This full moon is “super” in more ways than one.
The full moon tonight, January 20, is called “super” because its size will be magnified by proximity to the earth. It is also special because it comes with a total lunar eclipse that will be visible in much of North and South America and parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. This is the first time a total eclipse has been visible in North America in 19 years.
It is called a “blood moon” because, if the skies are clear, we will see it turn a reddish color. The first moon of January has been called a “wolf moon” by Native Americans because, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, hungry wolves would howl at it. The moon will be completely red–if we can see it–at 9:41 p.m., and the eclipse will be maximum at 10:12 p.m.
Lena Stevens, co-founder of The Power Path School of Shamanism in Santa Fe, provides an analysis of this “intense” moment. She says that ever since the new moon on January 5, we have been in a space of “self reflection of what we need to do, where we need to go, what we need to change, what to keep, what to release, who we are, and who we are not.” Now we get to “reshuffle our lives based on emerging decisions, choices and intentions.”
I am not very into astrology, but I do pay attention to the moon, something I had never done until I moved to Santa Fe. Amazing how oblivious most of us are to the movement of our celestial companion, which probably inculcated early humans into the concept of time. In addition, it may have endowed them with the capacity for abstract thought because they would have imagined what was happening when it went “dark.”
In a book by Jules Cashford (The Moon, Myth and Image), I also learned that the first humans to learn how to count were probably feminine because of the way the moon’s phases aligned with the menstrual cycle and also provided a means of tracing the nine months of pregnancy. This gave me a little thrill, meaning the possibility that we briefly occupied a plane of superior mathematical intellect.
But what does this have to do with the moment?
THE MEANING OF THE PHASES
The moon also introduced us to the concept of cycles, and archaeologist Alexander Marschack discovered the first chipped evidence of this in a bone that was probably worked in about 25,000 B.C. He made the discovery in the Dordogne in 1965.
According to Cashford, “the Moon tells one fundamental story: birth, growth, fullness, decay, death, and rebirth. It is the story of a cycle, an eternal cycle, and of transformation. which tends to give humans hope. No matter how tragic the end–of a life, a dream, a kingdom, a culture, a species–there is always a new beginning beyond it.
The moon helped us make sense of the world, but it also embedded the idea of the eternal cycle, as in that there will always be war, civilizations will come and go, everything comes to an end. And in this moment in history, the full moon will shine down on a world troubled by human-created danger. I refer to the possibility of nuclear war, international economic collapse, climate disruptions, and an environment devastated by human pillaging. And how about threats emerging from the worldwide invasion of technology?
As an example, alarms are sounding more often about how the popularity of smartphones is challenging the development of social skills, which enabled early humans to survive and flourish. As alternative medicine proponent Dr. Joseph Mercola writes, “Post-millennials spend more time alone, engaged in online socialization rather than face-to-face; they drive less, date less, have less sex and have poorer social and work skills than previous generations, and their suicide rates are rising.”
Things are getting serious for the species when screens are more popular than sex. This reminds me of an article on “The dynamics of Machiavellian intelligence” by Sergey Gavrilets and Aaron Vose. They noted that in the early history of Homo sapiens, intelligent males developed strategies (and weaponry) that enabled them to enhance their status, win mates, and pass their intelligent genes on to offspring and their descendants. If the drive to mate abates universally, well. . . .
And since we innately believe in cycles, are we beginning to see in the smartphone alone the possibility that humans who evolved so rapidly could begin to devolve?
Paul Greenberg provided evidence of the problem in The New York Times. He noted that more than three-quarters of all Americans own a smartphone, and in 2018, they engaged with them more than 1,460 hours, or the equivalent of 91 waking days. What is the opportunity cost? What might owners have been otherwise doing that was creative or constructive? And isn’t the degree of engagement steadily escalating?
THE VALUE OF OBSERVATION
I’m not an anthropologist, but I expect that the cultivation of observational skills was a bedrock asset in the development of the human species. It first had to do with hunting and gathering to survive, but it is also essential to learning and to creativity itself. At this moment in time, we are in desperate need of activation of the power of observation in a new way.
I’m back to cycles again, and this one pertains to the history of America. Is this full moon shining down on evidence that our reign as the most powerful country in the world is coming to an end? I’m speaking not only of the danger embedded in a technological revolution but also of many signs that governments, institutions, foundations, corporations, and their leaders here are beginning to flounder in their ability to fulfill an imagined commitment to serve the common good.
Maybe the error lies in imagining that commitment, but if so, perhaps the time has come to clarify the need and verbalize its importance. I am sure that in every troubled setting there are many people who saw the trouble coming and who know how to address it constructively.
But back to the moon. This evening we can all enjoy its celestial splendor and a moment of gratitude for its faithful companionship as our earliest teacher. But tomorrow it begins to wane, reminding us that change is eternal and even when it brings destruction and chaos, it also brings opportunity. The waning will climax with the dark of the moon known as “the void,” and this will appear on February 4 and last for three days.
The void is traditionally seeded with wishes and intentions. At this moment in time and as counseled by Lena Stevens, these can emerge not only from “self-reflection” but also acute observation of what is going on the world around us. Our individual, helpful intervention is clearly needed, no matter how small. There is no telling how much good will sprout from the idealistic cultivation of possibility.