The Moon

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


THE MOON


 The moon passes along the curve of its nocturnal orbit, dimly lighting the darkened world with its uncertain lustre. Its fullness probes the shadow and fixates the wandering heart, only to shrink away in darkness, casting off its open glow. Oh, inconstant moon! Artemis of hopeful waxing; Selene of lighted face; Hecate's dark foreboding with the waning of the whole. Each phase falters and matures into the next, bringing growth and early promise to a dark, celestial grave.

 In a sense, the whole of nature is a symbol made up of complex symbolic aspects, each of which offers a pregnant clue to the understanding of the whole. Such symbolic aspects obtrude themselves upon human consciousness. We do not choose them any more than we choose our gods. Whatever fascinates us and holds our attention has within it the power that the Polynesians call mana. The values we attach to symbols may lose their mystery as we settle various levels of their definition, but the symbol remains a representative of a deeper truth. Men who worship the moon, fear it or measure their lives by it, may be closer to sensing its hidden truth than those empiricists who have set conceptual limits upon its function in the physical solar system. For both, it remains an enigma largely understood in terms of its effects. Others may intuit its deeper role in the scheme of things and trace out its secrets in the workings of nature itself.

 Throughout the world the young moon is believed to bring increase, causing seeds to germinate and plants to grow. For millennia men working the soil have planted their crops with the waxing moon. They chose this time for shearing so that the new wool would grow quickly. Around their necks and at their brows they wore the crescent moon. They engaged in great wars and embarked upon perilous journeys when its curved radiance graced the heavens. To this day, many peoples herald its youth and promise with gifts saying, as do the Finno Ugrics, "Be greeted, new moon; to me health, to thee a whole loaf!"

 The moon's changing faces have long been watched and studied, and myriad magical practices mark its phases as they fluctuate to aid or menace mankind. The ancient Akkadians gave the moon the name 'Saba' in recognition of each new quarter within the twenty-eight day lunar cycle. According to Isis Unveiled, it is on the seventh day, or Sabbath, that the Adepts of the Secret Science meet as they have met for thousands of years to become agents of the occult powers of nature, linking the practice of the greatest divine magic with the changes of the moon. Not all lunar magic, however, reflects this larger wisdom and many sects emphasize protective ritual or astral travel, if not overt black magic. The approach to the moon is beset with dangers, for through these regions of ghosts and water lies the lunar way of shamans who move in trance through dim-lit halls opening onto visions and even madness. Many are the tales describing the hapless child or aging man who becomes imprisoned within the moon, swallowed up in its waning darkness. The dying moon either captures or diminishes and it is during this time that trees are felled and hay or grain is cut so that their severed stalks will wither and dry quickly. The Satapatha Brahamana suggests that when the moon is dark it comes to earth and waits in the places of sacrifice. Then men and women must fast and abstain for protection's sake even while they suffer the temptations of the moon's power. This is a time when sorcerers attempt to "draw down the dark moon" and "perform Hecate's suppers" at the forks of roads.

 The eighteenth enigma of the Tarot depicts the moon as a silver disk bearing the outlines of a woman. The whole scene, with its juxtaposition of unexpected objects, illustrates the strength and the dangers of the world of imagination. Womankind is not only identified with the moon but also shown to be strongly influenced by its fluctuations. The solar nature of woman which is linked with growth and creation is, in fact, regulated by a cycle that corresponds precisely with that of the moon. Perhaps because of this the moon is often called 'The Lord of Women' and some, like the Eskimo, believe that 'He' can impregnate a woman while she sleeps uncovered beneath 'His' full gaze. Many cultures, perceiving the relationship between plant growth and the lunar cycle, logically associate women with horticultural enterprises. Indeed, it is true that women tend to be the world's gardeners and men become involved only when animals come into the picture as they do when the plow is used in larger scale agriculture. Most of the horticultural societies in the world are matrilineal.

 Many people have marked the connection between the cycle of the moon and that of women, and in many languages the word for the two is the same. In Mandingo the word carro serves for both while in the Congo it is njonde. In Armenian the word amis is used, while in Latin mens is the root of 'menses,' 'moon,' 'month,' 'measure' and 'mental.' The American Indian women simply refer to their menstrual cycle as their 'moon.' The moon cycle in women is thus biological but productive of effects which may be even more pronounced on a psychological or spiritual plane. So many cultures in the world observe segregative taboos regarding menstruating women as to suggest that such practices must have been universal at one time. This short monthly separation suggests an attempt to cope with the daemonic lunar effect women are believed to exercise, especially upon men, during this period. That men fear the lunar nature, both in themselves as well as in women, seems to be indicated in their almost universal desire not only to control women but to create social spheres which are exclusively male and which permit the 'rational' elements of their nature to dominate. The 'feelings' and 'intuitions' of women are seen as erratic, like the inconstant light of the moon itself, and it is widely believed that without the protection of rational structures the moon deity, in its daemonic form, can act upon men directly. This is supposedly quite different from the way in which its powers work in and through women. The lunar and the solar distinctly exist in all humans but their balance is understood, perhaps, only at a deeper level of consciousness. Symbols like the sun and the moon, male and female, weave a link between the conscious and unconscious mind, between the rational or solar and the intuitional or lunar. According to the Jungian school of thought, "the ancient religions of the moon goddess represent the education of the emotional life . . . through initiation." By the practice of Hierogamos the initiated woman became the daughter of the moon, the pure embodiment of Eros, or what Jung called "psychic relatedness." This wholeness which lies potentially within woman includes all aspects of the generative principle in nature as well as the matrix through which it operates. It reaches back to the deepest layers of racial history and surges forth within the pulsating cycles of nature. It is, perhaps, the task of women to understand and make human the untamed lunar power within, for it is woman who knows its nature most intimately.

 At every point the symbolism of the moon suggests ambivalence. It is both good and evil, threefold in character, twofold in sex and related to subhuman as well as human form. In its evolution the moon deity seems to have originally been masculine and related to the vegetable kingdom. Later it was identified with animals which eventually became goddesses attended by animals or humans with animal masks. This suggests that the animals represent the 'spirit' of the subsequent goddesses and provide a clue in understanding their mixed daemonic and loving characteristics. The fierce and voluptuous beauty of the tiger symbolizes this well as was recognized by the early Chinese. The moon in its masculine form presents an equally great mystery. Its ambivalent character is strikingly reflected in the many manifestations of the great god Shiva as he represents universal forces of creation and destruction. In relation to the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, it is said that lunar magnetism generates, preserves and destroys life psychically as well as physically, but it is Shiva who generates and sustains through yoga, dances in the graveyard, and wears the crescent moon upon his brow.

 In the older traditions of the East, occult lunar rites were based upon knowledge of physiology, psychology, mathematics and symbology. The worship of the moon was equivalent to that of nature and natural law itself for the moon was recognized as the "guide of the occult side of nature," directly concerned with all the mysteries of the earth. In ancient times there were Lunar Dynasties which co-existed with the Solar and people came to be divided on the question of their relative significance as well as the sex of the moon. The Secret Doctrine tells us that it was this complex fundamental divergence of interpretation involving the overlap of the Fourth and Fifth Races that led to the epic events described in the great Mahabharatan War.

 The moon, worshipped as the goddess Ishtar, was known as 'the Mother of all' or 'the Opener of the Womb.' She was the forerunner of Mary, moon goddess of the Catholic Church, who is often shown adorned with a crescent moon on her crown and a star-studded veil borrowed from the Egyptian goddess Isis. As mother, the moon gives birth to a son who in turn becomes her husbandman. Thus Isis gave birth to Osiris who, in becoming her divine spouse, completed the pattern whereby the son becomes his own father. In his descent into and birth out of lunar nature, the son lives to die and be resurrected as the immortal sun – husbandman to the moon. It is this sacred symbolic mystery which was distorted and concretized in the ancient Greek story of Oedipus and later grossly materialized by Freud. This sacred resurrection or rebirth linked with the immortal sun is symbolized by the ever recurring new crescent moon, the emblem of the hero, the crest of Lord Shiva.

 In occult philosophy the moon is referred to as the Parent of Earth, the Giver of Life to the Globe, standing to earth as the sun does to the solar system. For this reason, it is said, "the liquid portion of our globe ever strives to raise itself up to its parent." Perhaps one could say that the moon attempts to draw upon earthly moisture, having given over her own as life passed from her to the earth chain. There are rills along the edges of the vast lunar maria and long cracks that appear to be the product of erosion but are thought to be due to cooling. Faults and many other signs of violent 'moon quakes' and eruptions mark the hemisphere of the moon facing the earth. Interestingly, there is a relative lack of maria and signs of lava flow on the far side of the moon which, according to mythological accounts, is 'smiling' at the sun. Perhaps the physical 'scars' on the earth side of the moon relate to a prolonged throwing out of waves of life forms and a subsequent pulsation of attraction and expulsion that is bound to occur between any life-giving body which is dying and its progeny which is struggling to establish its own equilibrium.

 Ancient teachings reveal that the wheel of the earth is regulated by the spirit of the moon through its waters. The earth, like any offspring, seems to be receiving the sustained guidance of its parent while it is yet a child. The moon, along with the sun, provides the main force that moves the poles in the precession of the equinoxes, and through its gravitational attraction it distorts the shape of the earth which yields immediately to the tide-raising forces. Modern science, while still insisting that the moon is approximately coeval with the earth, is, none the less, moving closer to occult teachings by recognizing that at one time the moon was much closer to the earth than it now is. Calculations based on ancient records of solar eclipses, as well as direct observations, show that our day is increasing in length by .001 seconds every century. It is believed that during the Devonian Period, four hundred million years ago, tides on the earth were perhaps a mile high, continuously affecting the entire topography of the globe, and that our day was twenty-two hours long, corresponding to a lunar month of twenty-one days. In examining this from the perspective that the earth is 'child' of the moon, one can see that the parent has been exerting an albeit slowly diminishing influence upon its offspring. To paraphrase The Secret Doctrine, the moon has given to the earth everything but her corpse. She is the shadow dragged after the new body into which her living principles have been transfused. But like all corpses she is dangerous, the particles of her decaying body being full of active and destructive life. She is dead but living. Astronomers say she has no weather, no clouds, rain or air and therefore has no atmospheric sound. They say a spider web stretched across a dim recess in a lunar cave would remain perfect and unchanged for millions of years, and yet, occult science teaches, she is dangerous. The physical moon may not have physical sound but she speaks through her disintegrating astral matrix to the entire astral plane of this globe. Men who suffer lunacy and feel the pull backward in evolution away from future growth know her dangers well. She provides the rhythm of growth but not the eternal goal to which it tends.

 The lunar chain is inferior to the earth chain and it is on the latter that the monads of lunar ancestors have to become 'men' so as to reach a plane of higher conscious activity. These Lunar Pitris passed through the mineral, vegetable and animal forms in order to clothe themselves in the nature of the newly formed earth chain. They represented the human element for the first three and a half Rounds on this globe, but Nature unaided cannot evolve self-conscious existence and the Manasaputras or Solar Pitris had to descend into these bodies and light them up. This awesome 'descent,' in a sense, is still in progress, but its initial occurrence was the inspiration for the mysterious triple symbol of Fish-Sin-Soma which represents the Avatar falling into generation. It also relates to the great 'War in Heaven' during which the turbulent powers in Chaos are brought into order by the Solar gods. This 'War' is initiated by Soma, the moon, who carries away Tara, wife of Brihaspati, and thereby becomes the 'illegitimate' father of Buddha-Mercury, Hermes, or Wisdom. Soma, being sovereign of the vegetable world and representative of early lunar waves of evolution arriving on the earth chain, thus links Wisdom, through initiation (represented by Tara), with a physical body. Only after the 'War' does Soma make an alliance with the Solar forces.

 This pattern is echoed in the beliefs concerning the moon goddesses who give birth to sons whose sojourns on the physical plane lead through death to ultimate resurrection. The celestial Soma should be distinguished from the terrestrial. He is related cosmically to the mind as was suggested by the Latin word mens, the root of 'moon,' as well as 'menses' and 'mind.' In the Aitareya Upanishad it is taught that King Soma is the symbol of Ananda from which the mental being of man is drawn. He is a lunar deity born from the sense-mind in universal Purusha and is expressed in man as his sense-mentality. The secret delight (Ananda) of existence is translated into physical consciousness experienced through sensation. It is said that this delight or 'wine' of Soma is concealed in "the growths of the earth, the waters of existence, and in our physical beings." This essence is so powerful that only those "baked in the fire" of suffering and experience can assimilate it and accommodate the overflooding, violent ecstasy it brings. The 'wine' must be purified with the strainer (pavitra) which has been spread out wide in the 'seat of heaven' to receive it, tapas pavitram vitatam divas pade. Its fibres are made from the purified mental, emotional and heart consciousness won through tapas. Its seat in heaven is the realm of pure mental being.

 The fibres of the strainer are tempered and made strong by the heat of the higher purpose of the Manasaputra within man. Through their cleansing agency the diffusive vital force of Soma can be activated in an upward-tending direction. Man must tend the progress of the lunar within nature like a shepherd his flock, because he himself is that nature as well as being its source. For this reason he cannot bypass the lunar and establish an independent 'alliance' with the solar. It must be remembered that it was Soma who 'found' the light of the sun and made it shine. Though he is not the legitimate' father of that light, it is through his moisture that its lightning beam' could strike the earth and bring to it 'fire.' This beam which lights up the moon is the Sushumna Ray of the sun. It is the occult force in Soma and in his 'wine' or essence, and it is the vital spiritual force in man. For this reason man can truly worship the moon as transmitter of life, and, if he tarries not in the lunar 'graveyards' of the world, he can sustain an attitude of balance, acting in and through the lunar while focusing his eye upon the sun.

 The 'wine' of Soma is within and around us whether we recognize it or not, and sooner or later it must be purified by the 'heavenly strainer.' Though we attempt to avoid tapas, suffering itself will always catch us out and tug at our sleeve until we face it squarely. Instead of permitting thoughts and emotions to contract and quiver in their attempts to defend us from pain and excess shock, we must try to extend them out freely, with the strength to receive and convert into ecstasy all contacts with life. One must "bake in the fire" until he can accommodate the overflooding power of Soma.

 This is at the heart of the symbolic lunar initiation whereby the worshipper becomes the 'child' of the moon goddess and, through knowledge of her, becomes her husbandman. The Self is the fruit of the knowledge of Isis, the fruit of the union between Isis and Osiris, Eros and the Logos. The man who accomplishes this within his heart and mind raises up the crescent moon of offering within his brow and resolves the 'War in Heaven.' The woman who accomplishes this within the mystery of her ten-gated being becomes a mother of solar light. Thus in both man and woman the 'Queen of Night' may assume her rightful position at the side of her Solar Lord.