Our moon and Venus

Posted 06.12.12

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Driving out into the rural areas earlier this month, I followed the graceful sliver of the moon drifting off to my left, while to the right was Venus, about to set and burning crystal-clear in the distant sky -- what is it that makes us smile at these celestial bodies, what seems so familiar about them, so home-like? What pulls our attention upward?

I can't believe that our race somehow came from the stars, that we were seeded here on earth by either passing inter-stellar travelers or by beings the Mayans called gods. Such stories are too full of holes to take literally.

Yet our deep connection with the stars does exist. How often we do stand and stare up into the night sky, or into the soft atmosphere of dusk - almost as though we were looking at an old lover or an ancient homeland?

I was reading a survey last week which claims that humans around the world will pick out savanna landscapes as "the most comforting landscape" - well beyond city settings, forests. or seashores. The researchers explain the universality of this choice by pointing out that our most ancient ancestors, the very first humans, began their career as a separate race in exactly those savanna landscapes, likely in southern Africa. Early humans lived in savannas for hundreds of thousands of years. That landscape was slowly imprinted into our genome, as our genes developed. No wonder we still feel a primitive connection to the landscape where our race began.

Those early ancestors of ours not only hunted the grasslands, they searched the skies. No doubt they tried to predict coming weather; they tried to make sense of the changing seasons, and most of this they saw coming from the skies. And in those skies were the moon, the three or four planets we can see with a naked eye and all the stars and galaxies. If the savanna grasslands somehow became part of our genetic legacy, why wouldn't also the night sky? Could this be why the moon and the bright stars seem so familiar and comfortable to us? They have been our loyal companions, generation after generation.

In fact, it was by trying to use the celestial bodies to navigate and find their way home that our ancestors slowly developed the arts of geometry and mathematics, and, from there, philosophy and religion. When we look up at the sliver of a moon or at an eclipse, are we seeing back into our past and into the minds of our distant ancestors?

We can't deny a feeling of reverence and awe as we follow the stars' near perfect motions and the brilliance of their light. Our earliest ancestors saw celestial bodies as gods, and although we no longer think this way, there is no denying a presence of the numinous and the transcendent in all that dwarfs us.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.12