Opinion Editorial May, 2024: And I Moon

opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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In one of the most dramatic, romantic musical theater numbers ever written, Kim sings to Chris: "You are sunlight and I moon/Joined by the gods of fortune." The song Sun and Moon from Miss Saigon, is one of countless examples that illustrate how human cultures have placed celestial bodies at the intersection of art and spirituality.

Like clockwork last month, the sun and the moon did their dance to create a total solar eclipse in North America. They were doing that same dance for billions of years before sentient life evolved to experience its effects. Once that sentient life did evolve, its reaction to both solar and lunar eclipses was hallucinatory. We know this from how most mammals still react today.

Thanks to science, we have been able to predict the exact time and location of eclipses for a very long time. (Last month, the US government announced plans to create a time zone for the moon — Coordinated Lunar Time.) Counterintuitively, though, much of that science is indigenous knowledge. While the details may never be known, the evidence is undeniable that many ancient indigenous societies studied, and, to some degree, understood the orbital mechanics of our solar system — without, of course, our scientific understanding.

How they accounted for their observations is also somewhat known. They posited divine and other supernatural actors (like gods) who were in control. It should not surprise us that, without a full scientific understanding, they reached the best kind of conclusion available to them.

Last month, though, in covering the eclipse, the mainstream American media focused mostly on the claim that many atheists suddenly became religious on April 8 after witnessing it. Given our now complete scientific understanding of eclipses, I find that difficult to believe. If it is true, then the moon has a greater impact on our mental health than indigenous folklore sometimes claims.

Despite reason being a tool of science, what was easy to believe last month was the total eclipse of reason that happened in many parts of the world. There are too many examples to recount. The most bizarre case to catch my attention happened in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. There, a woman was charged with violating a corpse and attempted fraud after taking her dead uncle to a bank so he could "sign" the paperwork to receive a loan. Allegedly, she knew he was already dead.

This month's photo was taken not far from Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The young couple silhouetted by the setting sun were Western tourists. I remember thinking about Miss Saigon when I took the photo many years ago. I wondered whether they might be singing the parts of Kim and Chris to each other: "Brightening the sky with the flame of love."

There would have been eclipses of reason in those same ancient indigenous societies that studied eclipses of the sun. Whether they understood eclipses of reason will never be known. But something is certain: We don't.

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