I don’t see science as having more value than intuitive, indigenous, folk, or faith-based knowledge, nor the wisdom of the plant and animal world. I was recently introduced to the term »deep mapping,« which feels true to how I am approaching this project as a holographic, multidimensional exploration of the moon.
I am starting with the physical/astronomical presence of the moon simply because it is a planetary experience and a nice point of departure. From this perspective, these are the three ways I believe the moon most impacts the life and matter on our planet:
1) Illumination of the night sky
2) Marker of time passing
3) Gravitational pull and effect on tides
I am compiling a lot of research on these topics and will publish them in a future post. The long and short of it is that life’s evolution is informed by the lunar cycle. There is growing evidence that organisms (including humans) possess internal circalunar clocks – we are all lunar creatures.
Illumination of the night sky
Just as there is a 24-hour cycle of light and dark, there is a 29.5-day lunar cycle of nocturnal illumination. Certain species of flowers bloom in the full moon, as they are pollinated by nocturnal moths and other insects who use the moon to navigate. Nocturnal activity of birds who eat those insects also increases on the full moons.
When you are in areas without light pollution, the light of the full moon is bright. For most of human existence (before electricity), the light of the full moon made nocturnal activity much easier. The full moon was a time to travel, to gather, to stay awake through the night. It was the original disco.
Conversely, the new moon, when the night sky is dark, is a time we associate with rest, reflection; it is the more introspective part of the cycle. Much like the winter months. In these ways, our evolution is informed by the lunar cycle.
Marker of time passing
The moon is one of the most prominent and exact markers of time passing. Many animals (especially sea creatures) time their mating events to surprisingly exact phases of the moon. Just a few weeks ago, the coral of the Great Barrier Reef erupted in a massive spawning event, which occurs annually a few days after the Full Moon in November/December. Sea urchins, Palolo worms, flatworms, sand crabs, and sea lice are other examples, and many studies show how animals who live in intertidal zones maintain these rhythms even when removed from all environmental stimuli. They possess internal clocks that keep track of the lunar cycles. These are known as circalunar rhythms in the field of chronobiology, similar to the more familiar daily circadian rhythms, and there is growing speculation that humans might also possess genes that are attuned with lunar cycles.
Regardless of whether you can sense it internally, we can certainly keep track of the lunar cycle by looking at the sky – it is the original calendar.
Gravitational pull and effect on tides
I like to surf – the changing tides are the way I am most intimately aware of the changing moon phases. Some beaches are only surfable at certain tides, the shapes of the waves shift based on how the water meets the ocean floor. The tides are much more extreme during new and full moons when the earth, sun, and moon are all aligned. For animals in the intertidal zone, awareness of the tides can be a matter of life or death. I could go on about flatworms and sandcrabs, but will save that for a future post.
Denise Helene Sumi: The observation of the lunar cycle and associated social practices are ancient cultural, mostly analogue practices. To what extent do you reproduce or alter particular ancient practices and rituals and its narratives through your online moon altar?
Lark Alder: Well, this remains to be seen as the project is just beginning and will evolve over a year of lunar cycles. Did I mention that the dates of this residency start and end on/around the new moon? It is an auspicious beginning. I originally proposed it as an »Online Moon Altar,« thinking it would be a site of collective ritual practice, though I started to conceive of it more as a site of »Virtual Moon Reverence« to be more inclusive of all the shapes it takes as it is starting to feel more like a temple/shrine, as well as simply a source of information. Because it is entirely nonverbal, with no text, the information conveyed is more implied than stated. I am hoping to give the viewer the opportunity to intuit their own meaning and draw from their own sociogeographical and cultural experiences. So in that way it is very different then most traditions, which tell you a story or provide a set of instructions.
»I don’t see science as having more value than intuitive, indigenous, folk, or faith-based knowledge, nor the wisdom of the plant and animal world.«
As I mentioned, I am slowly moving to be thoughtful in my approach for referencing cultural practices. There is a fine line and a lot of gray area between honoring traditions and carving them up for consumption. It is not my intention to partake in appropriative practices that are so common in the realm of modern spirituality – which I have certainly seen my share of as a third-generation white Californian. At the same time, these cultural systems offer wisdom of great value and deserve acknowledgement, as they have certainly informed my own practices and approach to this project as a temple/shrine/altar. My goal is to be intentional and well-informed in how I bring them in, especially as I am not using language which makes it much more difficult to create a context/container for sharing.
One modern cultural perspective I look to reframe is how, as a child, I was often told that »the sun is the source of life.« The history of the moon offers a much more subtle take on what facilitates life on Earth – reminding us of how the less forceful presence is often overlooked in patriarchal, western, war-based, and settler-colonial societies – true to how many cultural perspectives of the moon are aligned with the feminine.