Thom Knoles on the moon and the real meaning of Easter - Part 1
Coming up to the April 4th full moon (and lunar eclipse tomorrow), I thought it’d be a great time to share an interview I did with my teacher and guru Maharishi Vyasananda Saraswati aka Thom Knoles.
I started by asking him if we could talk about the moon. He said he only had a few paragraphs worth of knowledge to give.
1 hour and 8 minutes later we’re still going. Ask Thom what the time is and he’ll tell you how to build a watch.
Here’s the first part of our talk as we start communing with the moon.
Laura: So Soma Chandra…
Thom: Soma Chandra (Sanskrit for the moon)… ‘Soma’ is the sound that nature makes when it is intending the flow of consciousness, and if you were to imitate it with your mouth, the sound makes the word ‘soma’. And ‘chandra’ implies a sphere. So 'Soma Chandra' is the ball of soma – what we refer to as the moon. The ripeness of Soma Chandra, depends on when it’s full. So when it is 5 days from full, it’s semi-ripe, and when its full its completely ripe. And then the day after full moon and so on, when it begins to deflate like a balloon, there is still soma there, but it begins to lose its ripeness.
Laura: What is the relationship of Soma Chandra’s ripeness to our individuality?
Thom: In the Vedic worldview everything that’s ‘out there’ is actually ‘in here’ (pointing inside himself). Everything that is in the outside world is actually an element of your own consciousness. So we don’t think of the moon as being solely ‘out there’… and it’s not that it isn’t ‘out there’ it’s just that everything ‘out there’ is also ‘in here’. Everything ‘out there’ is a model in your own consciousness. And in the Vedic worldview, Soma Chandra is a consciousness archetype conceived of as an afeminate man.
Laura: So in the Vedic worldview, the moon is masculine but with feminine qualities?
Thom: Yes, Soma Chandra is definitely a man but with a feminine softness. And Soma Chandra’s object of devotion is Surya (the Sun). Soma worships Surya. The moon worships the sun. When the Earth has turned away from Surya, and the moon is out, then Soma Chandra has the effect of cooling. Soma Chandra is radiant but it’s cool and reflective. It’s not self-effulgent like Surya who produces its own light. The moon reflects the sun. But what it does as sun bounces off moon, is that it modifies the pitta (heating) and rajasic (agitating) qualities of Surya. So Soma Chandra is a great balancer.
Laura: The moon is also associated with fertility. Can you speak a little about that?
Thom: In the West, we’re about to have Easter. And when is Easter? It’s the first Sunday after the 4th full moon of the year. And that’s why Easter Sunday is a different date each year as it goes by the lunar calendar. This is left over from the days prior to Roman Catholicism and the Christian taking over of all the traditions.
Easter comes from the word ‘oestrus’ (or estrous), which in Latin means egg or fertility. So that gives us a hint that in the pagan civilisations prior to the attempt to eliminate all other intelligences in the universe except ‘the one’, that Soma Chandra was worshipped.
The ‘oestrus’, meaning the time of reproduction, the full moon of fertility, occurs on the 4th full moon after the solstice. The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere or the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere is around the 20-21st December. Then you count 4 full moons from there and you have Oestrus or Easter.
That’s why there’s chocolate eggs and bunnies… what do the bunnies have to do with it? The bunnies reproduce like rabbits (laughs) they are the master reproducers.
Laura: I see that oestrus is also where we get our word oestrogen. So Easter is the most powerful time of the year for ovulation?
Thom: Exactly. But only in the northern hemisphere where it’s spring – that means Easter time in April for the northern hemisphere… but we’re yet to create an Easter in spring for the southern hemisphere. So in the southern hemisphere the most powerful time for ovulation would be the 4th full moon after the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice, which is around June 20-21st.
So that perfectly round egg of full moon is a way of gauging how attuned to natural law a woman’s body is. A lunar cycle is about 28 days and the feminine human ovulation cycle is also about 28 days. So then dark of moon or ‘new moon’, where that particular gateway of soma is minimised, is Shiva time. You can see the crescent moon is Shiva’s hair. That’s the time of the ‘removal of irrelevancy’. In a woman’s body that means the uterine lining is expelled and we call it menstruation. And out with it goes whatever last months egg was. So then the ‘egg count down’ is on.
A woman when she is born, as a fetus even, has an egg count. And every time she has her period, if she isn’t pregnant then one of those eggs goes out. So then women’s bodies grieve during ‘menses’ (menstruation), which by the way also means the moon. Menses is the Shiva time when no pregnancy has occurred and the woman’s body is reassessing itself as to the relevance of the whole phenomenology of fertility and reproduction. Moodiness coming up to that point of menses, and tiredness or fatigue at that time also has to do with a faint and subtle realisation that ‘I didn’t get pregnant this month’. And every cell of a woman’s body is geared for making babies. Even in women who have decided not to do that, which is all right too, none the less the body is the body and it does this thing every month and every woman’s body releases eggs.
Laura: What does Ayurveda say about this?
Thom: In Ayurveda, one of the ways of gauging health, is not to try and get ovulation to occur at the time of full moon, that’s not what this is. That would be like saying ‘I need a couch that is 5 feet wide, so I’m going to get a ruler and I’m going to cut the couch down to make it fit.’ That’s not it. It’s just that the ruler is a ruler. It’s a measuring device. So as all the various practices of natural law are being engaged in, then according to Charaka, from the ‘Charaka Samhita’, the Ayurvedic text of the pre-eminent master of Ayurveda, one of the ways you can tell that balance is occurring is that ovulation is beginning to happen around or about the same time as full moon. And if it’s exactly on, then that will mean menses is happening in the dark of moon or new moon.
Laura: Are there ways to help balance the menses cycle? To move into greater flow with nature?
Thom: Just keep meditating, adjusting your thinking, correcting your intellect, and anything else that helps the process along physiologically. Then one of the ways you would measure the effectiveness of everything your doing is to see if ovulation is beginning to move into alignment of full moon time.
This is not just the Vedic culture by the way. All over the world, full moon was considered to be a powerful time for fertility. During the times of the Celts in ancient England, the women would warn each other to take care during the full moon as it’s the time when you could conceive. Fascinating.
And it’s interesting, if you have large groups of women together, they start menstruating and ovulating at the same time, and then the entire group starts moving towards the moon phases.
Laura: So if you’re not in alignment, or in the complete opposite cycle…
Thom: This is not a sign of negativity, but simply a sign of purification. If ones cycle is different to the moons cycle it would indicate purification. It’s like in meditation when we say think the mantra softly, the mind transcends and it’s all beautiful and charming. But then there’s this whole other experience we describe which is you were thinking the mantra, the mind transcends, then it starts thinking about all the emails you have to reply to…
Laura: Or cheese sandwiches…
Thom: Yes thinking about cheese sandwiches or repeating meaningless songs over and over… What’s that? Is that unnatural? Of course not. It’s stress release and it’s very natural. We go to great pains to tell our students that this is a natural part of the meditation process. So likewise, being off the moon cycle can also be natural. It simply indicates that purification is dominating.
Laura: It’s kind of like trying to untangle a knotted necklace… sometimes in the process of untying the knots, the necklace looks more of a mess then when you first started!
Thom: Yep. Sometimes, as a thing is being disentangled, it can look like it’s being tangled. But it’s natural. All the moon really does in regards to women’s fertility and menstruation cycles is that it gives you some kind of measuring rod, of what ‘phase’ you’re in. Are you in a phase of purification? In which case you’re not going to be in fertility alignment of full moon. Or are you in a phase where you are no longer in purification mode, you are in balance mode? Then you may be syncing up with the moon phases.
But then in everything, like riding a bicycle, if I were to ride straight across a field, remaining straight up and down, 90 degrees to the Earth, if I want to turn, I have to throw myself off balance, and when I do it causes the bicycle to turn. And this is completely functional. The question is, can you maintain balance while you are at an angle to the Earth other than 90 degrees?
So the full moon and your ovulation together, think of that as 90 degrees. And it gives you an idea of where the body has its verticality and horizontality in balance, and it’s not doing anything angular to that. There’s no particular reason for it to be doing anything angular in that moment. But the great beauty of the human physiology and our relationship with the totality of nature, because we have nature inside of us, is that we can intentionally go off balance in order to effect a particular change. Provided we are capable of going back into balance again.
Laura: So it’s all about balance in this process of purification…
Thom: Think about it. If you spend all your time leaning hard to the left on your bicycle, then you’re going around in circles and it becomes dysfunctional. But if you can’t lean to the left or right, you can only stay straight all the time, then that is also dysfunctional. Because as in life, roads change, and move and bend around mountains and things. So someone who’s body is perpetually on the moon cycle, with fertility happening at full moon, that would be a kind of bizarre life too. Because once again it’s an attempt at perfection, and perfection in the relative world always attracts destruction. The only one perfect thing is your capacity to throw yourself off balance, and then regain balance again. That’s what perfection is. Balance is perfection. Straight up and down isn’t.
Read Part 2 of the interview here.