Like many things in our lives, if we see them occur regularly enough and in a consistent manner, we generally assume they will happen in the same way forever. The sun rising, the light of the moon, the tides flowing in and then away again. Imagine then how ancient peoples must have felt as the nightly moon emerged over the horizon, taking on a deep crimson hue.
Civilisations throughout history have created a multitude of myths and understandings around the occurrence of a blood moon: from a wound incurred as a result of a Jaguar attack as espoused by the Incas, as a result of a conflict between the sun and the moon as believed by Batammaliba people or as a sign of an impending apocalypse as some modern Christians have proposed.
We now know that the red moon or blood moon occurs when the there is a total lunar eclipse, meaning that the earth moves in between the sun and the moon. As a result the only light that reaches the moon passes through the earth’s atmosphere, therefore turning it a deep red colour.
Many might scoff now at the explanations of natural events espoused by the ancients but I think we need to be mindful of our hubris. We have achieved great things through technological advancement but it’s hard to deny that the rituals of old tied people in deep and meaningful ways to the world around them. Many of us may well have missed the blood moon of last year if we weren’t told of it’s occurrence by our news or weather apps. Ancient civilisations were far more in tune with the minute changes in the environment around them.
In our scientific age we have a tendency to approach myth with a literalism useful in the laboratory but perhaps less relevant in understanding the world and ourselves philosophically. In my mind, myths are a fiction which reveal a deep and sometimes spiritual truth, often one that couldn’t be fully grasped by cold, hard facts. Modern cultures are incredibly proficient in acquiring knowledge but knowledge itself doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom. For example, we have the knowledge to understand how we are destroying our own eco-system, we can provide the facts and figures but we fail to take the problem to heart, we lack the wisdom to truly take the steps necessary.
Also, it’s important to acknowledge the dangers of myth. Scary occurrences can sometimes be used to blame some part of society labelled ‘other’ as we so often see from fundamentalists of any creed after natural disasters. But for the most part the ritual acts involved seem to revolve around an act of reverence, humility or connection with nature.
It’s interesting that we often describe modern culture in such a superior light and yet we fail to understand ourselves as part of a larger whole as so many societies before us have. So maybe next time the moon takes on it’s crimson hue we should try to witness it with the respect and humility that so many before us have experienced and maybe we can feel some of the archaic awe that drove our ancestors deep reverence and love for our planet and all life upon it.