By the light of the moon

AccWeddBookmark Anne here. I walked my dog late last night and the moon was coming up over the hill and I stood and watched it rise over the rooftops and emerge through the trees. When you're out in the night and a huge golden moon surges silently over the hill, it's magic.

No wonder people used to worship it. And fear it.
Dancing by the light of the moon — how many of us have done that? I don't mean in the Wiccan sense, ritualistically (though if you have, I'd love to hear about it), but just a slow dance with the beloved person, just the two of you and the moon and the distant strains of music. Or a joyous dance to fiddle music like the Owl and the Pussycat. Or a Van Morrison Moondance — still one of my favorite songs.

Like most people in western cultures I'm generally out of touch with the moon — I see it when walking the dog in the evening, or maybe when I'm driving home, but unless it's there right in front of me, looking spectacular, I often don't even notice it. It's lost behind buildings, or drowned out by bright city lights. Or hidden behind clouds, of course.

People in the past were more attuned to moons and weather and the length of the daylight hours. People on the land still are, I suspect, though not as strongly as they used to be. And some gardeners still plant according to the cycles of the moon. And fishermen are still ruled by the moon and the tides.

But it's times like last night that I think about what it must have been like in the distant past, when the day fades and the night closes in. Where I am, the days are getting longer, but in the northern hemisphere, and in the world of my book, the nights are closing in sooner, getting colder and darker and lasting longer.
In the past, darkness ruled. Until the introduction of first gas lamps and later, electricity, people only had frail barriers against the dark; a fire if you had enough fuel, a lamp or a candle or two. It's hard for modern people to imagine the sheer power of the closing in of the night. Fires, lamp oil and candles cost money. Mostly at night there was only the oblivious and unreliable light of the moon.

Van SchendelCandlelight

And the power of that both awed and frightened them. Bad things gathered under the light of the moon… and hid in the shadows. We forget that power, but it's still there.

Many years ago, when I was a new young teacher, I taught high school kids from a high rise housing commission estate — I don't know what the equivalent is in the US — "the projects" perhaps? Anyway, very poor families. Most of the kids had been born on the estate.

In my first year at that school, we took the kids camping in a national park — five days in tents, sleeping on the ground, cooking on open fires, no modern amenities except for the shower and toilet block. And on the first night we took the kids on a night walk. 

Flashlight beams were darting everywhere, frightening the nocturnal animals (no bears or wolves or scary predators in Australia) so we teachers confiscated the flashlights, trying to teach the kids to walk quietly and just listen and watch by the light of the moon. 

But it was a cloudy night and the moon shone only for fleeting moments, throwing as much shadow as it gave light.
Now these were tough, inner city adolescents, but they were scared, really scared (though trying hard not to show it) and not just because of the strange environment. Brought up in a high rise estate they'd never seen the dark before — their night world was invariably lit by security lights and light pollution from the city. 

They thought "black as the night" was just an expression, and they were shocked that it really was black, so dark at times you could barely see your hand in front of your face.
Remember the Sopranos episode where Paulie and Christopher were lost in the woods? It was a bit like that. The kids clumped around the teachers — no fear of anyone wandering off. And it changed their view of the world.

We who live in cities, where the night is never really dark, where we can shut out the night and bright light comes at the flick of a switch, forget how important it was, sunset, moonrise, and the closing in of the night.

When I was a child and we moved to Scotland for a year, we arrived in winter. I was shocked that I went to school in the dark and came home in the dark. Dark at four o'clock in the afternoon? Unimaginable.
When you come to understand the tyranny of the night that used to exist, it's so much easier to understand the worship of the moon, and the wild pagan celebrations to mark the turning of the year, and the building of bonfires.
For me, the lengthening days mean later and later dog walks, and the opening up of life, embracing long, lazy days and warm summer nights. But in northern climes, you'll be hunkering down at night, building fires, and getting ready to cosy up. There's a domesticity about winter, an intimacy and hominess.

So, when do you see the moon? And what do you do like to do by moonlight?
Are you looking forward to winter or not? (Or summer if you're in the southern hemisphere?) What do you like about it? Hate about it? Or are you from the tropics, where seasons only come in wet or dry, and you envy others their snow and autumn leaves and spring blossoms.