Close your eyes and feel your feet hitting the ground like a wolf’s. Hear the rhythm of your feet beating the ground, flying over the roots and leaves strewn across the forest. Feel the strength in the muscles that flex and push with the force of a storm. You rush out from the edge of the trees, and the light of the moon breaks through overhead. You stop, throw your head back and howl the ancient song of the night.
The Moon of the Tarot brings us this primitive rush of life. Of the Major Arcana, only the Moon portrays no human or human-like figures, because it takes us below and beyond what is human. Of course, this begs the question, what does it mean to be human? To answer this, we have to look before the beginning of history. When people first banded together, aspects of their personalities that were dangerous to the group had to be repressed. Destructive tendencies had to be channeled away from the tribe, into hunting or warfare; sexual desire also had to follow proper channels, as attested by the universal taboo against incest.
These rules developed into ever more elaborate and restricting conventions. But within our depths still lies the seed of wildness, because humanity is not entirely something we are born with. We are born with the potential for humanity, but as infants we have not used that potential yet. To be human means more than just to be a member of the species Homo sapiens; it means being a social being, and that requires learning the complex structure of codes and behaviors we use to live and communicate with one another. To those ends, structures like language and culture are necessary; however, they work by excluding, and therefore by limiting. We are taught to like certain foods, smells and people, and not others. We are taught to feel happy at certain events and sad at others. When we realize this, we begin to wonder what it would mean to go beyond the human–what would it mean to live outside all the structures of feeling that human culture has imposed to make civilization run smoothly? This is the question posed by the Moon.
Note that we do have the potential for humanity from birth. In biological terms, this potential comes in the form of the neocortex. The neocortex is the most recent part of the brain to evolve, the part that allows us to control our impulses, moderate our emotions and understand the moral consequences of our actions.1
Older than the neocortex is the limbic system. This is the part of the brain we share with other mammals and is responsible for emotions like anger, excitement and love.2 It allows us to connect with each other. And in the dog and wolf of the Moon, it reigns freely; feelings in the body that we have learned not to feel are cut loose. Morality and immorality have no meaning under the sway of the Moon–they are forgotten in a surge or joy and wildness. The heart beats faster, the chest breathes harder.
It is one thing to run wild at night under the moon, free to run, eat, and spend ourselves without restraint. But that is not the deepest level, the most primitive stage, to which we can descend. This level belongs to what may be the strangest element of the card, the crayfish. There is something unnerving about this crustacean crawling and picking among the rocks and weeds that circle the pool that represents our collective unconscious. Wolves are wild, but they are mammals as we are. Their blood runs hot like ours, and when we look them in the eye we do not see humanity, but we do see intelligence. The eyes of the crustaceans–black beads set in a hard shell–however, are not windows to anything we might recognize as a soul. They are closer to the point when inanimate matter first awakened with the spark of life—closer than we care to go. The crayfish represents the oldest part of the brain, a level of brain development that lacks the passion of mammals, and reacts to the world only by avoiding pain and seeking warmth and food.3 One can walk forever in this realm without finding the way out; the path leading out from the pool–the primordial soup–between the two towers, and up to the mountains is a long one, and no one knows what you will encounter along the way.
The energy of this card can be dangerous; the moon has guided men and women to otherworldly experiences and sensations, from spiritual enlightenment to insanity, and some who attempt this never make it back. But it is a journey we must make if we want to become complete and ride in the light of day like the reborn child in the next card, the Sun. That is why, in the Moon card, the domestic dog howls with the wolf, both in touch with their wild nature under the gaze of the moon. The Moon is the card of disinhibition, of unlearning all the rules. It is a guide to standing still, staying perfectly in each moment as it passes, because that is when you move so much faster, and fall in the direction of a different dimension in your mind.
At any random moment throughout the day you can close your eyes and remember this unfamiliar world beneath the Moon and draw upon the ancient power that lies below and within our civilized selves, that twilight state between waking and dreaming, when we open our mouth but cannot speak. Although it often works unseen, this is the power that drives our deepest desires and asks only to be embraced. But remember–close your eyes.
1. Sapolsky, Robert. “A BOZO OF A BABOON: A Talk with Robert Sapolsky.” Edge. 4 June 2003. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/sapolsky03/sapolsky_index.html
2. The Brain Compatible Project. Buffalo State University http://www.buffalostate.edu/orgs/bcp/brainbasics/triune.html