For thousands of years, people have looked up at the moon and wondered about its divine significance. It should come as no surprise that many cultures throughout time have had lunar deities - that is, gods or goddesses associated with the power and energy of the moon. If you're doing a moon-related ritual, in some traditions of Wicca and Paganism you may choose to call upon one of these deities for assistance. Let's look at some of the better known lunar deities.
In the legends of the Inuit peoples, Alignak is the god of both the moon and weather. He controls the tides, and presides over both earthquakes and eclipses. In some stories, he is also responsible for returning the souls of the dead to earth so that they may be reborn. Alignak may appear in harbors to protect fishermen from Sedna, the wrathful sea goddess.
Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt. Because her twin brother, Apollo, was associated with the Sun, Artemis gradually became connected to the moon in the post-Classical world. During the ancient Greek period, although Artemis was represented as a lunar goddess, she was never portrayed as the moon itself. Typically, in post-Classical artwork, she is depicted beside a crescent moon. She is often associated with the Roman Diana as well.
Cerridwen is, in Celtic mythology, the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge. She is the giver of wisdom and inspiration, and as such is often associated with the moon and the intuitive process. As a goddess of the Underworld, Cerridwen is often symbolized by a white sow, which represents both her fecundity and fertility and her strength as a mother. She is both Mother and Crone; many modern Pagans honor Cerridwen for her close association to the full moon.
In Chinese mythology, Chang'e was married to the king Hou Yi. Although he was once known as a great archer, later Hou Yi became a tyrannical king, who spread death and destruction wherever he went. The people starved and were brutally treated. Hou Yi greatly feared death, so a healer gave him a special elixir that would allow him to live forever. Chang'e knew that for Hou Yi to live forever would be a terrible thing, so one night while he slept, Chang'e stole the potion. When he saw her and demanded she return the potion, she immediately drank the elixir and flew up into the sky as the moon, where she remains to this day. In some Chinese stories, this is the perfect example of someone making a sacrifice to save others.
In Aztec stories, Coyolxauhqui was the sister of the god Huitzilopochtli. She died when her brother leapt from their mother's womb and killed all of his siblings. Huitzilopochtli cut off Coyolxauhqui's head and threw it up into the sky, where it remains today as the moon. She is typically depicted as a young and beautiful woman, adorned with bells and decorated with lunar symbols.
Much like the Greek Artemis, Diana began as a goddess of the hunt who later evolved into a lunar goddess. In Charles Leland's Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, he pays homage to Diana Lucifera (Diana of the light) in her aspect as a light-bearing goddess of the moon.
Hecate was venerated as a mother goddess, and during the Ptolemaic period in Alexandria was elevated to her position as goddess of ghosts and the spirit world. Many contemporary Pagans and Wiccans honor Hecate in her guise as a Dark Goddess, although it would be incorrect to refer to her as an aspect of the Crone, because of her connection to childbirth and maidenhood. It's more likely that her role as "dark goddess" comes from her connection to the spirit world, ghosts, the dark moon, and magic.
Selene was the sister of Helios, the Greek sun god. Tribute was paid to her on the days of the full moon. Like many Greek goddesses, she had a number of different aspects. At one point she was worshipped as Phoebe, the huntress, and later was identified with Artemis. Her lover was a young shepherd prince named Endymion, who was granted immortality by Zeus - however, he was also granted eternal slumber, so all that immortality and eternal youth was wasted on Endymion. The shepherd was doomed to sleeping in a cave forever, so Selene descended from the sky every night to sleep beside him. Unlike most other lunar goddesses of Greece, Selene is the only one who is actually portrayed as the moon incarnate by the early classical poets.
Sina is one of the best-known Polynesian deities. She resides within the moon itself, and is the protector of those who might travel at night. Originally, she lived on earth, but got tired of the way her husband and family treated her. So, she packed up her belongings and left to go live in the moon, according to Hawaiian legend. In Tahiti, the story goes that Sina, or Hina, simply got curious about what it was like on the moon, and so paddled her magical canoe until she got there. Once she had arrived, she was struck by the moon's tranquil beauty and decided to stay.
Thoth was an Egyptian god of magic and wisdom, and appears in a few legends as the god who weighs the souls of the dead, although many other stories assign that job to Anubis. Because Thoth is a lunar deity, he is often portrayed wearing a crescent on his head. He is closely associated with Seshat, a goddess of writing and wisdom, who is known as the scribe of the divine.