Moon Alphabet

We can be confident that this (now divided into two volumes, London, British Library, Cotton Titus D. xxvi-xxvii) was indeed Ŧotlīne's private prayerbook. More than half of the seventy-eight items are devotional texts, mostly prayers. The book opens with an ecclesiastical calendar and tables, enabling Ŧotlīne to find the 'moveable' feasts of the church year, which are not fixed but depend on the phases of the moon.

There are also secular texts, several of them revealing a characteristic medieval curiosity about numerology and natural phenomena.

The ‘Moon Alphabet’ is a curiosity, deriving it seems from three separate traditions; 1) the ‘prognostic’ tradition, in which alphabet texts were used for dream interpretation. Several survive in Latin and Middle High German, most of them written between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries; 2) the ‘scientific’ tradition, since the alphabet is a memorandum on the varying heights of the tides of the sea, which change continually in direct relation to the behavior of the moon. Several of the letters (A, L,Q,U) remind Ŧotlīne how there are in effect four different phases within every period of about thirty days. It will be seen that the highest tides correspond—but not exactly—with full and new moons; 3) the ‘numerological/religious’ tradition, in so far as the alphabet reflects (through ingenious coding) a recurring preoccupation with the ages of Christ and of his mother, the Virgin Mary.

To learn the meaning of his dreams, Ŧotlīne would, on waking, open a book at random and (according to one of several possible procedures) note the first letter on the left-hand page. He would then turn to your alphabetical list of prognostications and read off the meaning of the letter—and thus the dream. 


Here is the motion of the moon and tide:

When the moon is three night’s old, the tide flood wanes
until the moon is 
eleven or twelve night’s old.

Until the moon is eighteen night’s old, the tide flood grows.

When the moon is eighteen night’s old, the tide flood wanes
until it is 
twenty-six night’s old.

Until the moon is again thirty night’s old, the tide flood grows.


In the case that the sick person’s food does not stay down,
use house leek: crumble it until
it is a bitter wine. 

Until house leek controls the nausea, improves the lungs,
and heals the liver, after a night’s fasting, when ready,
drink a full spoon.

In the case that he is still not able to hold down any food,
give him one 
ounce of dill seed, a few
peppers, and some cumin.

The seed, peppers, and cumin: Until the man has recovered
with these, drain onto his face some water which mint has
been boiled in, and a sour apple from the tender upper
parts of a vine.




−Because we are terribly ignorant and spout
ungrammatically, we beg you, O Master, teach us how to 

−I must ask then, so that I can teach you: What do you want to say?

−As long as it is correct speech and proper, and not
frivolous or base, what do we care?

−Again, so that I might teach you: During the lesson,
do you want me to 
strike you, repeatedly,
with a thick wooden cudgel?

−For the sake of learning, O Master, we would
rather be beaten than not know how to speak. But we
know, unless you are compelled otherwise, that you will
be kind and unwilling to inflict strokes on us. 



When only darkness knew the earth, a man whom no one recognized climbed onto the body of a shaking boy until he was fourteen years old.

And when he was fourteen years old, so that he could determine who this man could be, the boy mixed some soot with oil and hurriedly painted his breast.

To his horror the boy discovered, the next morning, that his brother had a circle of soot around his mouth.

He screamed at him. The brother denied it. Their parents came in through the door.

The brother left through an open window. The boy seized a brand from the fire and pursued him.

The brother ran through the woods, without ever stopping, and once or twice he looked behind him:

Still in lunatic pursuit, bearing a torch, the boy’s eyes seemed to be screaming.

The brother ran into the sky.

The boy flew after him. 


After lightning strikes the tree, gnarling it, a flood of bodies roll out from the hollow and pile under the soft light of the moon.

They pile until it is February. Until they are a giant heap.

I see my father. He has been impaled on a branch. He is wrapped in sweat and blood.

He is crying out something disgusting.

A little boy rolls out of a hole in him. The boy continues rolling until it is Fall and the leaves begin to turn.

Under an old leaf that has lost its color I can see a seashell the length of a dog. 



−I ask then, how do you speak? What do you have by way of work?

−I am a monk and I treasure each of the
seven days 
with my brothers. I am occupied
with singing but nevertheless I would like
to learn the language of the Moon.

−What can these friends of yours do?

−Some are ploughmen, some are oxeherds,
some as well are hunters, some are fishermen,
some are fowlers, some are merchants, some are
cobblers, salters, bakers, and some throw
spears at the sun. 


With dysentery use bramble of which both ends are in the ground and cut off shavings on the left side until someone has sang three times God have pity on me and nine times Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer.

While the songs are still resonating, apply mugwort and dog’s mercury,

boiling the dog’s mercury in milk until it becomes red.

Let him sip the bowl after a night’s fast. Let him rest quietly. Wrap him in blankets.

If he still needs more mugwort and dog’s mercury, do not withhold until he requests for a seventh time. 


−What do you say, ploughman? How do you carry out your work?

−O dear Lord, I labor very hard. I go at daybreak, driving oxen to the field and yoking them to the plow. There is no winter so severe that I dare hide for fear of my masters. And with the oxen yoked and the coulter fastened to the plow, each day I must plough the full acre until I can plough no more.

−Do you have any companions?

−I have a certain boy who scatters oxen with a cattle-prod.

−During the day what more do you accomplish?

−Certainly I do more. Still! I fill the oxen bins with hay and water.

−O! What great labor that is!

−Yes, sir.


The horses went towards the lake until they were at the edge of the water.

And they kept on going. We kept on going. I was there riding
on a horse that King Ælfred rode.

Its skin was tough like old skin now. And I could feel its warm bones press against my hand.

The bones pressed against my hand and soon it was Winter. 

Summer. Fall.


When she departed from Middle Earth, Saint Mary was sixty-three winter’s old. 

And she was fourteen years old when she gave birth to Christ. 

Living for sixteen years after him, she was with him for thirty-three years on Middle Earth.


−O Pupils, I must tell you: In order to learn the language of the Moon you must first learn the Moon alphabet. And to learn the Moon alphabet you must first know the varying heights of the tides of the sea. Do you know what these heights are? 

−No, we do not. 

−Here is the motion of the moon and tide then: When the moon is three night’s old, the tide flood wanes until the moon is eleven or twelve night’s old. Until the moon is eighteen night’s old, the tide flood grows. When the moon is eighteen night’s old, the tide flood wanes until it is twenty-six night’s old. Until the moon is again thirty night’s old, the tide flood grows. 

−Thank you, O Master, for teaching us that sequence. 

−What do you say of this, fowler? 

−It seems the highest tides correspond to the full and new moons. 

−And what do you say of this ploughman? 

−The highest tides correspond to the full and new moons, it seems.


When the wise man built his house, he did so with stones. It took him years.  

Then winds blew upon his home. And a great flood
came and fell upon his labor. 

But it did not fall—his house built with stones. 

Not for a thousand years. Truly, it was built well, built well with stones.




−Now I must go on, O Pupils, and teach you the Moon alphabet. I will use this bramble, of which both ends are out of the ground, to draw in the dirt the sequence of letters: 

























At the end of every thousand years the Phoenix flies to a remote region of Syria. In a lofty tree it builds its nest of spice-bearing twigs. There it lodges until by the sun’s heat the nest kindles, and the bird is consumed. 

With the spice-bearing twigs of the Phoenix, I end your vomiting, soothe your dysentery. 

If you read this after or during a dream, know that ashes will rise, a body will be re-born.


−Were you beaten today? 


−I was not, because I conducted myself with care. 


−And what about your companions? 


−The cobbler was given the pear of anguish because
he took the Lord’s name in vain. The salter was garroted
because he violated Divine Law. And in order to
extract a confession, the baker was thrown into
a crocodile tube. 


−Is that all? 


−The fisherman was also thrown into a crocodile tube. 


−And why was that? 


−He did not know the motion of the moon and tides. 


−Can you recite it? 


−When the moon is three night’s old, the tide flood wanes until the moon is eleven or twelve night’s old. Until the moon is eighteen night’s old, the tide flood grows. When the moon is eighteen night’s old, the tide flood


−What more did you do today? 

−I ate my vegetables and eggs, fish and cheese, butter and beans. But
I was not greedy!


Then the foolish man built his house on sand. Then it rained, and a flood came there, and winds blew, and fell down upon the house. 


And the house fell. Its fall was great.


A Till a thousand winters have waxed and waned. 

B Happiness: It is not for this world. 

D Always be obedient for your master. 

E What they were before they were, the fire clasp them close in its grip. 

F In this transient time let us seek peace and healing in his hands. 

G You will embark on a good journey if you start well. 

H A fairer perfection beyond all fowl. 

I Hymning their hero in fervent strains. 

J The land is beautiful, the world is fair, but not here. 

K Thronging in multitudes. 

L Greeting God’s candle, the gleaming gem. 

M Clouds are dispersed and seas are tranquil. 

O The burning sun, shines over the shades, scanning the world. 

P Seek your homeland, your ancient seat.
Q The gates of hell. Who gathers there knows no retreat. 

R God’s bright token will glow in splendor.
S With dysentery use bramble. 

T A  B    C  D  E  F    G   H  I   J  K   L M    N O P Q R S T U V W
U Behold the course of the heavenly taper.
V Note the hours of night and day.
X Beware the cunning craft of the Dark Destroyer.
Y Something marvelous will come, after hunger torments.
Z The wide mouth is filled. It snaps its grim jaws.


The tide flood wanes. 

XI (or XII) 
The tide flood grows. 

The tide flood wanes. 

The tide flood grows.


[The moon was glowing. I thought to myself: I would touch it. I had not touched it yet, but I would touch it soon, in an instant. Not to touch it was too hard, too hard: and I felt the silent striving of my (left) hand, as it would be at some instant to come, touching. I looked again at the moon: still untouched but about to be, for once, the recipient of the warm glow of a human hand, and that hand, I thought, would most certainly be my left one.]



      [Towards dawn I awoke in the moon cemetery. It was that uneasy hour when the C60 ring ejects a hail of human ash over the moon’s vast continent and strange plants open to the unceasing darkness and moths fly forth silently through the cold. Through its shaping into a livable atmosphere, the moon had been enchanted! The instant of inspiration seemed now to be reflected from all sides at once from a multitude of cloudy circumstances. But what were these circumstances? I raised myself suddenly on my elbow to look for the audio device and camera. There was neither in the isolation chamber; only the soup plate I had eaten and an unplugged night light at the foot of the bed.]


      [--With more and more Moon funerals happening over time, the growing number of C60 balls have gradually clustered into an all-encompassing membrane built up from countless buckminsterfullerene structures… 

--Excuse me, buckminsterwhat? 


--Yea what is that? 

                                     --They are what make up the all-encompassing membrane. 

                    --How is it that these little buckminsters cause an all-encompassing membrane to form? 

                --I don’t know. Honestly. But let me tell you about the mission of the cemetery. It’s to be the first truly universal grave site. The ashes of the dead are all equal here. And then something to do with creating a new paradise. No borders, no distinction between nationality, race, religion, color or whatever else. Up here on the moon, everything is good. Collectiveness will arise. 

--Come again? 

      --Collectiveness will arise. Everything is good. Since you are the first moon visitants, I welcome you to this paradise that has been created. Or that is in the process of being created. But I assure you kind folks that, whatever stage we are in, paradise is mostly done—we just need more human ash to complete paradise.


−What say you spear thrower? Do you work as hard as the ploughman? 

−No, I do not. I sleep well into the afternoon. Yesterday at mid-hour I got up from my bed and went to church with my spear and sang the Nocturns. 

−What more do you do? And how old are you? 

−After I sing the songs of praise and all about the saints, I might leave the first mass and decide to throw a spear towards the sun. And I am at least one hundred thousand years old, sir.

Edward Trefts is a PhD student at the University of Utah.