Moon and Woman, Reflections on an Ancestral Bond

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“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 

Anton Chekhov


Isn’t it funny that a woman has never set foot on the Moon, but the Moon is always associated with women? 

The Irish prose writer William Butler Yeats spoke about the silver apples of the Moon when describing his love for a woman, but it was the poet Sylvia Plath who best put down in words the celestial bodies’ femaleness. The Moon is my mother,” she wrote. “She is not sweet like Mary. Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.”   

In the isolation of this pandemic, I have taken to looking out the window of my tiny Brooklyn loft a lot, especially at night. Looking at the Moon, one can’t help but notice that it is full of imperfections, yet how irresistible is its pull. Hers is an elegant beauty that combs its hair in the river’s mirrored reflection. That “luminary reflection” that James Joyce wrote about. 

In Ulysses, Joyce describes the Moon as female: “..her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage.”

The Earth’s only proper natural satellite, the Moon, is one-quarter the diameter of the former. It’s the largest natural satellite in the Solar System relative to the size of its planet and the fifth largest one in the Solar System overall.

The first woman in space was the Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963, launching with the Vostok 6 Mission. The second woman to travel in space was also a cosmonaut — Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982 on the Soyuz mission. The first woman to go to the Moon is planned for 2024 as part of the Artemis program, but that now remains to be seen.  

I thought of this as I watched the Snow Moon as it passed by my window this month, and it will come to mind again when the New Moon arrives on March 13. 

It is “Luna” in Italian, Latin, and Spanish, “Lune” in French, “Mond” in German, and “Selene” in Greek. So much has been written about the Moon. In most stories, the Moon is a woman; the Sun a man. The Mayans thought the phases of the moon were associated with the phases in a woman’s life. 

The Moon’s femaleness is there in its spherical pregnant form, in its letters, soft and round, in its darkness and light.

We wax and wane together. We are built of cycles, rhythms, and tides. We share fecundity — the fullness of the womb and the flow of menstrual blood. The phrase “moon time” has for ages been a euphemism for menstruation. When women lived together in clans, their menstrual cycles lined up with each other and the moon cycles. If you are a woman, you know this to be true. 

We also share the stain of insanity. Nocturnal, wild, and crazy — there is a certain fierce loveliness to that lunacy, simply because it is female.  Etymology also has something to do with it. Look at the word loony, which comes from lunacy — monthly periodic insanity that is believed to be triggered by the moon’s cycle. Women, the moonlight, and madness seem to always appear together, especially in the minds of men. 

One now returns to the same thought: how close the Moon is to women and how far away women are to it. And as I watch the coming of the New Moon, when it appears between the Earth and the Sun, when one is supposed to set new intentions and projects, I will dream of the day that women and that silver apple in the sky finally meet and laugh at how little they are understood, how it is missed that together they are that glint of light on broken glass.