When I was little, I used to wonder what the poets compared the moon to before there were street lamps and light bulbs. Before electricity buzzed through the netting of wires strung between houses along the suburban street where I grew up, criss-crossing in thin dark lines against the dome of the sky. Evenings in late summer, when the light seemed to linger so long, I would gaze out of my bedroom window watching the horizon blush above the roofs of the neighbors’ houses. And there, just above where that great gold beast of a sun laid down to tuck its head behind the townhouses, there it was — that sliver of moon, impossibly bright, pinned among the clouds. The waxing crescent moon.
What had the poets called it? A bow pulled taut. A silver sickle, wet with evening dew. The curving wings of some mighty bird riding high winds. The opening wake of sunset. The lip of a crystal cup, moonlight like a balm poured out over a dusky land. A veil slipping from the round face of a mirror.
In the windowpane, the reflection of my desk lamp hovered like a watery, round reminder of the coming dark and the persistence of the electric, the artificial, as constant as the purr of the air conditioning. As dusk fell and the world past my window grew darker, even the moon would eventually sink below the line of rooftops, and instead of the suburban night all the smudged glass would offer back was the pale reflection of my own face, half in shadow, safe inside the cool, pink sanctuary of my bedroom.
We live in a time of amazing opportunities and heart-wrenching tragedies, a time when many of us live daily with the humming tension between wild enthusiasm and deep cynicism. At 29 years old, I am at the upper age limit of the generation that has come to be called the Millennials. The generation that saw the century turn over into the Internet Age, the Age of Information. A generation that grew up with PCs and cell phones, instant messaging and online dating, grassroots journalism, pop-up windows, Twitter trends, lolcat memes and cyber-bullying. GeoCities, LiveJournal, MySpace, Facebook — the endless evolution of virtual space, the constant purr of news feeds and headline crawlers. Technology connects us instantly with people from all over the world, making it possible for us to exchange ideas, share inspiration and express our creativity in ways our great-grandparents could scarcely have imagined. But it can also lay us bare to some of the worst of human behavior: cruelty, ignorance, injustice and, ironically, a lingering sense of isolation amidst all the ringtones and white noise.
Women in particular face challenging contradictions in this brave new age. In a society that celebrates equality, we see before us endless opportunities to pursue our dreams. And yet in many ways, the glass ceiling seems thicker than ever, and the balancing act of gender equality forever remains a perilous one. Young women especially face dismal prospects in a struggling economy, saddled with an equal share of ballooning student debt but still burdened with persistent inequality in pay and employment opportunities. For a generation whose mothers took for granted access to birth control and family planning, we face the real possibility of seeing those options rolled back or revoked completely. Even the technologies that give us a voice — the online blogs, the websites and social media networks that help us forge communities of like-minded friends scattered across the globe — are designed and developed by engineers and computer programmers, professional fields that are still dominated almost exclusively by men despite the qualified success of education reform to close the gender gap in math and the sciences.
Like many women of my generation, I grew up believing I could do and be anything I wanted. And I wanted to write, with all my heart. I breezed through Calculus and AP Physics, bored to tears. It was the practice of poetry, the careful devotion I gave to the work of crafting secret refuges of spirit and song, that got me through my high school teen angst years fairly well intact. I blogged. I used the internet to find resources on how and where to publish, and to connect to other writers online who always had advice to share. One of those online friends introduced me to poets like Rumi and Omar Khayyám and first sparked my fascination with mysticism and the magic of the natural world, an enchantment that quickly grew into a roaring passion. In the midst of my small, conservative suburban world, a whole new universe was unfolding before my eyes.
By the time I graduated college with a degree in comparative religious studies, I was a valedictorian, a published poet, and a Pagan. I was also an intense, neurotic little ball of nerves that quickly spun out in graduate school before completing my degree. I found myself waiting tables on the midnight shift and living alone in the city, skirting below the poverty line and desperately lonely.
So I wrote. I lit candles and incense. I poured my heart into blog posts and half-finished novel manuscripts. I poured libations to the earth in the gravel lot behind my run-down apartment building, watching the water turn the sharp stones dark in erratic rivulets that disappeared into the dust. I oscillated between long bouts of writer’s block and periods of frenetic productivity that petered out into the ether of the huge, anonymous world-wide web. I felt trapped, claustrophobic, wild and free all at once, spinning around a center anchored firmly in devotion. Like Rumi, I was mad with the wandering moon.
I could have settled down, gotten a “real job,” some entry-level position in some office building somewhere. But I didn’t. A fierce idealism burned in me, a stubborn refusal to commit myself to work unless I could throw my soul into it. Waitressing was hard on my body, but the clatter of plates and the smell of coffee and the frantic multitasking of the after-hours rush made a kind of dance, a ritual of hunger and gratitude. I gave myself up to the mercy of the Gods of Good Tips, like a hunter laying offerings before carved images of his prey, that the fates might bring him a kill to last him through the winter. It was romantic, and naive.
That is the burden of the Maiden, the young beloved, the inexperienced youth casting herself out into the wild winds for the first time. To hold her idealism like a torch to light her way. To revel in the longing of her expectation, her potential becoming. And for all her daring, to risk being thought of as immature, foolish, sentimental, and naive. To have her parents fret that she isn’t saving for retirement, or that her tattoos might peek out above the collar of a respectable, office-appropriate blouse. It’s her task to scoff at such worries, too, because after all, cynicism is just the mask that hope wears when it ventures out at night.
The Maiden is a goddess in many religious traditions. In the Catholicism of my childhood, the immaculate Mary was both Virgin and Mother. The Sunday school teacher explained to us delicately, as we sat wide-eyed and uncomprehending, that the Holy Spirit had entered into the young girl the way a ray from the sun penetrates a glass of water, without breaking it. I imagined a chalice, the smooth curve of its lip gleaming and its round belly beaded with condensation, suffused with light from within. The teacher told us how Mary had said yes.
Naive Mary. Poor, romantic, idealistic Mary, ready to throw away her social standing and her security, risking shame and ostracism, all to bear a child of God.
I think that this, too, is the burden and blessing of the Maiden: to say yes. The notion of virginity has a perplexing and complicated history. All too often, it is seen as a treasure to be hidden away, jealously safe-guarded — something that, once lost, is lost for good.
I see it differently. The purity and self-possession of the Maiden, the fierce joy that shines in her, cannot be contained, locked away. Stagnant water that does not flow soon grows cloudy and rife with gnats. The challenge that the Maiden presents to us is to remain open, porous and self-giving, willing to wander… and to do this without breaking.
But we live in a new world. The tendrils of the internet wind their way into every nook and cranny of our lives, seeping in through our computers and cell phones, even our television sets and the dashboards of our cars. Surrounded by the constant buzz and noise of the digital age, it can be hard to find a voice of our own. Demands for our time, energy and attention press in from all sides, and the urge to keep up with the pace of conversation can leave us grasping for inadequate language and flimsy metaphors. Like distracted adolescents, we can forgo a soul-felt, full-bodied YES! for the quick, clipped “Yeah. Fine. Whatever.”
To remain open, sometimes we need to craft a sanctuary for ourselves. The Maiden knows this lesson best of all, for her life is not only one of wild freedom but also limitation. She has not yet come into her full potential. She rubs up against the limits of her own self-becoming. She rides the contradiction of a wandering that remains anchored, a wildness held safe within the boundaries of innocence and sacred naivety.
As I write, the waxing crescent of the Claim Song Moon slips ever closer to the horizon in the west, trailing the sun like a little sister eager to follow in her big sister’s wake. Next month’s moon will dance through a new season, different in subtle ways, but always the same dance. I still don’t have a “real job,” one where I have to tuck in my shirt, go into the office and follow someone else’s rules. I make a living through my creative work, still the sharp-eyed, stalking hunter making my offerings to the sometimes fickle gods. I’ve learned to carve out a sacred space in which to do this work safely, using respectable language. I tell people I’m in online media production and web design. It sounds impressive. Many of the people my age I know do the same, cobbling together a resumé full of part-time work and creative side projects.
True, I haven’t lived with my parents for more than a decade. I have a husband now, which also sounds like a mature and grown-up thing to have, and I’m the stepmother to four delightful children (though I’ve always felt more like the crazy aunt). I will, through my own choice, never have children of my own, and to some that means that I will never really count as a “real woman,” either. Just a freewheeling flake who never quite got it together enough to settle down to the hard work of family life. Even in this age of opportunity and equality, there is still a stigma attached to women who choose not to have children, a belief that somehow we’ve failed, that we’ve become stuck. To some, I will forever be the maiden, naive and idealistic.
Yet we all have this Maiden in us, returning season after season like the crescent moon: the dusk-dreamer, the lover, the young creature who defends with fierce hope the belief that she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up.
In our quiet little apartment, I open up the windows and watch the moonset above the city skyline. I speak a prayer of naming, madly in love with all the things the moon might be.
This piece originally appeared in SageWoman Magazine, Issue 83. (December 2012)
• “Raising Moon,” by Andrea (CC) [source]
• “Light Through Murano Bowl,” by John Lillis (CC) [source]
• “Ambience,” by Jenny Downing (CC) [source]
• “Conjunction Without a Flash,” by Distant Hill Gardens (CC) [source]