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Mothers and Matriarchy
THE MYTHOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY OF THE MOON
By Liz Greene
In this session we will explore the Moon, mothers and matriarchy. I want to say a word first about the illustration you have been given (see figure 1 on p. 4). We will work with these mythological maps for both the Sun and the Moon throughout week. This particular diagram is meant to help you find your way around an interconnected group of lunar mythic images, but it is not a definitive compilation, as there are obviously a great many figures and themes I have not included. The ones I shall refer to this afternoon are intended as imaginative triggers which might help deepen your insight into the astrological symbol of the Moon. Mythic images are self-portrayals by the psyche of its own processes. If we explore these images and see how they operate within people on an everyday personal level, we can begin to grasp the multidimensional symbol of the Moon much more profoundly and subtly than if we tried to list simple definitions.
I would like you to first put to one side all the astrological knowledge you have acquired about the Moon in the horoscope, and think about your direct experience of the actual physical Moon in the heavens. Have you ever observed it regularly over its monthly cycle? I think every astrological student should have a telescope and a good astronomical map. The lunar cycle is quite miraculous to watch, and it can provoke strong imaginative and emotional reactions in us, as it has done in human beings for millennia. The full Moon is very magical and hypnotic, and can sometimes even seem sinister, as if it were a mysterious eye watching us from the darkness of the night sky. How many of you have ever played the old childhood game, and tried to find a face in the full Moon? All of you? Well, you are proving my point. It's almost impossible, if we are with someone and the Moon is full overhead, to avoid pointing at it—"Oh, look at the Moon!" we say, although one could scarcely miss it. And have you ever admired one of those elegant, slender crescent Moons? There is something so terribly fragile and delicate and even poignant about this phase of the Moon. It never appears sinister in the way the full Moon sometimes does. Have any of you ever watched a lunar eclipse? This is a strange and rather baleful phenomenon, because the Moon darkens, turning blood red or brown; in ancient and medieval times this was interpreted as the herald of some dreadful event.
Imagine what it might have been like to watch the Moon in ancient times, without any knowledge of the material universe, and you will begin to realise how very powerful a symbol it has always been, and how splendid a hook for our psychic projections. If you were a Neolithic cave-dweller, the first obvious fact about the physical Moon which you would notice is that it is always changing, yet it repeats its cycle in an unchanging way. From one night to the next the Moon's shape is different, yet you can always be sure it will repeat its pattern in a month's time. The Moon is a paradox: It is unreliable at the same time that its cycle is utterly reliable. Sometimes it gives light, but not quite enough to clarify anything, while at other times the light vanishes altogether and the night is black. So if you were an ancient traveller relying on the Moon's light at night, you would have fallen into trouble very soon, because of the inexorable shrinking of the light. Thus the Moon was viewed as treacherous, and the earliest lunar goddesses who personified it are paradoxical and ambiguous in character.
It might be useful to remember that in built-up areas in Western countries we are accustomed to seeing the night lights of towns and cities reflected against cloud banks; and this reflection can extend for many, many miles. We live in an age of electricity, and have no recollection of times when houses were lit by hearth fires or candles or oil lamps. Thus the night sky is never really totally dark, but we do not realise it. Many city-dwellers have never seen a truly black night. Unless we are on board a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, or in relatively uninhabited countryside such as the Australian Outback or the Sahara Desert, we almost never experience the absolute darkness of the new Moon which our ancestors did. And when there is lunar light, it is a very peculiar light, which bleaches the colour from everything. Ordinary landscapes and objects look strange and otherworldly under the full Moon. If one is romantically occupied, then this light is enchanting. But if one is alone, it can be very disturbing.
Nursery rhymes are full of the magic of the Moon—the Man in the Moon, and the Moon being made of green cheese, and the cow jumping over the Moon. Pop songs and romantic tunes address the Moon—"Blue Moon," "Fly Me to the Moon," and so on. The Moon makes us think of lovers, but also of lunatics, the latter word deriving from the Latin luna. There are fairy and folk tales about people turning into wolves or vampires when the Moon is full, and about people going mad if the light of the full Moon shines through the window on one's face during sleep—hence the association with lunacy. Even before we begin to look at the mythic figures who cluster around the different lunar phases, we can see that the Moon has invoked the most extraordinary fantasies and projections from the human imagination over the centuries. These fantasies invariably concern the night world of human emotions —love, madness and sorcery.
The perpetually changing yet constant lunar cycle has gathered to itself a characteristic body of myth, with which many of you will be familiar. The lunar deities, who are usually female (although there are exceptions) most often appear in a triad, or with three aspects which reflect the three distinct phases of the full, new and crescent Moon. If we play about with the images which these three phases invoke, we can see how the new Moon, the treacherous black Moon, was associated with death, gestation, sorcery, and the Greek goddess Hekate who presided over birth and black magic. After the dark of the Moon, the crescent Moon appears with its virginal delicacy and promise, looking as though it is ready to be impregnated by something. It is shaped like a bowl, open to that which may penetrate it from outside. The crescent Moon was linked with the virgin goddess Persephone, who was abducted by Hades. It was also said to be the emblem of Artemis, the virgin huntress and mistress of wild beasts, whom we will look at more closely later. The full Moon in contrast has a pregnant look; it is round and juicy, lush and ripe, and might give birth at any moment. This is the Moon at its maximum power, the apex of the lunar cycle, and it was associated with the fertility goddess Demeter, mother of all living things. Then the Moon begins to wane, growing thinner and darker, and then suddenly it is not there any more. Hekate, the old crone, is now in power once again, hidden in the underworld weaving her spells and spinning the future in the darkness.
The triad of lunar deities which has always been associated with the Moon reflects an archetypal human experience, projected onto the physical Moon in the heavens. One important dimension of this experience is the body itself, which reflects in its own cyclical development and mortality the phases of the Moon. The lunar deities presided over the yearly cycle of vegetation, and also over the human cycle of birth and death. Thus the Moon in myth governs the organic realm of the body and the instincts, which is why these deities are usually female—it is out of the female body that we are all born and receive our first food. The lunar cycle was called the Great Round, reflecting its connection with fate and with things always coming back again, endlessly repeating. All things which are mortal have their cycle, and it is a universal rather than an individual cycle, since individuals die but the species continues to regenerate itself.
From the solar perspective, the body is only of value as a symbol. Solar consciousness is concerned with that which is eternal, and it does not give value to birth, fruition, disintegration and death. The world of the body is transcended in the light of day, and we are offered instead the promise of immortality and of ultimate meaning. If we identify exclusively with this day-world, we disconnect from the Moon, at least for a time, for the Moon is a "distraction," part of the web of Maya, as they might say in Hindu circles. If we view and experience things through the Moon, life is not constant and eternal, for we are viewing a play in which the ordinary person incarnated in life has the lead role. Everything is in a state of flux, bound to the wheel of Fortune and Time.
Now, there are individuals who are more attuned to viewing through the lunar lens because of the Moon's importance in their birth charts, and it is the changeability and cyclical nature of reality which seem the dominant characteristic of life to them. Safety and security and the warmth of human contact thus become much more important than any abstract quest for meaning, because life is so full of flux and must be coped with from day to day. These people are especially gifted at keeping their feet on the ground and dealing with events and people in a sensible, reassuring and compassionate way. Because we all have the Moon in the horoscope, all of us are capable of experiencing the world and ourselves through the Moon's eye. Some of us get stuck there and cannot look beyond our immediate personal circumstances. Equally, some of us don't look sufficiently at the cyclical nature of reality, and consequently cannot cope very well with ordinary life, because we are addicted to eternity and have forgotten how to trust the instincts and work intelligently with time.
The Moon was associated in medieval times with the goddess Fortuna, whom some of you will recognise in the card of the Wheel of Fortune in the Tarot deck. You may also know the opening verses of Orff's Carmina Burana:
O Fortune, changeable as the Moon!
You always wax or wane;
Hateful life is one moment hard
And the next moment favours the gambler.
All melt like ice.
Whenever we reach a peak moment in life, a full Moon moment when things are coming to fruition, we can be sure that there is a past which has led to this moment, a hidden beginning when the seed was sown at the dark of the Moon and a time of promise and development when the Moon was in its crescent phase. And we can also be sure that there is a future when decay sets in, and the cycle must continue to its inevitable end, because nothing in mortal life remains the same. Then, as the Moon wanes and the moment passes, we look back to the past when things seemed so full of promise. When we view life through the eye of the Moon, there is always a looking back to the past, and the feeling of the body growing older reflects this looking back to the youth of the crescent Moon with its unlived potentials. We can always remember a time when we had more energy and fewer wrinkles, even if we are only 20. Once upon a time, in childhood, the body was young and unfinished. Once upon a time, one was naive and innocent and open, before experience intruded like the Serpent in the Garden and shaped one's perceptions and values. So you can see that there is a deep poignancy and melancholy attached to the Moon. The Moon sings in a minor key, because everything passes. We cannot stay anywhere forever, because we will outgrow it one day, and must face the dark of the Moon before a new birth and new potentials can emerge. And if one is identified with the lunar landscape, death is the inevitable end of the cycle. Under the light of the Moon, everything in life follows the Great Round. Relationships have their cycles. Creativity has its cycles, as any artist can tell you. Family life has cycles, and so do financial affairs (Fortuna rules the stock market), and so too does history. Everything comes back round again, and there is nothing new under the Sun because the Moon has done it all before. Now it is interesting to look at the positive and negative dimensions of this cyclical experience of life, which is really a psychological state of being. We might call it matriarchal, because it is a vision of life which is essentially female and organic, reflecting the processes of conception, pregnancy, birth, puberty, maturation, ageing and dying. Mythically, matriarchal consciousness is concerned with natural cycles, giving priority to harmony with the Great Round rather than to a human will or spirit which can transcend it.
We can easily idealise matriarchal consciousness, voicing a perhaps necessary counterbalance to the destructive power of too much rationality and will. This is rather in vogue in certain circles at the moment. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing, which is the case with every planet. Because the Moon governs the realm of nature, a purely matriarchal consciousness dispenses with the value of the individual, giving absolute importance to family and to tribe, justifying the suppression or destruction of individual self-expression if the security of the group is threatened. There are no ethics or principles in this domain, nor any disciplined use of the will. All is justified by instinctual need and preservation of the species. Many women are angered at having projected on them by men the darker lunar qualities of manipulativeness, treacherous-ness, unreliability, moodiness and emotional voracity. I have heard numerous men complain of how difficult it is to work with or discuss things objectively with women, because reasonableness and cooperation fly out of the window in the face of personal feelings. But these qualities will often be very pronounced in any person, male or female, where the Moon dominates the horoscope. You can begin to see what an extreme lunar consciousness is all about, which is why the lunar deities were seen not only as nourishes and child protectors, but also as child swallowers and castratore.
Equally, it is not difficult to see what happens if we remain unrelated to the Moon. We may lose our sense of connection with and care for the body, which on a more global level means disconnection with and lack of care for nature and the living earth. It is the body which reminds us that we are mortal. Our bodies experience pain, sickness and ageing as well as pleasure and delight. We also have body moods, for our emotional states are intimately connected with our bodies. It is impossible to say which comes first. Low blood sugar and a poorly functioning thyroid gland reflect depression, and depression affects the immune system, so we get a cold, which depresses us even more. Sometimes we get up in the morning just feeling rotten, with puffy faces, and the weather is also rotten, but how can we say that one causes the other? Or might our bodies, being part of an interconnected world organism, simply move in harmony with climatic changes more than we realise? What we eat has a profound effect on our moods, but our moods in turn affect what we eat. If we are unhappy or stressed, we grab for "comfort food" like chocolate, which in turn makes us feel unhappy and stressed because the blood sugar level crashes afterward, which makes us depressed. And so on. If we cannot sleep, we feel pretty rough; but if we are feeling rough, we cannot sleep. You can see how circular it all is. It is the body, the domain of the Moon, which keeps us in touch with life in the moment, whether it is the dark or the light face of experience we are encountering. Without sufficient expression of the Moon, it is not only the body which suffers. It is our capacity to experience life in the present. Then it comes as a horrible shock when we discover that life has somehow flown by without our really knowing we have lived it. The container remains empty, so there is no memory, no feeling of continuity, and no sense of a fruitful past.
We might consider more closely two of the figures in the diagram, Gaia and Demeter. Both of these are very ancient earth goddesses, of which Gaia is the elder, the original female principle with whom the heaven god Ouranos mates to create the manifest cosmos. Demeter is a later, more humanised version of the same figure. The earth goddess or earth mother is really an image of the animating principle in nature itself, the intelligent and purposeful life force within the material universe, which has been associated since earliest times with the Moon. She not only embodies the world of nature as a unified life-form, but also the human body, which is our primary direct experience of her. The earth mother is thus a mythic portrayal of our experience of our body life, which is beyond our control and therefore seems numinous or divine.
Excerpted from The Luminaries by LIZ GREENE, Howard Sasportas. Copyright © 1992 Liz Greene & Howard Sasportas. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Part One: THE MOON
Mothers and Matriarchy: The Mythology and Psychology of the Moon by Liz
First Love: The Moon as a Significator of Relationship by Howard
Part Two: THE SUN
The Hero with a Thousand Faces: The Sun and the Development of
Consciousness by Liz Greene
Sun, Father, and the Emergence of the Ego: The Father's Role in Individual
Development by Howard Sasportas
Part Three: THE CONIUNCTIO
The Sun and Moon in the Horoscope: A Discussion Using Example Horoscopes
by Liz Greene and Howard Sasportas
The Rhythm of Life: A Discussion of the Lunation Cycle by Liz Greene
About the Centre for Psychological Astrology