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Man in the Moon, mental health, and motherhood.

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Man in the Moon, mental health, and motherhood.

Photo: Moon over Toronto, October 30, 2023

© Muniini K. Mulera


Early Sunday morning, October 1, 2023. The Sun, in glorious majesty, rises in the East, as is its habit in these parts, casting a linear orange glow over Lake Ontario. Cheerful smiles, my face now wears, my thoughts suspended, except a singular focus, on God’s awesome creation.  My camera captures the moment, a love letter to my descendants, whose fortune it will be, to see what their ancestor beheld. 


I retreat to my study, to record in my journal, but through the glass window, the clear western sky, presents a full moon. The two heavenly bodies have conspired with Mother Earth, to treat me to a spectacle, that has fascinated me, since childhood. The stories of the elders, about the marriage of Sun and Moon, flood back, triggering smiles and chuckles, and sweet memories of myths, about the infinite heavens. 


The celestial couple, present the sweet illusion, of shared size. Easy to explain. Whereas the Sun is about 400 times wider than the Moon, it is also about 400 times farther away from us than the Moon. 


However, not even Jonathan Watson, my high school teacher, who taught us about the nature and relative movements of Sun, Earth, and Moon, fully succeeded in erasing the sweet myths learnt from the elders in Kahondo and Mparo.


A full Moon in broad daylight, the elders said, signals serious events ahead. The Sun has beckoned the Moon for consultation about the rumblings in the skies, and human folly below. Wise are they that defer plans for marriage. The sane sheath their weapons, abandon planned assaults on neighbouring clans, and sue for peace. The fools keep at it, causing distress to fellow humans, dispensing all manner of injustice until the oppressed rupture with volcanic force. History is rich with examples of awakened humanity and revolution, the cyclical folly, that mothers rivers of blood.


Happily, for me, it is a Sunday morning, with no obligation to leave the house. I open Paul’s Letter to the Romans, for reorientation, and a celebration of the joyful safety that is my assurance, by the grace of God. I am at peace.


Then, this past weekend, my wife and I take an evening stroll, along the shore of Lake Ontario. The heaven is lit so bright, a full Moon smiles on us, the gentle waves on the lake reflecting the light, to produce a soundless song to Nyakubaho, God, whom my elders called Kazooba Rugaba Nyamuhanga. We sit on lakeshore rocks, and take it all in, a gentle breeze caressing our faces, one’s thoughts transported to the distant unknown. 


It is a fascinating rock that Moon, which has been a companion of Earth for a little while now, currently travelling about 384,400 kilometers (238,855 miles) from us. People who earn a living gazing at the Moon, and fiddling with her rocks and soils, have recently discovered that she is a bit older than previously thought. Hitherto thought to be 4.42 billion years old, we are told that she is at least 40 million years older than that. Not much in cosmic time, but interesting to one fascinated by God’s awesome creation. 


In an article published last week in a journal called Geochemical Perspective Letters, Jennika Greer, B. Zhang, and colleagues reported that the Giant Impact in which an object the size of Mars slammed into early Earth, shearing off a chunk that became the Moon, occurred 4.46 billion years ago. They reached this verdict following their study of zircon crystals, found in soil samples that were brought to Earth by America’s Apollo 17 astronauts, who landed on the Moon in December 1972. It is worth reading.


Considering that our Solar System, is thought to have been created 4.57 billion years ago, Earth once had moonless nights, with consequent celestial loadshedding, for about 100 million years. The Giant Impact melted the earth and its assailant, fusing them into eternal union, but not before sending a molten ball of rock into space, that eventually started its celestial dance around planet Earth. 


So began the great partnership, that would intrigue future inhabitants of Earth, and trigger myths that would shape attitudes, actions, and dreams. Humanity’s desire for explanation of everything, has conjured up multiple myths about the Moon, some of which enjoy universal embrace.


One of them is the alleged impact of the Moon on our mental health. Derived from Luna, the Roman goddess of the Moon, the myth of lunacy (or the lunatic) was entrenched by Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, who taught in the fifth century BC: “One who is seized with terror, fright and madness during the night is being visited by the goddess of the Moon.” 


To this day, many believe that a full moon causes people to act strange. After all, if the moon’s gravitation force influences ocean tides on Earth, why would it not influence the tides of human emotions?  It is sweet nonsense that has been debunked by science. 


What about the Moon and female fertility? When, as a young lad growing up in Kigyezi, I first heard mention of girls and women being omukwezi (in the moon), I carried on with life, blissfully ignorant of the fact that this was a euphemism for the monthly ladies’ business, that is oddly called a “period”, and thousands of other names, that help humans avoid calling it menstruation. 


When I arrived in Canada, confident that I understood human reproductive physiology, I was astonished to learn from my hosts, that the phases of the moon had a potent effect on fertility. Even doctors and nurses, claimed that a full moon triggered an increase in births, a convenient explanation for busy nights in the delivery rooms. Happily, scientific studies debunked this one too.  The phases of the Moon have no verifiable influence on menstruation, female fertility, and childbirth. 


My most favourite myth, imparted to me before I even graduated to wearing shorts under my long shirt, is the one about the Man in the Moon. The poor fellow, we were told, committed a serious transgression, for which he was banished to the Moon, forever fated to split wood with an axe. He was visible to my preadolescent eyes, as I gazed at him from the foothills of Kikuba.


Nearly seven decades later, the fellow, visible from Canada, but somewhat plumper, is still toiling with the axe. Happily, his freedom will come, five billion years from now, when Moon and Earth disappear, obliterated by the red giant Sun, that is the irreversible fate of our precious star.


Do not bother to disabuse me of the myth, for mine eyes have seen, the Man in the Moon. But since you like the facts, telescopes, satellites, and lunar missions, have confirmed that the Man in the Moon is nothing, but dark areas (lunar maria) contrasted with lighter coloured highlands and valleys on the surface of our neighbour. How boring! 


However, the fate of Earth and Moon is not a myth. It is a fact that, I believe, will be preceded by the events that are recorded in the Book of Revelation. Praise God for that.


© Muniini K. Mulera


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