Moon Man

In the night also my heart instructs me. (Psalm 16:7)

I have reached the stage in life when historical events I remember well are unaccountably celebrating 50th anniversaries. A case in point: the first moon landing, which occurred shortly after I graduated from college in 1969. A half-century certainly carries some historical weight. I note, for example, that the moon shot occurred fifty years after the end of World War I, which to my younger self existed only as flickering black-and-white newsreel images. Yet for a man my current age then, the First World War might well have been a conflict he fought in.

As it happens, I was not really around for the moon landing. Let me explain: I was on an island off the coast of Spain called Formentara that at the time had no electricity -- and therefore no television or radio. As a result, I was seemingly one of the few people in the Western world who didn’t see Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind live on TV. The grainy black-and-white footage of this momentous event remains for me today as remote as those flickering newsreels of doughboys in the trenches of World War I.

Not long before the moon shot, some friends and I were fooling around with a Ouija board, and I got a cryptic message that I would one day be mining treasure on the moon. I didn’t make any connection to the moon landing or anything else at the time. Nor did it ring any bells when I first saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which showed astronauts excavating a mysterious black monolith that had been found buried beneath the moon’s surface. Was this not, in a sense, mining treasure on the moon?

In psychological terms, the moon is an archetype, a cultural symbol that recurs in dreams, myths, stories and songs. In the tarot deck, for example, the moon is depicted in one of 22 exotically illustrated cards known as the “major arcana.” A full moon with the profile of a human face shines in the night sky between two stone towers. A dog and a wolf peer up at the moon from the grassy slope of a pool or stream, and a crayfish is seen crawling out of the water. Tarot cards are frequently used in fortune-telling. They work like a Rorschach test, reflecting back whatever unconscious associations you bring to a reading. The tarot cards tell you not so much about what lies in your future as what lies within yourself, waiting to find expression in your external circumstances.

The moon archetype is associated with dreams, intuition and imagination, as well as with the feminine part of the psyche in both men and women, the anima. According to depth psychologist Carl Jung, the highest expression of this feminine aspect is Sophia, or wisdom. This kind of wisdom is not to be found by the light of day, but by the light of the moon. The moon is the brightest object in the night sky but gives off no light of its own. It reflects the light of the sun, which symbolizes the conscious self. In Jungian terms, the moon embodies the “shadow” self, made up of attributes that have not yet found conscious expression.

Poets, writers and visual artists often draw on unconscious elements in their work, relying on a variety of stratagems to gain access to the nether regions of their own psyches. For years I have kept a notepad by my bed to scribble down words and images that come to me in the night. I hope to bring something across the threshold between waking and sleeping, that fleeting in-between state called hypnagogia, from the Greek words for sleep (Hypnos) and guide or leader (agogeus). For a brief time, the executive control functions of the conscious brain are deactivated, and ego boundaries are loosened. The effect is to find oneself communing with the source of inspiration.

Not long ago I found myself waking up in my bed with the door to sleep still slightly ajar. I had a dream image in mind: a mute man pointing to the moon. There was a sense that he came from another world. He seemed to understand what I was saying but could not speak. In pointing to the moon, was he trying to tell me this what where he came from? I scribbled the word “moon man” on my notepad so I wouldn’t forget. Then my thoughts turned to the day ahead, and soon I was getting ready to head off for my morning workout at the Y.

I came across my scribbling again a few days later: “moon man.” What did it mean? I found in this circumstance that free association is a more fruitful exercise than logic in arriving at an answer. I remembered that long-ago message from the Ouija board about mining treasure on the moon. The moon, in this case, was not a hunk of rock orbiting the earth but an archetype representing the unconscious. This is what the man in my dream was pointing to; this is where he came from. Why was he mute? Because the unconscious often communicates in images rather than words. So who was this moon man? I knew that significant figures in dreams usually represent some aspect of oneself. This was the part of me that has long been mining treasure on the moon. Then it hit me: I am the moon man.

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