Astrology, Science, and Culture: Pulling Down the Moon

By Roy Willis; Patrick Curry | Go to book overview
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The Sky as Mirror

As above, so below; as below, so above.

Hermes Trismegistos

Since the dawn of time human beings have spent precious moments of freedom from the exigencies of making a living beneath ‘this inverted bowl men call the sky’, in Fitzgerald’s rendering of the Sufi master, and rehearsing to each other the meaning of what is majestically spread before them. Of all the inhabitants of the heavens, the Sun is by far the most spectacular object in the daytime firmament, so bright that for most of the time we paradoxically can’t look at it for more than the briefest moment on pain of going blind, making it effectively invisible. As John Lash has observed, this paradox of invisible solar hyper-visibility has the corollary that the brilliance of our neighbour star the Sun renders all the other members of the astral firmament except the Moon invisible during its diurnal occupancy of the heavens (Lash 1999: 24–5), producing the rhythmic alternation of day and night that conditions our consciousness and that of virtually all other earthly life-forms.

Given the sensory salience of the Sun, it’s remarkable that the relatively unobtrusive and shape-changing Moon should have dominated the consciousness of prehistoric humankind, as Marshack and others have demonstrated.1 Of all the ‘storied meanings’ (Marshack) engraved on the stone and bone artifacts of the Palaeolithic era, mythic tales about the Moon are probably the oldest. Prehistorian Stan Gooch has traced the global spread of a story which he thinks originated among the Neanderthal peoples and which portrays the Moon as the mother of Earth herself, a mirror in the sky reflecting in its cyclical phases the bodily rhythms of earthly womanhood in its alternation between sterility and fertility, blood of menstruation and blood of childbirth, and the larger cycle of life, death and rebirth in its monthly progress round the girdling heavens. With the formalization of astral science in the literate and hierarchic kingdoms of Mesopotamia, this constellated path was divided into the twelve ‘houses’ still recognized in present-day astrology, but there is evidence that the number of celestial divisions was originally thirteen, reflecting the thirteen lunar months in a solar year.2 We have already seen in Chapter 1 that the moon and its cyclical changes were the focus of human cosmological imagining during the long ages of organization in nomadic hunting and


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