Luna was sister of Aurora, the goddess of mornings, and of the sun. Daughter of the Titan Hyperion.
It is worth noting that the moon was also closely associated with Diana and other divinities linked to seasons and agriculture.
Her close association with the sun god Apollo is easy to understand. It is interesting to note how Luna was slowly given lesser importance whilst Apollo gained until in the end he was closely associated also with Christ, the new state religion. Similarly the calendar was initially based on the moon and finally on the sun.
The Roman goddess of the moon shaped many calendars
The importance of the moon and the goddess of the moon can be sensed by considering that the early Roman calendar was based on lunar cycles. Whilst useful for understanding lunar influences it caused a mess with proper measurement of a full year, which was corrected by Julius Caesar and the introduction of a solar calendar.
Monday was dedicated to the moon: The Romans dedicated Monday to her and indeed it remains so even today both in romance languages as well as anglo-saxon languages: Lunedì (Italian), Lunes (Spanish), Lundi (French), Montag (German), Monday (English)…
Clearly the association with the moon also had close connotations with fertility, likely due to its close association with the menstrual cycle but not only: Popular farming lore has clear indications regarding appropriate moon cycles to undertake such operations such as sowing, planting, pruning, harvesting etc.
Her temple the “aedes lunae” in Rome was on the Aventine hill and celebrated on the 31st of March.
The Temple of the Roman moon goddess – Aedes Lunae
The Roman writer Tacitus tells us (Annales 15) that the temple was built by Servius Tullus one of Rome’s early kings.
Freak events at the temple
The temple had a variety of important events associated with it; in 182BC a freak wind wrenched one of the doors off and cast it against the temple of the goddess Cerere. It was also struck bya bolt of lightning (a very important sign in Roman divination). From a journalistic point of view, Sempronius Gracchus, one of the two revolutionary Gracchi brotherssought refuge here from the irate landowners, he reputedly jumped down from the podium and sprained his ankle.
The aedes lunae was burnt down during the great fire of Rome in 64AD during the reign of Emperor Nero and was never rebuilt. However we have an idea of where it might have been thanks to the blown door event (ie near the temple of Cerere).
The supposedly magical power of the moon was also believed in Roman times: a strong feel for this can be had from Book 11 of Apuleius’ Golden Ass (aka Metamorphoses) where not only do we get a sense of the deities associated with the moon , but also of her power to transform and shapechange…..
“So, shaking off my tiredness, I scrambled to my feet and walked straight into the sea in order to purify myself. I immersed my head seven times because, according to the divine Pythagoras, that number is specially suited for all ritual acts; and then, speaking with lively joy, I lifted my tear-wet face in supplication to the irresistible Goddess: Queen of Heaven, whether you are fostering Ceres the motherly nurse of all growth, who, gladdened at the discovery of your lost daughter, abolished the brutish nutriment of the primitive acorn and pointed the way to gentler food, as is yet shown in the tilling of the fields of Eleusis; or whether you are celestial Venus who in the first moment of Creation mingled the opposing sexes in the generation of mutual desires, and who, after sowing in humanity the seeds of indestructible continuing life, are now worshiped in the wave-washed shrine of Paphos; or whether you are the sister of Phoebus, who by relieving the pangs of childbirth travail with soothing remedies have brought safe into the world lives innumerable, and who are now venerated in the thronged sanctuary of Ephesus; or whether you are Proserpine, terrible with the howls of midnight, whose triple face has power to ward off all the assaults of ghosts and to close the cracks in the earth, and who wander through many a grove, propitiated in divers manners, illuminating the walls of all cities with beams of female light, nurturing the glad seeds in the earth with your damp heat, and dispensing abroad your dim radiance when the sun has abandoned us – O by whatever name, and whatever rites, and in whatever form, it is permitted to invoke you, come now and succour me in the hour of my calamity. Support my broken life, and give me rest and peace after the tribulations of my lot. Let there be an end to the toils that weary me, and an end to the snares that beset me. Remove from me the hateful shape of a beast, and restore me to the sight of those that love me. Restore me to Lucius, my lost self. But if an offended god pursues me implacably, then grant me death at least since life is denied me.”