Watching the moon is a very solitary undertaking; at least, it is for me. I know of local groups who get together to mark the full moon, and who keep the old Celtic lunar festivals, and I have enjoyed celebrating some of these with them. But for me, that’s an altogether different activity, one where the people and the shared outlook are the priority, whereas when it’s just the moon and me, I can turn inwards and reflect, or turn outwards and ponder. Yet, at the same time, watching the moon gives me a sense of community that links me to people in other times, as well as in other places.
In many English villages – at least, in those that have kept their old layout rather than building on every bit of spare land – there is an open area, more or less central to the village, and usually grassed over: the village green. This would have been used on a day-to-day basis as communal grazing space, and on special occasions, such as festivals or when visiting traders or entertainers came by, as a place where all the villagers could gather together. In times gone by, when villages were smaller and the inhabitants spent their days as well as their nights within the community boundaries, the houses were built to huddle around the green, so that everyone could see it and use it. It was a shared focus that helped to engender a sense of community.
As I watch the moon, alone in the peace of the English countryside, I am very conscious of all the other people who are doing the same thing: societies who use the moon’s regular cycle to mark the passage of time; those who work outside at night and need to know when it will be present and how much light it will give; biodynamic farmers who plan the way that they care for their crops according to the phases of the moon; people like me, who choose to watch the moon; and those who happen to glimpse it, and stop to bask in its beauty. The moon can be seen by everyone on earth (although not all at the same time), and it has something to offer each of us. In this sense, it acts as a kind of cosmic village green, giving us all a common view and, if we let it, a sense of community.
This common ground can be even broader than to encompass an earth-wide human community, for the moon has been visible to people throughout history and pre-history, as well as throughout the world. Watching the moon associates me with the official Roman observers, whose job it was to look out for the first sliver of the new crescent moon and proclaim it to mark the start of a new month. It connects me to the people who set out the very first Stonehenge, which was a lunar-aligned monument long before its axis was centred on the sun. It provides a bond with the Australian aborigines, who have 4000-year-old tales that attempt to explain the moon’s cycles. It links my life to a chain of moonwatchers stretching back to the earliest people who puzzled over the different kinds of lights in the sky, who observed them carefully to try to understand them, and who grew to know the various cycles and patterns that celestial objects follow.
And so, as I sit quietly in my garden or in the peaceful valley in front of our house, I sense the companionship of a myriad of shadowy souls, stretching out around the globe, who see the same moon that I do, who are engaged in the same activity as me, who may even be having some of the same thoughts as me. And I feel another dimension, another thread in this tapestry of company, reaching back through countless centuries, of other peoples who shared these observations. I am part of a vast tradition, extending in all directions, backwards and forwards in time and in space. I am one with humankind.