Máni is attested in the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, and in Tacitus’s Germania. He is the god of the moon, and brother of the goddess of the sun, Sól. It is from him we get our famous “Man-in-the-Moon” in English folklore.
Along with his sister and their father, Mundilfäri, Máni is one of the gods associated with the keeping of time. Like his sister Sól, he is described as beautiful, but with dark hair and silver eyes. In Voluspa, he is described as serving the Æsir “in order to be able to reckon the year.”
Both Sól and Máni are pursued ceaselessly by a pair of wolves, and are destined to be caught and devoured by them at Ragnarök. Lunar eclipses were thought to be times when Hati (Hate) the wolf who pursues Máni, gets close to him. The finality of Ragnarök is now thought to be an influence of Christian writer Snorri Sturlson, and that earlier myths of wolves chasing and gaining upon the celestial lights was cyclical rather than apocalyptic. It is also speculated that such tales may have been reflections of earlier events, reflecting a mini ice age or unnatural winter caused by a cometary impact that blackened the sky.
Some tales cast Máni and his family as gods and others as Jötnar, being especially ancient powers who appeared during the creation of the cosmos. The motif of the sun and moon as pulled by chariots across the sky is common across many Indo-European religions.
Máni in myth is attended by two childlike spirits – a girl named Bil, and a boy, Hjuki. Bil and Hjuki are depicted as carrying pails of water, and most likely became the figures in the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill. Bil’s name means to decrease or lessen, pouring out water. Hjuki’s is increase, filling up his pails with water. Together they symbolize the waning and waxing of the moon, and its connection to tidal bodies of water.
Máni is called by different poetic names according to the nine realms of Norse myth. He is called “Moon” by humanity, “The Fiery One” by the Æsir, “The Whirling Wheel” in Helheim, “The Hastener” by giants, “The Shiner” by Dwarfs, and “The Counter of Years” by the Alfar.
One of Máni‘s chief roles is helping humankind to tell the time and date, to prepare for the growing season, and also to determine the most auspicious times for other human affairs, as a sort of influence of fate. He is not described as the moon orb itself, but rather it’s guide, who steers a chariot in which the heavenly body is carried. The phases of the moon are said to represent his endless swerving from the wolf who chases him. His chariot is drawn by a horse named Hrimfaxi (Rime or Frost Mane) although this horse is also named as belonging to Nött, the Jötun goddess of the night, likely related to the primal Grecian goddess Nyx.
Although Máni does not appear to have had indoor temple spaces dedicated to him, Tacitus tells us that the Germanic tribes held him in high esteem, and that he was worshipped outdoors. Magic and religious ceremony were not separate functions to early Heathens, and Máni was often invoked in many spells throughout Scandinavia, Germany and England.
He is one of the gods associated with seiðr, or witchcraft. In Havamal he is connected with curses and blessings, and many inscriptions on stones and at graves invoke his protection for the living and the dead, and ask for his assistance in fortune telling.
The name of the week, Monday is named after him.
Thoughts on Máni
The moon has many folkloric associations with fate, and luck. Different phases of the moon where seen as lucky, and auspicious times with which to conduct certain endeavor – the waxing moon, he is invoked for aid in any endeavor involving gain, growth and increase, starting or adding to new projects. During the waning moon, he is called on to help release, let go, banish and lessen. Full moons are seen as auspicious to hold gatherings and parties.
European folkloric traditions about the moon’s influence on the fertility of crops and blessings in love and marriage were attributed to Máni, and he was credited with helping in magical ventures involving increase or decrease. Jacob Grimm writes about Máni as helpful in increasing financial abundance, and Tacitus notes that observation of the moon’s phases marked the holy days, and good times for planting and harvesting amongst the Germanic tribes.
To the Germanic people, the moon was a masculine presence, as it was to the ancient Egyptians and the time-keeping god Khonsu and Thoth.
Many Anglo-Saxon lunaria survive – texts which predict all manner of phenomena, from weather to human fate based on movements of the moon. Astronomy/astrology (they were not separate to earlier peoples) were significant for the ancient English and Germanic peoples, whose calendars were lunar. The Lunula, a stylized crescent jewelry motif, has also survived through many Norse and Slavic cultures as a symbol of the moon.
Signs and Symbols
The moon, silver, astronomy/astrology, and crescent shapes. The lunula. Herbalism, time, clocks, magic, and stone circles. Monday, calendars, tides, the night.
Manni, Moon (English), Meness (Baltic), Man in the Moon (modern), Hjuki-and-Bil/Jack-and-Jill