On Saturday evening the moon was the fullest and closest it has been for twenty years. We got lucky in London – the sky was perfectly clear and the colours were quite incredible. Someone got a fabulous shot at Glastonbury Tor too, which has been doing the rounds.
I have a hunch that the moon is the beginning of all religion. In our inter-relations we have always understood the concept of the ‘other’ – a person outside of my self who is autonomous, important, valuable. But what the moon does, what it has always done, is to draw us out of this horizontal plane of ‘me + others’ into a third dimension: me + others + ‘out there.’
The existence of a ‘heavenly body’ which is close enough to be observable by the naked eye, and yet which moves and wanes and reappears, has, I think drawn us to the idea of the ‘big other’ in a way that the sun may not, for the sun is too bright, too powerful to be gazed at, while the moon is cooler, more mysterious.
I’m reminded of some lines from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, in which he equates a hard and perfectly delineated rationalism with ‘lunacy’:’
The circle of the moon is as clear and unmistakable, as recurrent and inevitable, as the circle of Euclid on a blackboard. For the moon is utterly reasonable; and the moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.
It’s a nice metaphorical twist, but I’d disagree, in that the moon has always had a greater mystery than the sun and has drawn the mystics to it. No one can bear the full force of the sun for long, but the moon draws us into close observation, out of ourselves and our flat earths, and into the realm of the above.
Perhaps this is why those lucky 12 who went to the moon all came back changed men. If you’ve not read Andrew Smith’s Moondust, you absolutely should. It tracks down all of the key figures in the Apollo missions and charts what has happened to those who walked on the moon. For every one of them it was hugely profound and has had a lasting impact on the rest of their lives, not simply in terms of their celebrity, but the way they live too.
The moon draws and releases the tides, waxes and wanes and draws our eyes into the night. There is no man on the moon – we’ve been there and seen that. He came and walked the earth instead, and has now gone further into the night. Still, we look up and wonder though.