Sunday, 19 November 2017

The New Moon

The sighting of a new Moon has always been seen as a positive event. The Moon shows two faces to viewers on Earth, one dark and one light. The appearance of the new Moon has always been thought of as an auspicious event because it shows the start of the victory of light over dark. In ancient times there were many rituals concerned with the appearance of the new Moon such as planting seeds. The Moon goddess, called Cynthia in the Tudor era, was the female companion to the male Sun. In Tudor times it was common practice to bow to the new moon and there was also the Midwife's prayer.
There are four corners to her bed.
Four angels at her head.
Matthew, Mark Luke and John,
bless the bed she lies upon.
New Moon, New Moon,
G-d bless this house and family.  
However, sighting the new Moon is not always easy. Yesterday (November 18th) there was a new Moon but it was only at 0.4% and to make matters worse it rose with the Sun and followed the Sun across the sky all day so it was impossible to see. In ancient times in Medina when lunar calendars were used this could even lead to conflicts about the date as the Jewish tribes in the region were happy to use prediction tables if they could not see the new Moon but the polytheistic Arab inhabitants relied on direct observation so the two calendars where often adrift.
Shakespeare mentions the Moon in several of his plays and provides us with an understanding that it was common practice to swear an oath to the Moon in Tudor society.
In Antony and Cleopatra (Act 4, Scene 9)
In Love's Labours Lost (Act 5, Scene 2)
In Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2)
and then later in the same scene.
Juliet "O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable."

And in The Merchant of Venice (Act 5 Scene 1)
"By yonder moon I swear you do me wrong."
Shakespeare lived in a time of great change when superstition was being replaced by logic and reason and scientific discoveries were providing a new understanding of the natural world. However, there are many places in Shakespeare's works where the old order is still evident. I will come back to such instances in a later post.

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