“When thou goest to thy bed… draw close the curtaines to shut out the Moone-light, which is very offensive and hurtfull to the braine, especially to those that sleepe.”
– A guide to healthy living, 1621
I did not see the blood moon last week, even though I tried to. Slightly after midnight I stood outside – night gowned and barefoot – but all I saw was a dark sky blushing orange, as if the moon was too shy to show herself in her red, blatant flesh.
A blood moon carries with it a weight of myth and symbolism. Such an anthology of legends is so heavy that it is a wonder that a satellite cloaked so stridently has the strength to rise to its proper lunar height.
The scientific explanation is simple enough. When the earth is in alignment between the moon and sun, it casts a shadow on the moon, a disc-like fragment obscuring its metallic phase. That is the eclipse. But on the other side of the earth, the sleepless sun is casting its rays through the earth’s atmosphere.
Obligingly, the blues and violets – the colors of the daytime sky – are filtered out. But the furnace-cast of reds and oranges travel through this atmosphere, bent through a prism of dust and ash that extends for thousands of miles. By the time the color reaches the moon, the palette is arranged for her scarlet, saucy profile; for her misplaced sunset.
But before science took the upper hand, men found other explanations for the tarnished shadow floating above them. A moon running red with blood signified the coming of the end times, of the Bible’s terrible prophecies, of dark suns and the “terrible day of the Lord”.
According to the Ecclesiastical tables this bloody moon was a Paschal (Passover) full moon. As it was the first full moon after the vernal equinox – it was also a herald for Easter, the Sunday immediately following the Paschal Full Moon.
A red moon during the harvest was a sign of the huntsman, of his prey run to ground and his bloody catch. It was a time of feverish activity, when forests rattled with hunter, horse and hound, and a successful outing would guarantee a healthy season of food for all.
Priests, shamans, mystics and story-tellers did their best to explain why the moon burned like a flushed sun in the latest corner of the night, at the very height of her languors. But it was science that discovered that every few years, when earth, moon and sun were aligned in an astral set dance, the moon was able to experience her own sunset: a rare closing of bronze and tawny curtains as she begins her nightly, silver vigil.
All of this I missed on that soft night. And it was a shame, really, but since that night I have given the moon and her amours a great deal of thought. And I have found that there are times when memory adheres more firmly to matters of reflection than vision. And that no matter how closely the “curtaines” are drawn, the moon and her stellar court will wait on your drifting contemplation.