Native American Moon Shield

Usually, the moon is personified in myths as a female deity, but it is also known in some cultures as a male figure. Lunar symbolism brings together powers associated with the cyclical patterns in nature: the tide, the fertility cycle of a woman, the shedding of the snake’s skin. All of these repetitive modes of change, death and rebirth, are associated in lunar symbolism. The moon represents a force that expresses itself indirectly and through endurance rather than through direct aggression and oppression. It is the power of water to wear away the stone, the survival of the snake that disappears into the earth as it flees the hungry eagle, and the power of healing that comes through a connection with deep, vegetative forces in the psyche.

The medicine shield of Chief Arapoosh of the Crow Indians offered physical and spiritual protection through the powers of the Moon, who is portrayed as he appeared to the chief during a vision quest.

A deer tail and eagle feathers wrapped in red trade-cloth are fastened at one side of the shield. The head and neck of a crane are tied to the opposite side, together with crow or raven feathers, a length of otter fur, and a cluster of hawk feathers. A narrow length of red trade-cloth is tied to the crane’s lower bill.

These shields had two primary functions among the Crow Indians: to protect the owner in battle against the enemy and to serve as a spiritual protector by embodying the sacred powers of the spirit-guardian of the warrior.

The shields were made from the thick hump section of the bison hide and could turn any arrow, even the Civil War musket balls of the white troops. It was not until the introduction of the carbine that they lost that effectiveness. But by far the greater power was inherent in the symbolism of the designs, which often stemmed from forms that appeared during a vision quest. Arapoosh said that on a vision quest in his youth, he had been visited by the figure in black, who was the spirit of the Moon. He was told to regard the visitor as his spirit-guardian–a supernatural protector who would watch over him, help him whenever called upon, and guide his life.

The vision quest was a major goal in life for all of the Plains Indian men, to such an extent that those who never achieved a vision felt they were failures; and this attitude was shared to a certain extent by the community. Therefore success and the creation of indicia to demonstrate success, as well as one’s belief in the powers that came with the vision, were very important. Anything that happened during the quest became critical. It might indicate the whole future way of life for the person. Perhaps it signalled the appearance of beneficial or harmful spirits to be attended to. Or it might even provide a view of the future to the supplicant. Symbols representing these benefits or dangers held an overriding role and were always respected, though they were never worshiped per se.

Normally, these shields were veiled by a second cover to show proper respect, to protect the powerful “medicine” from wasteful exposure (lest it lose its potency), and to hide the designs from uninitiated eyes.

On this shield the Moon was personified as an Above Person (one of the Above Ones) overseeing the activities of all creatures on earth, and most particularly Arapoosh, to whom he had appeared in the vision. This appearance established a close relationship between them that would endure for the balance of the man’s life. It also created a responsibility toward the spirit being that was not to be taken lightly. Among all Native Americans there is a strong spiritual bond between Sky Beings and mankind, which in many tribes surpasses even the kinship felt for those creatures that reside on the earth and in the underworld, and that includes the Water People.

The history of this shield has fortunately been preserved. Although Lewis and Clark met Chief Arapoosh–who was known to them by his English name, Rotten Belly (or Sour Belly)–during their expedition of 1804-1806, the shield was first described in detail by Jim Beckwourth, a legendary mountain man who saw it about 1830. He recounted the belief of the Crow in the medicinal powers of the designs. According to Beckwourth, it was brought out in times of trouble or just before a war party was to depart for battle. Arapoosh, the major tribal war chief, would ceremoniously roll the shield (as in bowling) down the row of lodges. When it fell over, if the designs were skyward, success was assured; but if it came to a stop facedown, the war party would be abandoned. While most people painted their own shields, often a holy man would be requested to make medicine objects, to increase their power. But since Arapoosh was also a medicine man, it may well be that he painted this shield himself.

Chandra the Lunar Deity

Chandra (Sanskrit चन्द्र lit. “shining”) is a lunar deity in Hinduism. Chandra is also identified with the Vedic Lunar deity Soma (lit. “juice”). The Soma name refers particularly to the juice of sap in the plants and thus makes the Moon the lord of plants and vegetation. On the inner level on consciousness, Chandra is the reflective light of the mind, and Soma is the sacred nectar of higher states of awareness. Chandra is also the word in Sanskrit, Hindi and other Indian languages for moon and means ‘shining’.

Originally a feminine deity, representing the goddess or the female archetype in general, Chandra has been depicted in a male form in many sculptures and images as a symptom of patriarchal dominance in the the Hindu society. The name Chandra and Soma are still common names for girls in India.

Chandra is described as young, beautiful, fair; two-armed and having in it’s hands a club and a lotus. Chandra rides on a chariot across the sky every night, pulled by ten white horses or an antelope. She is connected with dew, and as such, is representative of fertility which draws back to it’s origins as the mother goddess of the universe.

The Hindu god Shiva, ‘lord of the universe’, has a crescent moon (Chandra) as an adornment on his head, representing his eternal union with the goddess Shakti within, thus allowing him to maintain the supreme state. This representation of Chandra is also associated with it’s form as the divine nectar (Soma.)

In Vedic astrology Chandra represents the subconscious mind, emotions, intuition, higher perception, sensitivity, softness, imagination, queen and mother. Traditionally, the mother goddess in pre-Vedic religion was always associated with the worship of the moon.

On the elemental level, Chandra represents the water, and the infinite flow which binds and seperates all existence. Chandra is the aspect of the psyche that allows us to feel, perceive, and understand the world in a subtle and gentle way.

Horus : Egyptian God of the Sky

HORUS served many functions in the Egyptian pantheon, most notably being the god of the sky. Since Horus was also said to be the sky, he was considered to also contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was his right eye and the moon his left, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it.



Later, the reason that the moon was not as bright as the sun was explained by a tale, known as the contestings of Horus and Set, originating as a metaphor for the conquest of Upper Egypt by Lower Egypt in about 3000 BC. In this tale, it was said that Set, the patron of Upper Egypt, and Horus, the patron of Lower Egypt, had battled for Egypt brutally, with neither side victorious, until eventually the gods sided with Horus.

As Horus was the ultimate victor he became known as ‘Horus the Great’, or ‘Horus the Elder.’ HorusIn the struggle Set had lost a testicle, explaining why the desert, which Set represented, is infertile. Horus’ left eye had also been gouged out, then a new eye was created by part of Khonsu (the moon god) and was replaced.

In later Egyptian dynastic times, Ra (the sun god) was merged with the god Horus, as Re-Horakhty (“Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons”). He was believed to rule in all parts of the created world the sky, the earth, and the underworld. He was associated with the falcon or hawk.

The Eye of Horus is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and royal power from deities, in this case from Horus or Ra.

In the Egyptian language, the word for this symbol was “Wedjat“. It was the eye of one of the earliest of Egyptian deities, Wadjet, who later became associated with Bast, Mut, and Hathor as well. Wedjat was a solar deity and this symbol began as her eye, an all seeing eye. In early artwork, Hathor is also depicted with this eye. Funerary amulets were often made in the shape of the Eye of Horus. The Wedjat or Eye of Horus is “the central element” of seven “gold, faience, carnelian and lapis lazuli” bracelets found on the mummy of Shoshenq II. The Wedjat “was intended to protect the king [here] in the afterlife” and to ward off evil. Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern sailors would frequently paint the symbol on the bow of their vessel to ensure safe sea travel.