“Because it is very hard for humans to understand or contemplate the inevitability of death, the moon’s cycles have been universally comforting.”
When I stepped outside to get the paper Monday morning, I saw the last sliver of the waning moon. The dark of the moon will soon be upon us, and it’s interesting to realize what a frightening time this was–and still may be–for primitive people.
I’m back in the book, The Moon, by Jules Cashford, taking another look (See “Moon Thoughts,” March 8) at what we have learned from our “luminous mentor.” He explains that as the moon waned, the early people all over the world danced to ensure its return, believing that they shared its fate. When the bright rim of the new moon appeared, it was an occasion for joy. New moons, he writes, stand “for the beginning that always comes back and never fails, the second chance, the birth forever arising out of death.”
Due to ambient light and very busy lives, most of us don’t pay a lot of attention to the moon’s phases, but I wonder how much we take its presence for granted. I have thought about writing a story that would imagine the dramatic effect of its disappearance. (Perhaps someone has already done this.) I assume that it would not be long before the loss of its distant companionship would turn us into “lunatics.”
My moon book doesn’t go into great detail about the moon’s effect on tides, plant life, and feminine cycles. The primary focus is on the world’s mythologies, and it is clear that the most devastating loss would be that of the idea of life after death so common in those stories. Because it is very hard for humans to understand or contemplate the inevitability of death, the moon’s cycles have been universally comforting.
The concept of the eternal return has also helped us deal with the catastrophes that cyclically beset humanity. Because we have learned to associate death with regeneration, Cashford suggests that we can see apocalypse and the death of a culture as temporary and even necessary so that a people can be revitalized.
These are kind of heavy ideas but easier to contemplate on the threshold of spring. And on the bright side, pardon the irony, the dark of the moon is traditionally a time to seed the void with intentions. That is our work for Tuesday. On Wednesday, when the new moon rises at 8:38 a.m. Santa Fe time, it will deliver the same message that it has delivered throughout human time: “Relax. I’m back!”