Thursday, August 30, 2007

Moon: Lover or Demon?

During nights of unrest, which are not infrequent, one gets up, opens the usual window, and balancing one's chin on the ledge, lights up another cigarette. And then, out of a primeval habit, One looks up and tries to find out that round of light, that halo of mystery. If one is lucky, we find the Moon, sometimes languidly flitting across thin and bare clouds or racing across a carbon paper sky, for a rendezvous with an estranged lover. The Moon is so fascinating, so bewildering, so deep and disturbing, so secretive and beautiful, so uncomplaining, yet so ethereal and charming, so blase, but so bright and giving, so near yet so far away. Throughout the ages, men have written odes about the moon, comparing it to lovers, love or despair itself.

Poets have often complained about moonlight, declaring it harsh and cruel, like some ungiving mistress or some unrequited love. The harshness probably reflects nights spent away from the lover, in a barren state, devoid of sexual pleasures. Quite often, the cycle through which the moon goes, from newly born to a crescent to that full roundness has been likened to the stages of love, of murmuring of vows, of assent, of the declaration of faith, of the maturity of love itself. And an uncompromising or harsh lover is oft compared to the innate scientific barrenness of the moon, to perhaps like an infertile woman, of a woman bereft, a woman lost, sad.

There are many poems and popular songs wherein references are made to the moon, some joyous and some not so. The ordinary one is usually lovers finding bliss under a tree covered by moonlight, exchanging kisses and lives. In his Rhapsody on a windy night, which comes to my mind now, Eliot finds the whole street held in a lunar synthesis, whispering lunar incantations and thus dissolving the floors of memory. La lune ne garde aucune rancune, quotes Eliot from Laforgue ( the moon holds no grudges) and later he tells us that the moon has lost its memory. Even though it is a poem about urban ennui, by bringing the lunar symbols, Eliot equates the moon with an existential dread, emitting boredom and suffering or so I understand.

My other favourite Moon poem is called Elm by Sylvia Plath. She calls the moon merciless.........she would drag me cruelly, being barren. Her radiance scathes me. Or perhaps I have caught her. Here the poet is perhaps recuperating, though this is a poem about lovelessness. The barrenness equates probably with the Moon having no light of its own, though the Moon is still actually radiant.

A very famous Pink Floyd album, (reputedly 1 in 13 households in Britain has one) is called The Dark Side Of The Moon. We are reminded in a song that the moon has no dark side really, matter of fact it is all dark.The song called Brain Damage, has references to a man piecing his life together, considered a lunatic, waiting for release, perhaps bewitched by the moon or possessed by it. The lunatic is on the grass, Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs............ And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, And if there is no room upon the hill, And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, Ill see you on the dark side of the moon.

n ancient times, the moon was worshipped as a Deity and perhaps now, through many lunar missions, the moon has been demystified, stripped of its mystic appeal. However, the Islamic calender is a lunar one and the crescent is a symbol of the Muslim religion, and throughout centuries, the cross, the crescent and David's star have fought each other and still do.The moon is also regularly evoked by ancient and modern witches for spells, witchcraft and sorcery. There are many Arctic, Siberian and Native American myths about the moon man and the moon woman. There is abundant literature on this subject, and years ago, one of my close friends wanted to become an official witch, having started reading an Indian text on this subject. She however felt it was too easy to bewitch without any spells and I have not heard of her as a Wiccan since then.

Various Epileptic phenomena have been attributed to the moon, with the moon noted to have an effect on the subject through its various phases. An interesting variety of Epilepsy, called Catamenial Epilepsy occurs only in women, and is related to menstrual cycles. It was generally assumed to correspond to the cyclical nature of menstruation, with each cycle causing new attacks and each attack occurring because of the moon. Galen, the ancient physician, vehemently believed so but it is easy to deconstruct this and assume it as the usual male domination, a consistent pattern that dis empowers women even today.

This brings one to ask the question, why is the moon a symbol for a woman or has been considered so? Is it because the moon is just too near to be dominated by earth, meaning men or is it because it lacks light, is not luminous and is thus dependent, vulnerable? I doubt whether ancient men of reason would know that. What is it about the moon that is so mysterious and yet so much a subject of lunacy, of disease, of barrenness, of even widowhood, of loss of memory, of loss generally? I find it puzzling that lack of sexual pleasures have been blamed on the Moon in Romantic Poetry, though romance needs the moon, night, shadows, shade.

But I know, on particular nights, after the useless images of day have been spent, after sleep has gone and fled, after the printed word has lost colour, after the window ledge has just turned a bit cold, after stars have started to melt and fade, the moon still lingers there, against a dull carbon paper sky.


Lupe said...

Commonplace as mankind has always made it, what is still a matter of wonder is that staring at the moon on a clear night sky is still an animal experience, we cannot but feel something like chills running through our spines as we do so.

As for the female-moon, I'm not much of a feminist amazon warrior, but I still find it evident that it was always regarded not as being the same nature as the Earth, but as a shadow for the Sun, even as its bride. And it is related to cycles, which were always considered a girls' thing.

Alok said...

wow, that's quite an encyclopaedic post... so many things there. I am really interested in how people in the ancient world drew connections between moon and madness (lunacy).

the link with women and their bodies is also interesting. I think this is the reason why there are so many myths around female anatomy, specially in ancient religions and tribal cultures.

there is also a poem in Hindi by Muktibodh called "Chand ka Munh Tedha Hai" (Moon's face is crooked). A bit in the vein of Eliot - it is about urban ennui too, poet describes all kinds of objects in the streets of the city at night under the moonlight.

Kubla Khan said...

Alok and Antonia
It is quite interesting that despite cultural differences, the moon has been described and attibuted to in a similar vein by writers across the ages and places.the 'chill running throw the spines' shows our innate unknowing of the mysteries of nature.
yes, the connection between lunacy and the moon is bizarre actually. wonder what Focault wrote about it?
Alok.....interesting quote from the Hindi poem......sylvia plath in a poem writes about the 'the moon's rictus or beak'...... similar to what you have quoted.

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