Time to tackle the sun and moon Pokémon of Pokémon: Sun and Moon! Today we look at the Nebula Pokémon, Cosmog, the Protostar Pokémon, Cosmoem, and their two final forms, the legendary Solgaleo and Lunala. This is, I warn you now, going to be a long and treacherous journey through complicated blind alleys of astronomy and mythology. My position on the big version-mascot legendary Pokémon is usually that they aren’t supposed to reference any one specific mythological character or tradition (obligatory link to me ranting about the “Norse mythology” interpretation of the XYZ legendaries). Instead, they’re attempting to tap into general mythological archetypes that the designers think will be meaningful across many cultures (hence, the version mascots are some of the very few Pokémon whose names are more or less constant across all translations of the game). This means that interpreting them is… kind of as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, and… well, when have I ever made anything simple? As with the four Tapu, I’m going to forgo any discussion of the competitive merits of these Pokémon, partly because they’re both crazy powerful and it’s just hard to go wrong with them, but mostly because just scroll down and I think you’ll agree that I have more than served my time here already. So let’s get into it – starting with why these Pokémon are the types that they are.
Psychic is already more or less established as an element associated with the cosmos: Starmie, Deoxys, Jirachi, Lunatone, Solrock, Cresselia, Beheeyem and Gothitelle are all Pokémon somehow related to outer space, the moon and stars, or celestial phenomena, who have that relationship expressed by being Psychic-types. It makes sense for our new cosmic legendary Pokémon to be Psychic too. Both Solgaleo and Lunala also have a “third eye” on their foreheads, which is visible only in the energised “Radiant Sun phase” and “Full Moon phase” that they enter when opening Ultra Wormholes or using their signature moves (incidentally – promotional material before the games’ release made a big deal of these “phases” but they seem… not really that important, in practice?). A “third eye” on the forehead is a common metaphor for spiritual awareness or enlightenment, perhaps even special knowledge of “the cosmos,” so it’s the kind of thing you might imagine a Psychic Pokémon would have. I don’t think it ties in to any of the other imagery used by Lunala or Solgaleo, though (except maybe in the modern association between the “third eye” and the pineal gland, a region of the brain linked with sensitivity to light). Ghost for Lunala works as well, since Ghost-types are associated with night and darkness (and, in fact, with literal darkness more than Dark Pokémon are, since they care about things that are ethically “dark” like trickery and intimidation). The moon is also commonly linked with magic, spirits and the paranormal. But why is Solgaleo a Steel-type? Well… there is the whole alchemy interpretation that I suppose I’ll have to address sooner or later, but another idea I’ve seen knocking around the internet, which I like much better, is that it’s a reference to stellar fusion. Stars produce energy by fusing lighter elements into heavier ones – hydrogen into helium into beryllium into carbon and so on and so forth. All the really heavy elements, though, have to be produced in blue giant stars, supernovae, and other crazy extreme situations. A medium-sized yellow star like our sun, in principle, will stop at some point – and that point is iron, the primary component of steel and the metal most commonly linked with Steel-types (at time of writing, the sun is thought to be about 4.6 billion years old and consist of roughly 0.2% by mass of iron, so it’s probably got a good few years left).
Cosmog is a living nebula – a vast cloud of cosmic dust, often hundreds of light-years across. Nebulae that are large enough or close enough are visible through telescopes as splotchy shapes, but if you were to actually pass through one, you might have no idea; they contain far more matter than any random patch of empty space, but that isn’t saying much, and mostly we’re talking about just the vaguest wisps of hydrogen gas. However, because matter attracts matter, even slight fluctuations in density can grow; wisps can come together into clouds, clouds can come together into clumps. With enough mass in one place for gravity to overcome the natural jitteriness of gas, new stars can form, hence the nickname “stellar nurseries” for these regions of space. Leftover gas and dust around a new star can also collect to form planets and moons. Cosmog, known in ancient Alola as “the child of the stars,” reimagines these precursors to the birth of celestial bodies as literal babies. Cosmog is not hundreds of light-years across , but does share the extreme low density of a real nebula; the Pokédex lists its weight as 0.1 kg, the same as Gastly, Haunter, Flabébé and Kartana, and even that could just mean the Pokédex refuses to round down to zero. Like a protostar, Cosmog grows by accumulating dust from its surroundings (in the anime, it also eats “star candies,” the same traditional Japanese candies that Minior is based on, presumably because it likes their “cosmic” theme, but refuses to eat any other terrestrial food).
When Cosmog eventually evolves into Cosmoem, it abruptly goes from one of the five lightest known Pokémon to one of the two heaviest (alongside Celesteela, and just barely ahead of Primal Groudon, at 999.9 kg), and no longer accumulates physical matter. Instead, the Pokédex describes Cosmoem as absorbing light so it can continue to grow in its dormant state. While Cosmog was a formless cloud, Cosmoem has a definite spherical core at the centre of its body. Though now called “the Protostar Pokémon,” Cosmoem doesn’t really reference the process of star formation in the way that Cosmog does. The Pokédex describes it as “motionless as if dead,” but “faintly warm to the touch” due to the transformation taking place inside its golden shell. Seemingly dead, unbelievably heavy, faintly warm and absorbing light, Cosmoem almost sounds like something from the end of a star’s life – like a white dwarf, a neutron star, or even a black hole. If you were so inclined, you could take this even further and see Solgaleo and Lunala not as embodiments of the sun and moon, but as aspects of the end of a star’s life: Solgaleo as a supernova, the ultimate fate of a massive star that collapses on itself as its fusion reactions begin to fail, and Lunala as a white dwarf, the faint ember of a medium-sized star that has exhausted most of its fuel. The actual intent behind Cosmoem’s design is probably more straightforward, though. It references the age-old “cocoon Pokémon” type (being referred to in Alolan folklore as “the cocoon of the stars”), while its tremendous weight and hard shell (in contrast to Cosmog’s free-floating, cloudy nature) probably reflects the extreme pressure required to spark stellar fusion and create a new star.
If Cosmoem is roughly a sphere of diameter 10 cm (which it’s not, because its shell has all those flanges, but I think we’re probably underestimating its density by making this assumption, which I’m fine with), then it has a volume of about 523.6 cm3. Its density is thus in the realms of 1900 grams per cubic centimetre, or 1.9 million kilograms per cubic metre. This is arguably not that much in a cosmic sense – it’s almost a trillion times lighter than neutronium, the theoretical material believed to make up neutron stars – but it’s still over 80 times denser than osmium, the heaviest naturally occurring substance on earth. Characters in both the games and anime clearly have not been told this, and happily carry Cosmoem around like it’s no big deal. I can sort of imagine gravity manipulation as an unstated power of Cosmoem’s, although neither it, nor Solgaleo or Lunala, can actually learn Gravity (which is a shame, because it makes perfect sense for cosmic Pokémon anyway).
Solgaleo is a huge white lion with sunburst spikes in its mane. Lions as solar animals is a theme that goes back at least to ancient Egypt, where the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet was one of the principle servants and protectors of Ra. As recently as 1979, the flag of pre-revolutionary Iran featured a lion and a sun. It makes sense – a male lion’s face with its mane looks like a stylised sunburst, and there’s important common symbolic ground between lions and the sun. Lions are commonly royal animals (in ancient Assyria, in Persia, in Seljuk and Ottoman Turkey, in England) because of their perceived power and bravery, and the zodiac sign Leo, the lion, has long been associated with royalty. The sun in many polytheistic religions is associated with the supreme deity, because of its role as the source of all life. Kings, it turns out, like to be connected with the supreme deity – hence, royal lion and divine sun. The ancient kings of Alola (at least, in the version of history we’re given when we play Sun or Ultra Sun) must have had a similar thought process.
It’s because that association is so old, and relatively common, that I have trouble believing Solgaleo is meant specifically as a reference to the alchemical image of a green lion devouring the sun (a symbolic depiction of the use of acid to remove impurities from a lump of ore, leaving behind gold), which is fairly popular on the internet. Lion + sun is just not that striking a coincidence to me, and the one thing that would be really striking evidence of a link – the alchemical lion being green – is absent. I do have to concede that the epithet “beast that devours the sun” is a specific enough resonance to be interesting. Solgaleo doesn’t actually do anything (either in the events of the games as we see them, or in the mythological history of Alola) that could reasonably be glossed as “devouring the sun,” so if it’s not a reference to something, then it’s really weird (it seems more appropriate to Lunala, who explicitly has the power to absorb light and sounds like a bringer of eclipses in Alolan myth). Of course, if it is a reference to the alchemical lion, then it’s still really weird that Solgaleo doesn’t have any powers, or role in the plot, related to purification, and that there’s no convincing parallel reference to alchemy in Lunala’s design.
“The beast that devours the sun” is actually kind of an interesting motif in mythology too. Several ancient cultures attributed eclipses to powerful magical creatures that pursue and try to consume the sun (although I don’t think it’s ever a lion). Perhaps most famously, in Norse mythology, the great wolf Fenrir is supposed to devour the sun and moon at the end of time as part of Ragnarök, the great battle at the end of the world. In some versions, Fenrir has two children, Sköll and Hati (“treachery” and “hate”) who pursue the sun and moon respectively. In Egypt, the cosmic serpent Apophis was the arch-enemy of Ra, and would lie in wait below the western horizon each evening, hoping to swallow the sun. In ancient China, eclipses were thought to be the work of a great dragon, or sometimes a celestial dog; in ancient India, the demon Rahu was to blame. Solgaleo, on the other hand, is radiant – turning night into day. The idea of consuming light is something of a theme for this whole group of Pokémon, though; Cosmoem grows by absorbing light, Lunala “devours light,” and Necrozma… well, we’ll get to Necrozma. “Devouring the sun” as an allegory for eclipses seems like something that could plausibly have been part of the inspiration for the whole mythology of Alola at an early stage – a version in which Solgaleo’s role could conceivably have been quite different. Perhaps it even usurped the sun and had the power to deny light to those who displeased it, as a fickle deity not unlike the four Tapu.
In contrast to lions and the sun, bats – which is what Lunala seems to be, looking at the thin membranous wings – are not especially prominently associated with the moon. They’re usually thought of as night creatures, which I suppose could be argued as “close enough,” and they can fly very quietly, which gives them a “ghostly” quality similar to owls and appropriate to the Ghost-type Lunala, or the ethereal glow of the moon. In fact, though, bats actually avoid the moon; there’s a fairly well-documented phenomenon of “lunar-phobia” where bats are significantly less active on full moon nights. As I understand it, there is some debate within the Bat Science community as to whether the bats themselves are avoiding predators by staying out of the moonlight, or whether their own prey has had the same idea; it could conceivably be both. In any case, Lunala isn’t exclusively the full moon, although it has a “Full Moon phase,” where it lifts its wings to form the circle of the full moon. It also has multiple pieces of crescent moon imagery in its design (the wings, the tail, and the head crest), and it’s associated with darkness and shadow as well as with light, and to a certain extent with the night sky and the stars as well as the moon. The Sun and Moon website compares its spread wings to a starry sky, and the white diamond-shaped bone struts visible on its wings could be meant to evoke stars. We can therefore understand Lunala as representing all phases of the moon and its changeability between them, including the dark new moon, which bats seem to find more hospitable.
There are also a few bat gods from world mythology that Lunala could conceivably be referencing, although I haven’t found any specific parallels that look clearly deliberate. Mostly I think any resemblance is just due to the general link between bats and night. Several Mesoamerican and South American night gods can take the form of a bat, perhaps most prominently the sinister Camazotz, whose name literally means “death bat” in the ancient K’iche’ Maya language, and who represents darkness, fear, night and death. These are some truly horrifying beings, though; Lunala can be sinister, but isn’t particularly malevolent. More relevant, because this takes us to Polynesia, might be the Samoan bat goddess Leutogi, once a princess who was sent to Tonga for an arranged marriage, and was rescued from her hostile in-laws by the family of an injured baby bat she had once saved. She then spent the rest of her life with them, eating fruit they collected for her. This one is interesting, and it’s a fun story that includes the image of a huge cloud of bats pissing on a fire to put it out (I am not making this up), but again I’m not seeing its relevance to Lunala. In Hawaiian mythology, the legendary hero Maui once had to contend with a dark being called Pe‘ape‘a-makawalu, whose name literally means “the eight-eyed bat” (note that the games spell out Lunala’s cry as “mahina-peeeaaa!” – mahina means “moon” in several Polynesian languages, while pe‘a means “bat”). In the myth, the bat abducts Maui’s wife, and Maui pursues him, then decapitates him while he is sleeping and takes his eyes as a trophy. Because it’s a Hawaiian myth, we should be particularly alert to the possibility that it might be relevant; on the other hand, it seems to be a relatively obscure story, and I would sort of expect Lunala’s design to use the number eight as a motif somehow. When it uses its signature move Moongeist Beam in the anime, the charge-up is shown as eight points of light converging in a spiral, and for a moment I thought “eh, close enough,” but the same move in the games shows only six, so again I’m left thinking Lunala is “just” a magical moon bat with night-related powers.
Finally, I would be deeply remiss if I did not bring to your attention, on the subject of bats and the moon, the famous “Great Moon Hoax” of 1835. The Great Moon Hoax was a series of articles published by the New York Sun, purporting to reveal dramatic hot-off-the-presses scientific research into the moon by the astronomer Sir John Herschel (who, in reality, knew nothing of the articles) using an advanced new telescope. A wide variety of amazing creatures supposedly lived on the moon, and the articles included detailed illustrations. Chief among these were civilised aliens who appeared to be half-human and half-bat (given by the hoax articles the scientific designation Vespertilio-homo – Latin for, literally, “bat-man”), less advanced than humans but apparently capable of language and architecture, as well as flight. This is almost certainly not a direct influence on Lunala, but it’s another moon bat story, and I think it probably says something about the symbolism of bats that the author chose bat-people as the centrepiece of his moon hoax.
Okay, now let’s talk a bit about the plot, and just why we even care about these Pokémon.
Cosmog, of course, takes a starring role in the generation VII games, in the person of Nebby, Lillie’s… well, not partner, she always insists it’s not technically her Pokémon, but… associate? Tagalong? Chaperone? Contemporary? Let’s say her “convivial acquaintance.” Nebby is playful, curious and irrepressible. These are, supposedly, traits common to Cosmog in general – after all, they’re godlike infants; they have the whole world to see and nothing can tell them “no.” Besides, they can Teleport (it’s the only move Cosmog can learn, aside from Splash), so they’re pretty good at staying out of trouble. Having fled the Aether Paradise with Nebby to escape her mother’s cruel experiments, Lillie is anxious that no one know it’s with her, or what it is – but Nebby is having none of this $#!t, hence the oft-memed “Nebby, get in the fµ¢£ing bag.” In the anime, Nebby doesn’t need to be kept secret – Ash witnesses its birth in a dream, and it is delivered to him by the four island guardians of Alola, who charge him to keep it safe (although not in so many words… the Tapu can be vague with their instructions). Lillie isn’t estranged from her mother in the anime, and Lusamine is introduced to Nebby early on, so the only recurring threat is Team Rocket, who are convinced that Nebby is a rare Alolan “Proto-Koffing” (and are about as successful in kidnapping it as you might expect). It is still annoyingly cheerful and hyperactive, and although I don’t think we ever see the explosive power shown in the games, its teleportation abilities get quite a workout – whenever someone is having an idle thought, Nebby zaps them to the place or person they’re thinking about (it is, after all, a Psychic-type; sensing emotions or surface thoughts kinda comes with the package).
In both media, though, Nebby’s real value is in its ability to create Ultra Wormholes. This could be seen as an extension of its Teleport ability, if both are thought of as warping space – arguably a point in favour of viewing the many worlds of Ultra Space as other planets within the physical universe, rather than other realities within a multiverse. Cosmog retains this power after becoming Lunala or Solgaleo. In the games, it’s Lusamine who wants to exploit it, using it to summon her beloved Ultra Beasts to Alola. In the anime, it’s Faba, who hopes to win Lusamine’s approval by playing to her obsession with the Ultra Beasts, but accidentally gets her abducted by Nihilego instead. In both cases, it’s only when Nebby evolves into Solgaleo or Lunala that the heroes are able to enter Ultra Space themselves and give chase. Both Pokémon also become the player’s mounts in Ultra Smoon as we travel between the many worlds of Ultra Space. Because these Pokémon are all associated with light, I think we can look at this role they have in the games as a reference to the way light travels across the universe. The speed of light is the theoretical maximum speed of… well, everything. Light travels unerringly through the cosmos, sometimes for hundreds or thousands of years, to reach our eyes, connecting distant parts of the universe across space and time – just like Solgaleo and Lunala. Even distance itself is measured in “light years” when we’re talking on a cosmic scale (and this is also the unit used to measure how far we travel through Ultra Space). Alternatively, part of me would like to think of the “Ultra Warp Ride” (as our journeys with Solgaleo and Lunala are called) as instances of another mythological trope: the journey of the sun across the sky. Many mythologies conceive of the sun as a vehicle of some kind, like the sun chariot of Apollo or the solar barque of Ra, that conveys the sun god across the universe each day. By travelling with Lunala or Solgaleo, we likewise embark on a magical journey of impossible distance between worlds beyond the normal span of human experience.
Our main source of mythological knowledge about Solgaleo or Lunala (according to whether we’re playing Sun or Moon) is book in the Malie City library titled “The Light of Alola,” which Lillie consults with the aid of Acerola. The myth recorded in the book describes a time when “the empty sky broke asunder” – presumably a reference to an Ultra Wormhole – bringing forth either “the beast that devours the sun” or “the beast that calls the moon,” which defeated the four Tapu in battle and forced the king of Alola (a figure about whom we know very little, except that Acerola is apparently his descendent) to worship it. The text then references the “union” of the beasts of the sun and moon, resulting in the creation of a “fragile heir” (presumably Cosmog) that would be protected by the island guardians, just as we see with Nebby in the anime. The events of the story were thereafter memorialised in ritual by the kings of Alola at the Altar of the Sunne/Moone on Poni Island.
This myth has a very different tone depending on which Pokémon it’s talking about. On Sun version, we hear that the kings of Alola bowed to “the beast that shone so like the sun,” and that the beast “[shone] its light on the line of kings,” “[bringing] nature’s gift to bless all things.” Clearly a fairly positive account; Solgaleo is a worshipped as a deity of the sun and sky that personifies nature and brings light and life to all Alola (not unlike the Hawaiian god Kāne, whom we met while discussing Tapu Lele). On Moon version (and this is what I got), the same story featuring Lunala sounds all but apocalyptic. The kings bowed to “the beast that stole all heaven’s light,” which then “cast its pall on the line of kings” to “mark the path for all such finished things.” It sounds as if Lunala cast Alola into an age of eclipse, sending the monarchy into decline and making the people fear for the future of the entire region. Everything we actually see of Lunala, though, suggests that it’s no less benevolent than Solgaleo; it has these vaguely sinister associations, but is just as quick to help the protagonists when it finally shows up as Solgaleo is (kind of like how Solgaleo is “the beast that devours the sun” but is never shown as a destructive force). In a way, this kind of makes sense – like the moon itself, Lunala is fickle, sometimes bright and sometimes dark. There can be myths of Lunala devouring light, turning day into night, and casting a pall on Alola, and at the same time it can be a radiant being like Solgaleo.
Although all four Pokémon are genderless, the Pokédex reports a belief that Solgaleo and Lunala are, respectively, male and female evolutions of Cosmog. I think this may be the first time we’ve been explicitly told that a Pokémon marked by the game as “genderless” is actually male or female. The sun and moon are often (though not always) conceived of as a male/female pair – in Greek mythology, they are brother and sister; in Chinese philosophy, the “male” yang principle is associated with the sun and the “female” yin principle with the moon. In Hawai‘i, which is probably what we most care about here, Kāne tends to be associated with the sun, and there is usually a moon goddess, Hina or Mahina (again, remember Lunala’s cry “mahina-peeeaaa”). In the anime Nebby seems to be created by a Lunala and a Solgaleo together, and the same is implied by “The Light of Alola.” To me this suggests that, even if they aren’t “gendered” in the same way as ordinary Pokémon (…whatever Pokémon gender actually means), the mystic union of sun and moon does have some kind of bearing on their reproduction – new life being born, in a very yin-yang sort of way, out of the meeting of light and darkness. Because Cosmog and Cosmoem don’t have a marked “gender” in the games, their evolution is actually controlled by which game you’re playing on – Sun or Moon. Of course, this means that the same Cosmoem can actually evolve in either direction if it’s traded across different games, so their “gender” isn’t set until that happens. I think an interesting comparison for this is the way many real-world reptiles have their sex determined not by genetics (as is commonly the case for mammals) but by their environment, with eggs that incubate at low temperatures developing as males and ones that incubate at high temperatures developing as females, or vice versa in some species. What kind of environmental stimulus might trigger that developmental fork in Cosmoem’s case… well, who knows? The moon – as my extremely intelligent and attractive readers have likely noticed on their own – is not a star, so it might be that Lunala represents a Cosmoem that hasn’t been able to gather enough energy to start their equivalent of stellar fusion. Maybe there’s some type of background radiation that Cosmoem absorbs while growing; a lot of it results in the radiant Solgaleo, built for an environment of abundance, while a limited amount results in the more frugal and efficient Lunala, who continues to consume light rather than constantly pouring it out.
I want to finish this with one more fun myth about the sun and moon – kind of an obscure one, and almost certainly not one being deliberately referenced by Solgaleo and Lunala, although I kind of wish it were, because it actually ties everything together surprisingly neatly. Among several different and unrelated cultures of Australia, Africa and North America, an eclipse is said to happen when the (usually male) moon makes love to the (usually female) sun, in the process covering her up for privacy so they cannot be observed by the eyes of mortals below (betraying a fairly sophisticated understanding of astronomy – solar eclipses can only happen during the new moon, so it’s not obvious that they’re caused by the moon passing in front of the sun unless you’re watching very closely). In some versions of this myth, the brighter stars and planets that appear when the sky darkens during an eclipse are said to be the new children produced by the union of sun and moon. Let’s look again at what happens in Alola: two beings, viewed as avatars of the sun and moon, appear and bring about an event vaguely described in mythological terms as “devouring the sun” or “stealing all heaven’s light.” This results in (aside from the Alolans being terrified and several alien monsters being released into the region) the creation of a new cosmic being known as “the child of the stars.” I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that the entire mythic tradition we read surrounding Solgaleo and Lunala is a mixture of several different garbled accounts of a single total solar eclipse (possibly even a natural one, though the Pokémon might also have caused it somehow) that coincided with a mating ritual between these two cosmic Pokémon.
So, that was… probably not everything there is to say about Solgaleo and Lunala, and they’ll probably come up again next time when we take on Necrozma, but certainly a lot of what there is to say. The relative lack of specifically Hawaiian-inspired ideas in these Pokémon (in contrast to the Tapu), when that’s otherwise such a defining feature of Alola’s designs and worldbuilding, is a little disappointing to me, but basically in step with what seems to be Game Freak’s design philosophy for Pokémon like these. Besides, they’re obviously not devoid of interesting mythological resonances for me to get obsessively nerdy about – and that’s all we care about here, right?
Special thanks are due as always to my generous patrons, and above all to Verb, Lord President (and… sole member; WE’RE WORKING ON IT) of the Dark Council that directs my actions from behind a veil of shadow and secrecy!