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The Moon and Our Minds

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What is there in thee, Moon! That thou shouldst move my heart so potently?”

John Keats

As I wrote in my last blog, it may have been the cycles of the moon that inspired early humans to learn how to count. How aware of its presence are we today and does it matter? An experience years ago made me wonder.

Newly arrived in Santa Fe, I was taking my dog for a walk late one night, up the hill from my home to a monument called the Cross of the Martyrs. The night was very dark, and on my descent, it occurred to me to look for the moon to light my way. I couldn’t find it. My imagination took off. Where was it? Had something happened to it? Could something happen to it?

Obviously, it was the dark of the moon, and I didn’t even know at the time that there are three such days every month. How ignorant is that? I would soon learn that people in New Mexico are unusually attuned to the moon’s cycles. However, in the “regular” world, school, work, relationships, technology, and social activities dominate our awareness. Every now and then we catch a splendid image in a romantic moment or on a vacation in a beautiful landscape, but–contradict me if I’m wrong–we’re largely unaware of the moon’s presence and its phases.

However, there is evidence that its companionship profoundly mattered to the psyche of early humans. In her book, The Moon: Myth and Image, Jungian analyst Jules Cashford imagines how the moon’s waning reminded them of aging and failing. The ensuing nights of darkness, the kind of darkness most of us have never known in our world of ambient light, would have spoken of the moon’s death, an inevitability of human life that has always filled us with fear.

Cashford writes that our primitive ancestors tried through ritual and dance to secure its return, and they would have joyfully greeted the first sight of the new silver crescent “as a miraculous rebirth that promised the same for human beings after their own waning and death.” There is historical evidence of such celebrations happening all over the earth, as in Egypt, Greece, Africa, Mesopotamia, Oceania, Europe, and North and South America.

And so there it is. The moon, in its unwitting ministry, gave humanity hope. Unlike any other creature on earth, the human needed to believe that there was life beyond death, and the moon’s unfailing return after three days of darkness every month inspired the creation of countless mythologies relating to rebirth, reincarnation, and resurrection.

These mythologies helped us make sense of the world and tempered the fear of death and loss through ideas like the following: Death is necessary in order for rebirth to occur. The old needs to be destroyed in order to make way for the new. Through death and destruction come the second chance, the new beginning. Nothing comes to an end. Life is eternal.moon

Through the moon first and the observation of seasons second, mankind began to believe that life is organized by cycles. You can hear that belief today in some of our favorite sayings: “As you sow, so shall you reap.” “The wheel comes full circle.” “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” “What goes around comes around.” “Chickens always come home to roost.”

These sayings sound rather reassuring, but another one has a dark side: “History repeats itself.” Here the organizing concept of the cycle becomes frightening. Does this mean that war is inevitable? If so, is our goal simply to win it, no matter what the cost? After all, don’t we believe that something new and better will emerge from the ruins? After all, nothing comes to an end, right?

At this juncture, it seems wise to search for a new perspective, one that takes into account the possibility that our conditioning by the moon’s cycles could be misleading. Although human intellect would probably not have developed so well or so quickly in its absence, it may be time to graduate in some ways from its influence. It has become critical, in fact, that we find a way to transcend the grinding repetition of civilization’s failings, of which war is the most awful.

This would involve new expressions of human will, intelligence, and humility. The moon’s light and constancy have blessed us in countless ways, and we should be grateful. However, the human psyche now needs to be emancipated from certain lunar teachings that have proved limiting. It is time for humanity to wax, in other words, toward a larger potential. Let us hope we can.

And for inspiration in the meantime, readers may want to watch night by night as the moon waxes toward full on Friday, July 31.

 

 

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