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Life Arts    H4'ed 7/13/12

Art & Astrology: Cancer, Blue Moonrise, and the Art of Illumination

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Art provides a powerful way to connect with our inner selves because it communicates through symbols, which constitute the language of the soul. This symbolic language speaks to us through art's physical qualities of color, form, composition, and medium; it also communicates through an artwork's content. In this way, form and content combine to express spiritual or mystical meaning, giving art a sense of mystery and inviting us to return again and again for contemplation. Over time, art can reward us with new insights and touch our souls through beauty of form and meaning.

Blue Moonrise, acrylic on canvas
Blue Moonrise, acrylic on canvas
(Image by Anne Nordhaus-Bike)
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Blue Moonrise, acrylic on canvas by Anne Nordhaus-Bike

Since ancient times, people have associated the Moon with feminine, receptive energies. For many cultures, she symbolized the Divine Mother, the celestial counterpart to the Sun's masculine, active energies. As the Sun rules day, she rules night, the time of darkness, sleep, and dreams.

In astrology, the Moon rules Cancer, a water sign famous for its shifting moods and strong feelings. Astrology classifies Cancer as a feminine, receptive sign because of its watery nature; all water and earth signs rank as feminine, while air and fire signs constitute the masculine or active signs. As the Sun moves through the zodiac, it alternates between feminine and masculine signs, just as day follows night in every 24-hour period.

The Moon's feminine quality also links her strongly with women, and her gravitational force influences women's monthly cycles as well as Mother Earth's watery realm through its effect on tides. The mysterious Moon reveals only half of herself to us: her movement around the Earth and her rotation synchronize so closely that we always see the same side of the Moon. Nevertheless, her appearance changes constantly because of her phases.

Blue Moonrise Evokes Cancer Themes

This painting, Blue Moonrise , shows the Moon at her most dramatic, when her monthly cycle has reached its full phase and the entire lunar disk reflects solar light. The Moon, recently risen in the east, dominates a brilliant night sky that changes color from indigo at the top to ultramarine in the middle to purplish blue near the horizon. Lunar light extends vertically and horizontally and creates a milky effect around the Moon via wispy clouds.

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Blue Moonrise (detail), acrylic on canvas by Anne Nordhaus-Bike

Blue Moonrise's title and subject carry powerful associations with the astrological sign Cancer. The painting presents a night scene dominated by Cancer's ruler, the Moon; astrologers often call Cancers "Moon children," and many Cancers have round, Moon-shaped faces. Also, most of this image consists of a sky in varying shades of blue, a color linked with watery, tender Cancer and long a symbol of feelings, water, and the emotional plane. Where sky meets land, an undulating horizon line not only indicates Wisconsin's gently rolling topography but mimics the effect of waves in water.

In addition, Blue Moonrise was painted from memory, as a recollection of childhood camping trips to remote lakes in Wisconsin. Cancer and the Moon are linked with childhood and memory: Cancers generally look back fondly or even nostalgically at their childhoods, and they tend to have powerful memories that can be expressed negatively as holding grudges for a lifetime or more constructively as a love of history and tradition.

Blue Moonrise also exhibits the mysterious or even strange quality associated with memory, imagination, and night. Although inspired by summer experiences, it was painted in autumn and shows an elm tree whose leaves have long since fallen; tiny, imagined structures at far left hint at a village or town from a distant era, adding another layer of time. In night's world of shadows, the lone tree rises strange and vaguely threatening at right, and the few lights on the horizon suggest inhabited areas too far away to provide help if needed. The Moon's cool light makes the land look milky and seem like water, an effect reinforced by ribbons of moonshine and earthglow just below and above the horizon. Unsure of what is real in such a setting, we may have the strongly Cancer experience of feeling like a child, afraid of the dark and the night.

Cancer, the Full Moon, and Spiritual Illumination

This very strangeness gives Blue Moonrise its peculiar power. Much as a dream may feel odd or unsettling when we first awaken into that halfway point between sleeping and becoming fully awake to everyday existence, so can art's colors and symbols provoke feelings of being "in a different place." That "place" consists of our inner, spiritual world, the realm of the soul.

Blue Moonrise brings us directly to that realm because, on the spiritual plane, the Moon symbolizes the soul (among other things). Also, the Moon's monthly cycle symbolizes the inner process of spiritual evolution: at the beginning of each lunar cycle, the Moon is new or dark, and as the days pass she grows in light until the full Moon, the time of greatest light. Afterward, the light gradually diminishes until the next new Moon begins the process again.

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Blue Moonrise (detail), acrylic on canvas by Anne Nordhaus-Bike

This inspiring cycle symbolizes the inner self's potential for illumination. Just as the Moon gradually increases in light, our inner self shines brighter and brighter as we grow spiritually and acquire greater wisdom. The monthly full Moon represents the climax of this process, giving us the time of greatest light and symbolizing spiritual illumination. After receiving light in the form of insight, intuition, or inspiration, we must share it in some way with others, as symbolized by the Moon's diminishing light in the second half of her monthly cycle, as if she is emptying herself, giving away her light in order to prepare for receiving even greater light in the future.

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Anne Nordhaus-Bike is president of ANB Communications. The author of the award-winning Living in Harmony astrology column for the Gazette newspaper in Chicago, she has won several journalism awards and in 1997 was added to the "Wall of Fame" of the (more...)
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