Sunday, February 1, 2009



Racing with the Moon, Blue Moon, Fly Me to the Moon, Moonlight Becomes You, Shine On Harvest Moon, Moon River, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Dark Side of the Moon, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, No Moon at All, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Moon Over Miami, Moon Glow, Heartless Moon, How High the Moon……… these are only hints at the impact the Moon has had on human life. By contrast, Jules Cashford’s book, The Moon: Myth and Image, published in 2003 by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, is a most comprehensive, thoroughly scholarly 400 page tome incorporating scientific facts, astronomy, astrology, etymology, ancient ‘history’, mythology and striking illustrations in an eminently readable text full of stories.

Cashford supposes it very likely that the first humans organized meaning and thought from their experience of the Moon, that it may even have been the first recorded human story as etched on rock and bone in Paleolithic time. The Moon’s story: perpetually changing from crescent to full to dark and back to crescent tells the story of birth, growth, fullness, death and rebirth and this became the human story of time as lived by all people. The author transports us imaginatively back to a time when Moon and Sun were Goddess and God, when the facts of light and dark were charged with numinosity and each phase of the Moon became a metaphor for how to order and make sense of human experience. We know from our study of mythology and anthropology that ancient religions and myths were local but they are all stories of the mysteries of life, death and hoped-for rebirth and Cashford tells many of these tales about how the Moon’s phases became linked symbolically with human life and death.

Of the many fascinating aspects of Moon which Cashford discusses, and one of the most striking for me, is her discourse on time and how early people reckoned it from the Moon. Time took on the qualities of the waxing and waning Moon so New Moons stood for beginnings and the fear of the unknown; Full Moons for fullness and the delight and intoxication of completion; Waning Moons stood for diminishment, Dark Moons for endings and mourning the death of the old and New Moons again for the beginning that always comes back, birth always following death. These notions were considered sacred as was the Moon herself (in Greek the word for New Moon is noumenia). The first calendars were devised by priests as a way of calculating festival days when no work was permitted.

Cashford posits that the ancients had a much more immediate sense of time when each phase of the Moon was valued and worshipped as time for various activities: The New Moon for anything wanted to increase (jingling coins in one’s pocket at the first sight of the New Moon so that wealth would increase); The Full Moon as a time for culmination such as sacred marriages of gods and goddesses, the coronation of royalty, weddings and the best time to give birth; the Waning Moon a time to begin only those things one wants to decrease so as to be in tune with that phase of the Moon; The Dark Moon a time for hiding and casting out devils.

The Moon has always been associated with the sea and with moisture as Cashford says here: “When the thin curve of the Crescent Moon rose as new out of the black night, it appeared to many early people to be a cup which held all the waters of life: rain, dew, the moisture of air and cloud, the water of springs, rivers and seas, the sap of plants and trees, and the blood and milk of animals and human beings.” (p.68) She quotes Oberon, King of the Faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he speaks of ‘young Cupid’s fiery shaft/Quenched in the chaste beams of the wat’ry moon.’ (p.75) Dew has always been felt to come from the Moon and actually lies thickest on the ground on nights when the Moon is full. Until the 20 th Century in Scotland there was a custom on of gathering dew before sunrise on the morning of Beltane, May 1st and washing one’s face in it, to bring beauty to men and maidens, “healing for sore eyes and a summer of good luck to all”. (p.94) Of course the connection between the Moon and the tide is a fact. There are larger tides at the New and Full Moons when high water is higher than at other times and low water is lower. The Moon’s pull on the oceans that face it causes water to accumulate into a bulge under the Moon.

The associations proliferate: in China the Moon is called ‘the pearl of heaven’ and Dante calls the Moon ‘the eternal pearl’. So wearing pearls is like wearing a healing moon ray and the pearl in the oyster is likened to the child in the mother’s womb thus “setting the woman in the cosmological pattern of Moon, sea, water, fertility and regeneration.” (p.111)

Standing stones in Scotland and elsewhere are aligned to the rising and setting of the Moon. At Callanish in the Hebrides evidence of a potent beer together with drinking vessels has been uncovered leading to the notion that alcohol was used ritualistically in ceremonies within the great henges such as Avebury and Stonehenge.

As to the gender of the Moon, it was nearly always conceived as feminine but even when it was called masculine, according to Neumann, the dependence of consciousness and light was always on the dark, nocturnal side of life, the unconscious. So many aspects of life have traditionally been associated with the Moon: the fertility of women and animals and plants, weaving and spinning, healing, death fate, witches, the Norns, inspiration, ecstacy madness and magic. But sometime in the Bronze and Iron Ages (about 2000 BC), the purely lunar calendar changed into the lunar-solar calendar, the Sun became decidedly masculine and the Moon feminine as an expression of the archetypal change in consciousness and the consequent elevation of the masculine over the feminine in value. The Moon’s moisture was replaced by the Sun’s heat. Marduk violently slayed Tiamat, the universal Mother of All. Thus occurred the re-mythification of these major complementary opposites, masculine and feminine, with so much of the power and influence formerly held by the Moon now accruing to the Sun. This change was likely due to the discovery of agriculture which made the Sun’s light so necessary for food production; in addition the discovery that the Moon’s light is reflected Sunlight and ever increasing knowledge from science which placed the Sun at more and more distance from the Earth which was no longer the center of the universe. The rise of patriarchal religions occurred simultaneously.

It is with books like this that we may re-imagine ourselves not only back to a time when the split from Nature had not occurred, when darkness and introversion were valued, but forward to a hoped-for future where the necessary rebalancing of the values and powers of masculine and feminine lead to more balance, to the celebration of diversity and change, realizing that newness, fullness, and decrease inevitably repeat in the cycle which eternally returns.

Fly to the Moon in this book, itself a paean to Moon. I think you will enjoy the trip.

-Chessie Stevenson

No comments:

Post a Comment