About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jumping over the Moon and other Celestial Nursery Rhymes

With the recognition of it being 40 years this week since a human first walked on the moon, I began thinking about how long we have gazed at the moon and wondered about it before finally going to check it out first hand.

Some civilizations had folklore that claimed the moon was responsible for life on Earth, as we know it. Some Native American folklore considers the moon to be a male and some a female (though I don't recall gender being an issue when Neil Armstrong first walked across the lunar surface).

Early children's songs mention the moon, but also don't consider it male or female, though it is still a very important element. The earliest known songbook for children - Tommy Thumb's Pretty Songbook, Vol. II (ca. 1744) has at least two rhymes or songs referencing the moon:

The moon shines bright, the stars give a light,
And you may kiss a pretty girl At ten o'clock at night. (no. 2)


Girls and boys, Come out to play,

The moon does shine, As bright as day,
Come with a (w)hoop, Come with a call,
Come with a good will, Or not come at all. (no. 17)

(The latter of these two is not a new concept with Tommy Thumb as the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes states that these chants date back to the very early 1700s - per The Annotated Mother Goose by William S. Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould, 1962.)

Of course, the moon's image in nursery rhymes continues to capture children's imagination when they recite about a cow jumping over it:

High diddle, diddle, The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jumped over the Moon,
The little Dog laugh'd To see such Craft,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.

This familiar rhyme (or some derivation of it) has remained in children's books till today; its origins lay with the reign of Elizabeth I and the various characters are references to historic persons. A full discussion of this can be found in The Annotated Mother Goose (noted above), but a fairly good summary is also located on Wikipedia. There are many interpretations of the Cow and his/her travel over the moon, ranging from Elizabeth I's tendency to cause her entourage to do a fair amount of "jumping," to the constellation of Taurus the bull, to Egyptian religious beliefs involving Hathor, who possessed the head of of a cow.

So, long before a man walked on the moon, the importance of that orb has been part of our culture (and those of early civilizations). Whether you are kissing under the moon, playing in the moonlight, or encouraging nearby cows to take a leap, you are in the presence of the same celestial sphere that our earliest ancestors worshiped, kissed under, and played beneath.

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