“The evolutionary consequences of a primitive initiative are astounding.”
The moon will be full at 2:41 a.m. Santa Fe time, and I am sorry that weather moving in may obscure its moment of glory. There is little ambient light out where I live, and the heavens on a cloudless night are a revelation. Months ago the sight of the full moon rising inspired me to return to a book in my library, The Moon, Myth and Image, by Jules Cashford. The scholarly work contains more detail than I can handle, but it also presents an idea that I may ponder for the rest of my life.
There have been countless times when I have been grateful for the moon’s distant companionship, but it had never occurred to me that our early fascination with it was the ground on which civilization took root. My moon book presents the theory that acute observation of its phases resulted in an understanding of time that led to both the rational and abstract thinking unique to human beings.
This theory developed from the study of a stone discovered in southwestern France at some point during the second half of the last century. Dating from about 25,000 BC, it is covered with markings made in the Cro-Magnon era. In serpentine shape, the etchings trace the waxing and waning of the moon over two cycles.
How wonderful it would be to go back in time to observe the simple undertaking that launched a breathtaking development in human evolution. Every night for two months, a primitive figure–a male no doubt with bright eyes below a heavy brow–studies the moon with some kind of tool in one hand and a stone in the other. Then as best he can, he etches the stone to record what he sees. When he has followed the moon’s cycle for two months, the work is complete. From that night forward, the man can study the stone by firelight to know exactly where the moon is in its phases.
The Cro-Magnon must have had a plan, an extraordinary thing in itself; and its implementation ultimately laid the foundation for what Cashford describes as the “time-factored modes of thought: astronomy, agriculture, mathematics, writing and the calendar.” The evolutionary consequences of a primitive initiative are astounding.
After reading about this, I have never looked at the moon in the same way. Who would have thought that its presence has had such a profound effect on the development of human intellect? Of course, a combination of things was afoot, including rudimentary skill with a tool and the capacity for sustained observation. In a world distracted by technology, I hope we still have that capacity.
Tonight, however, I will simply take some time with the nearly full moon to ponder the gift of its presence. The waning that will begin after tomorrow is like a warning not to take it for granted, its eventual waxing a subconscious relief to what remains of the primitive mind. And one must conclude that, as long as our luminous mentor is with us, so will be the abstraction of hope.