Lunar lore

The recent death of Neil Armstrong has reminded us of one of the most important landmarks of the last century: the moment when humans finally walked on the Moon and looked up at the Earth. I say finally as this scene was imagined for centuries before it eventually happened, making the 1969 landing an event saturated with inevitability. Cyrano de Bergerac penned a novel about a man venturing to the Moon and encountering a society eschewing political and religious doctrine; the work was published two years after his death in 1657 and marks the birth of modern science-fiction, a very French genre from the outset. Who can forget the iconic image of humans landing on the Moon in Georges Méliès’s 1902 movie Voyage dans la lune, whose spectacular special effects are still remarkable? The topic of science-fiction is very much on my mind as I am currently preparing a new graduate seminar on French science-fiction and fantasy to be taught next year. It is striking that much science-fiction has historically functioned as a means of criticizing the author’s society by comparison, though in recent years, most science-fiction films seem to be have been distinctly and predictably dystopian.


We might be forgiven for thinking that the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the lunar surface on 20 July 1969 was a scientific achievement. It was nothing of the sort or we would have landed on Mars before now. It was rather a battle in the wider context of the Cold War and the US had been determined to beat the Soviet Union in the race to have a manned craft land on the Moon. The Soviets had, at first, led the space race, having the first (unmanned) craft crash land on the Moon in 1959 and then the first manned spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, but enormous efforts and money was devoted in the build-up to the 1969 journey. The achievements of all previous records were completely eclipsed -pun intended- by Neil Armstrong’s tentative steps on the surface of Earth’s satellite.


The consequences of the US landing on the Moon first have been enormous and far-reaching. It dealt a brutal, visual, and stunning psychological blow to the USSR. Space had not been conquered by the Soviets after all, despite promising beginnings, and the West had beaten them at a game they had initially made their own. It could be argued that this devastating spatial defeat, and almost everyone across the world saw the images of the US flag being planted by the astronauts on the Moon, ultimately led to the collapse of Soviet Communism almost two decades later. It resulted in widespread disillusionment with what the USSR could ultimately achieve and the young generation that was old enough to see the tremendous import of the lunar landings was the same one that was of age when the Soviet system was dismantled.

That the lunar landings never really occurred and were fabricated is one of the widest-held conspiracy theories. It even spawned a movie in 1977, Capricorn One, moving the action to a Mars landing. Conspiracy theories are generally very convincing to a point, until they reach a threshold which is nothing other than the point of no return, and where logic, reason, and common sense give way to fanciful theories that sometimes verge on lunacy. As Damian Thompson points out in his 2008 book Counterknowledge, an incisive and concise read, the Internet has been conspiracy theorists’ best friend for not only can they disseminate their outlandish propositions to a wide audience but, more crucially, they can also find validation for their minority-report views. All of this might be risible were it not for the fact that, for example, according to a BBC poll conducted in 2011, a quarter of young Britons believe that the 9/11 atrocities were carried out by the American government, a very disturbing statistic indeed.

Modern conspiracy theorists have nothing on one of the subjects of the book I’m writing, a French Jesuit priest called Jean Hardouin (1646-1729). This cleric and incredibly erudite scholar formulated a vast, complicated, and sustained theory that most classical texts, pagan and Christian, were thirteenth-century forgeries by a group of Benedictine monks who also forged texts referring to the original counterfeit texts. He first aired his theory when he was 50 years old and an established, respected intellectual and spent the rest of his life developing the grand thesis, finding that one particular monk, the ringleader, had purposely left clues for a future figure like Hardouin to find. Hardouin largely escaped censure and imprisonment for his opinions which, after all, undermined the entire basis of the legitimacy of Church and State, because he was deemed to be an eccentric. People who are seen to be eccentrics are widely viewed as harmless, quirky folk, and they consequently get away with some marginal views and behaviours. My study will delve into this, exploring how some individuals assume a mask of eccentricity as a smokescreen to express subversive opinions.

There are many affinities between the Moon’s cycles and weird behaviour, thus the term lunacy. It was Aristotle who first recorded the view that the Moon could affect people’s minds, since the brain is largely composed of water. I have been told by several people working in the medical profession that ERs are always busier during the two or three days of a full Moon. For a brief period during the 1960s, the Moon became the focus of a political struggle instead.


Today’s cufflinks are fashioned out of sterling-silver cufflinks by the Danish designer Hermann Siersbøl, whose work has been the subject of two previous blog posts. They feature his trademark style of organic texture and the oxidization has worked a treat on this pair. While they’re undated, I think that it is more than likely that they date from 1965 to 1969 because of their unambiguously lunar texture. The obsession for the West to win the race to land on the Moon penetrated far and wide, even, as we see here, to small items of jewellery.


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