I had the privilege of enjoying a blood moon of sorts last night.
I say “of sorts,” as a true blood moon occurs only during a lunar eclipse. What we have had instead are wildfires, which have thrown up enough smoke to give the moon an orangish-red color. They had powdered my back porch with ash when I stepped outside this morning, and even the sun was faint and dull in color.
The blood moon is a powerful symbol in astrology and in Christian mysticism. It is associated with werewolves and with the apocalypse. In October, they are associated with hunting and with the harvest. The moon itself is cyclical, and so the blood moon is a symbol of death and destruction, but also of renewal, of food, and of regeneration.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.
Wildfires themselves are not a good omen (to put it mildly), and perhaps many people might think of them as representative of what is going on in their country politically. People who once decried the lack of motivation and interest in politics on behalf of the lay citizen are now suddenly concerned by the increasing polarization of the parties. The cold has been replaced with heat.
A blood moon in such times might appear inauspicious. Some more radical Christians seem to think so.
However, the temperature, the anger, and even the violence, are not intrinsically bad. For someone worried that the greatest danger to America would be a Brave New World of apathy-inducing drugs and video-games, the political radicalization of the past 4-5 years should bring about a great sigh of relief. Blood is death, but it is also life.
Isn’t that a contradiction? Isn’t this just new-age nonsense?
It occurred to me that I might someday be accused of defining love in a similar kind of contradictory manner, in In Defense of Hatred, being both the source of compassion and empathy as well as of violence and cruelty. It may appear to violate the inviolable rule of identity. It may apear, in other words, to be a kind of contronym.
A contronym is a word which carries two definitions that are essentially opposite. To bolt may mean to make secure, or to run away; to cleave may mean to join together, or to separate (as may clipping); something that is fast moves quickly, but something which holds fast doesn’t move at all; and to table can mean to put something on, or to remove something from, the figurative discussion table.
One such word is sanguine. In modern parlance, it is often used as a synonym for “bloodthirsty.” In olden times, however, it referred primarily to someone who was exuberant, optimistic, buoyant, and generally vivacious… someone who was full of life, blood being the primary conveyor of energy.
As someone who has been acutely anemic at several points, I can attest to the usefulness of this understanding, but I had never seen the importance of it in quite as dramatic a fashion as I did this weekend, where I got to watch a dialysis machine in action.
The patient in question had enjoyed a 35-year run with a donated kidney, but it had finally failed, and she was back on the machine that did the job for her. It involved sticking two very large needles into her leg to create a flow through the cleansing and fluid-extracting machine. This process took about two and a half hours in total, and had to be completed five days a week. Two weeks without the process, and she would die.
I asked her if she felt any different, cognitively, physically, or emotionally, before versus after the process.
“No,” she said. “It’s basically the same.” She later added that the process of doing 24 hours worth of fluid management in 2 hours was an energy toll on the body, and that it was a little tiring.
But dialysis was also an energizing process, for the same reason (if not to the same degree) that breathing is a revitalizing process. Cleaner, more efficient blood brings oxygen to the body faster, and only 20 or 30 minutes after the dialysis was complete, she was up haranguing a painter for missing an eave of the house, albeit in her typically cheerful and bubbly manner. I can’t remember if she was singing to herself as she walked over to talk, but I think I remember her having done so. She often was in other cases.
In at least one sense of the word, she remained the sanguine woman she’d always been.
Bloodthirst and vivaciousness aren’t opposites. Different as they may appear, they’re both symptomatic of being filled with blood–of being sanguine. The opposite of sanguine isn’t another facet of lively enthusiasm, but exhaustion. Stagnancy, tiredness, stillness, all of these are symptoms of being anemic, the true antonym to the supposed contronym sanguine.
It is in this way that love is not a contronym when it is rightly defined in such a way that is compatible with deep and meaningful hatred. Fear is the antonym, as are the apathy and irony derived from that fear.
I don’t know if the blood moon and the wildfires are symbolic reminders of violence to come. Recent news seems to indicate that the domestic terrorists are losing support and ground. Perhaps the real bloodshed can be averted. We can always hope.
I don’t think this is likely. The support for Antifa and BLM have come from far more powerful figures: Soros, Google, Facebook, Silicon Valley in general, the Ivy League, think tanks and interest groups around the world. Those groups aren’t going away, and appear to even be winning. We’ve not yet begun to fight.
But warfare and life are not antonyms. Life is not a contronym, despite including death and conflict, though those who hate you might wish you to think so.
The sanguine choice we have presented before us is essentially Hamlet‘s question: to be, or not to be?
It is no coincidence that his immediate elaboration juxtaposes long-suffering endurance (“nobler in the mind,” at least) with combative overcoming. Between these two, it is obvious which path leads to being, and which leads to not being. It should also be obvious that the two definitions of sanguine are not opposed at all, but are both possible manifestations of the condition called life.
And for that, I’ll take the beauty of the sanguine blood-moon over the palid full moon any month, ominous foreshadowing and all.