similarly, mankind is not completely contained within God’s perfect plan.

The crescent sign is often recognized as a symbol of resurrection. Just when it looks to shut in and suffocate, an opening appears, leading to free and unlimited space. Thus, death appears to be closing in on humanity, but is later reborn in another and endless dimension.

That is why the crescent symbol is placed on tombs.

The letter “n,” fashioned exactly like a crescent as the arc of a circle with a dot above it, is also the symbol of rebirth in Arabic symbolism. Prayers for the deceased are usually composed in poems that rhyme with the letter “n”. In Arabic, the letter is called “nun,” which also means “fish.”

The crescent was the symbol of the Ottoman Turks. After the Crusades, most Muslim countries took it as their own, and many of them still have it on their flags (Pakistan, the United Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, and so on).

Initially rare, this increasing usage has gradually given the crescent a symbolic quality comparable to the Christian Cross. Thus, the Red Crescent is the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.

4.      Crescent moon and animal horns

The crescent moon’s curvature in space resembles the horns of a white cow. The space around it is dark and empty, but there is hope that light will come when the moon reaches the full moon phase. Thus, similar to a bull’s horns, the crescent moon symbolizes power that is not yet present but will soon arrive.

Because of the similarity between the crescent Moon and animal horns, pre-Hellenic Greeks worshipped the cow as a sacred animal since it was equated with the mono. As a result, Io, the moon goddess, was often portrayed with small horns.

The crescent moon’s horns also represent the male principle in some cultures, such as the Mesopotamian moon deity Nanna-Sin, the huge bull who fecundates cows, or, in the case of Zeus, even mortal women.

5.      The crescent as a symbol of transience and cyclicity

The crescent moon is also associated with renewal and rebirth. This is because the waxing and waning of the moon resembles the passing of the seasons, the cycle of night and day, flowers blooming after frost, and the cycle of pregnancy and rebirth.

As a very visible symbol of nature’s cycle, the moon has come to represent the cosmic phenomenon of creation and regeneration. 

The crescent that starts the moon’s waxing is the same as the crescent that ends the moon’s waning. The anima souls of the elderly hag and the radiant maiden are the same.

The crescent is a reminder that everything that lives will eventually die, that consciousness is only a temporary state in between non-existence.

However, the crescent’s essence is neither the closure of the circle nor the secure prison within it. Rather, the crescent represents the horned gateway of the moon’s endless cycle, and if it promises an end to every beginning, it also represents the promise of starting anew wherever there is an end.

The moon’s key feature, which also provides symbolic weight to the crescent, is that it experiences “painful” transformations to its shape as it transforms from crescent to full circle and back again.

These phases are comparable to the seasons of the year and the stages in a person’s life, and they are the reasons for the moon’s connection with the biological order of things because it is likewise subject to the laws of change: growth (from infancy to adulthood) and decline (from maturity to old age).

This explains the mythological concept that the moon’s invisible phase represents the death of a person, and from there, the idea that the soul departs to the moon after death.

6.      The celestial boat

In many ancient cultures, the crescent Moon came to be associated with the boat.

This was particularly apparent among the Sumerians, whose celestial seafarer was the Moon-god Nanna-Sin, the son of Enlil, the supreme deity. Enki, the water god who balanced the world, was also a sailor.

The boat-like shape of the crescent reminds us of the Babylonian Ishtar, the “Ship of Life,” who carries the seeds to fertilize the world.

The crescent moon has come to symbolize a person’s voyage through life because its shape resembles that of a boat.

The moon in its three primary phases (waxing, full, and waning) represents the Triple Goddess (the young Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone), with the waning phase representing the goddess’s crone aspect.

The waning moon, as a shape representing loss of life via cyclic change, is symbolic of vitalic life diminishing with age.

7.      The crescent as a fertility symbol

The moon’s moderating function may also be observed in the allocation of waters and rainfall, and so it first appeared as an intermediary between earth and heaven.

The moon not only measures and regulates terrestrial cycles, but it also unites them via its activity: the rivers and rain, the fertility of women and animals, and the fertility of plants are all harmonized by the moon’s activity.

8.      Bow Symbols

The crescent has long been an attribute of Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the Hunt, partly because she was a moon goddess but also because bows from that time period resembled a lunar crescent. 

9.      The crescent is a symbol of the subconscious

However, the crescent itself has a sharp edge. As the scythe of death, the Artemian bow of carnage, and the alchemical Luna as bride, who is “not only beautiful and innocent, but witch-like and dreadful,” the crescent moon demonstrates how the “animated” unconscious psyche can be both beautiful and dangerous.

10.  Crescent as a Croissant

Before Christianity managed to take root and establish itself, ancient Europeans would practice a pagan tradition where they offered the Moon Goddess “moon cakes” shaped in the form of a lunar crescent.

It is from this practice that the modern-day croissant came to be.


Resources:

  • A dictionary of symbols by Cirlot, Juan Eduardo
  • A dictionary of symbols by Chevalier, Jean
  • Dictionary of symbols by Chetwynd, Tom
  • A dictionary of dream symbols : with an introduction to dream psychology by Ackroyd, Eric
  • Illustrated dictionary of symbols in eastern and western art by Hall, James
  • Dictionary of symbols and imagery by Vries, Ad de
  • Symbolism : a comprehensive dictionary by Olderr, Steven
  • Dictionary of mythology, folklore and symbols by Jobes, Gertrude
  • The complete dictionary of symbols by Tresidder, Jack
  • The book of symbols : reflections on archetypal images by Ami Ronnberg & Kathleen Martin
  • Man, Myth & Magic by Richard Cavendish

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