Some crabs migrate based on the Moon. Oysters close. Worms mate. All these and so many more are ruled by the Moon. For billions of years, the Moon has changed life on Earth, and our Ancestors evolved in it’s light, looking up at, even worshiping, this unreachable goddess. Our gaze far exceeded our reach – until that momentous day 50 years ago, when Earth life strode on the Moon!
Humans walking on the moon is astounding in so many ways! Of all human achievements, few compare to this. It reaches far back into our past, and hopefully far into our future as well.
The Moon and Life on Earth
From the start, our Moon has been special. Formed by a massive impact from a planet around the size of Mars, the Moon is the largest Moon in the solar system in relation to the planet it orbits, and is the only Moon which doesn’t have a name besides “the Moon”. Drifting away by around an inch a year, it used to be larger in the sky, and in the far future, will be too far away to cause total solar eclipses.
There is still much we are learning, but it is already clear that we owe our very existence to the Moon. By making tides, the Moon was essential to getting life out of the oceans, spreading to land and inland lakes. Think of life arising in the oceans, and evolving into myriad aquatic forms – would some eventually spread to the land? Maybe, maybe not.
But now add the Moon, pulling a lump of ocean around the Earth every day. This is why we have tides. This lump of seawater pulls living things onto land, and dumps them there to try to survive. With classic natural selection, those that survive will have more offspring, and life can get onto land (once the ozone blocked UV light, which would sterilize the land every day before that).
But is the Moon even more essential to life than that? Perhaps. We are still learning of additional ways that the Moon was essential to our deep time history, and how the Moon may have even been needed for life itself to arise.
As life evolved over billions of years, grandmother Moon – who had assisted in the birth of life – was a constant companion to life. Her grandchildren found new roles for her all the time, whether they were looking at her blurry face through the water or through leaves on land. None of her grandchildren – not even the howling wolf or the hunting predators – could match the myriad roles found for her by humans. Humans sang and danced to her, they planted and harvested crops by her, they listened as she kept their calendars correct, they found roles for her in religion after religion, and they spun wild legends about her. And yet, even as their grandmother lived as an important part of their lives, they could not touch her. She was too far away to hold, and the gravity that had made both Grandmother Moon and Mother Earth kept them firmly anchored in Mother Earth’s embrace.
But the scientific revolution suddenly gave them powers beyond the wildest dreams of their Ancestors – powers that would be used for enormous good as well as some harm. In the late 60’s, spurred mostly by an international attempts to show off, an unlikely combination of events resulted in a massive effort to reach Grandmother Moon, with a program named after the Greek god of learning.
Really? That’s a lunatic idea…….
It’s hard to comprehend the effort and intellectual rigor needed to get the Apollo program to work. The first human to leave the thin atmosphere above us had only done so a few years beforehand, and even that had been a success by a different country! There were so many unknowns – from the effects of cosmic radiation, the Van Allen radiation belts, the effects of extended weightlessness, and so on. It wasn’t even known if the moon had a hard enough surface to land on! Even more amazing – we did this with 1960’s technology. The things they called “computers” then we find laughable today. The Apollo module computers had less computational ability than 1980’s kids’ toys, and of course are even farther below the humble, obsolete phones we throw in the trash today.
Our solutions and innovations to solve all the problems were many and clever. Even with that, so many things still had to go right. The fact that Apollo 13 (a good movie to see as the anniversary approaches) came very, very close to sending corpses on a wide orbit doomed to regularly sweep past Earth – an orbital crypt – shows the many things that could go wrong. Even more important, be sure to see the movie Apollo 11, about the monumental success of our Moon landing.
Among all the things that we celebrate in our society (mythological events like Christmas, or genocide like Columbus day, etc.), the Moon landing is so much more appropriate for joyful celebration. If we were a reality based culture, I could see having celebrations every year for this on July 20th, not just on the 50th anniversary. This year we have both the 50th anniversary, and by lucky coincidence, it’s also after a total Solar Eclipse! Marking this day with celebrations seems obvious – Moon cake, nighttime parties, and time spent with family all fit.
As Pagans, ritual can help connect us to the universe, and connecting us to our grandmother Moon is something Pagan rituals have been doing for a long time. That means that there are plenty of rituals available online to connect us to our grandmother Moon, and many tools useful for helping as well. Some useful tools including wands or other tools made of selenite (named for the Moon), tools related to animals which evoke the moon (a fox or wolf mask, for instance – though these animals don’t howl specifically at the Moon, howling at the Moon is such a strong cultural icon that it works to evoke the Moon). Colors to use include deep blue or black representing the night and silver or white representing the Moon. Overall shades of blue with no other colors remind us of the feeling of moonlight (due to the fact that our cone cells in our eyes which see colors need brighter light to work, so dim light lacks color). Helpful aspects of all ritual work are described in these recent posts from Mark Green. For sound, night sounds from birds or other recordings can help set the mood – or perhaps one of the many songs that includes the Moon? Here is one that might work for the ritual, and a good one for a party (the vocals are too strong for a ritual).
In addition to past Full Moon rituals and the many Full Moon rituals which can be found online, this ritual by Lady Althea provides a good opening and closing (the Moon won’t be full but most aspects of these rituals still work). The body in the middle is best planned ahead of time based on which aspects of the Moon landing speak most powerfully to you. That could be the progression of our deep lineage from fish to land to the Moon, or the scientific triumph and expertise needed, or the huge impact the Moon landing (and especially the images of the Earth from the Apollo program, such as the Blue Marble image which you probably recognize here) had in awakening the environmental movement in our society, or the times that the Moon touched your life, etc.
In the next week, it may be especially poignant to either write down your own recollections for the body of your ritual (if you were alive then) or interview parents, grandparents, and others about it, reading these (or asking them to recount them) during your ritual. For me, have no recollections – my mom was pregnant with me at time of the moon landing! But I will ask her what that was like – to see this stunning scientific accomplishment play out under the fearful shadow of the threat of a mushroom cloud, wondering what future lay ahead for the tiny life starting inside her.
You also might want to time the ritual to the moonrise (it’s pretty late on the 20th, nearly midnight in many places), or include watching the moonrise as part of the ritual or an after ritual opportunity. The moonrise times for your location can be found here. Remember that unless you have an unobstructed view all the way to the East horizon (such as on the Eastern seaboard or from the West shore of a very large lake), it will take a few minutes for our grandmother Moon to rise into view (she’ll rise a little South of East that night). With good weather, a moonrise can be an amazing thing to watch, and knowing exactly when to look is essential. This video can also be fun for party watching.
Whether you celebrate exactly on the 20th, or at some other time, may your celebrations be blessed.
The Author: Jon Cleland Host
Starstuff, Contemplating: We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.