Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
Monastery of San Antonio de Padua
This depiction of Mary standing on a lunar crescent is one of them; and its roots extend beyond its presumed origin in a single phrase in Revelations.
Lunar energy, as I’ve explained before, represents our connection to sensation; that is, the way that the moon acts in concert with the earth in the same as the way that an active (living) sensation acts in conjunction with Being. Sensation is an anchoring force that, when present, provides an inner pendulum of regularity. It’s the vibrating organic thread upon which our inner Being is tuned.
Without connecting to this lunar energy, and developing a permanent connection with sensation, one can’t open to a reliable and consistent receiving of solar influences. One has to open to, and receive, lunar influences first.
The receiving of this lunar influence represents the birth of a new man, as Maurice Nichol would have put it. In Christianity, this is represented, traditionally, by the birth of Christ. Every human being, as Christ taught, has the potential to have this new Being born within them. That being is, like the birth of Christ Himself, directly mediated by the personage of the Virgin Mary.
Mary has a manifold symbolism in her role here:
First of all, She represents the mother; She who gives birth.
Second, She represents the feminine — the inner quality which receives. In this case, what is received is the lunar energies—a finer kind of inner energy, as are solar energies.
Third, Mary represents a personal intercessor. That is to say, it is possible to pray to the Virgin because Her personage, that is, Her realized being on the level above mankind, is planetary in nature. She serves as an intercessor in the receiving of the divine lunar energy.
Mary stands on the symbol of the lunar crescent to remind us of these several different aspects of Being. First of all, she has surmounted the lunar energy, that is, she stands above it. Second of all, as you can see from the fact that the lunar crescent cups her feet, it is a receiving of energy that takes place here — the moon, represented in the form of a cup, represents a downward flow of energy through Being, beginning with Mary and moving towards her feet, where it is “collected” by the moon.
This is an abstract representation of Gurdjieff’s explanation that organic life on earth feeds the moon. That, as well, has several different esoteric meanings—least of which is the apparently negative one which suggests mankind-at-large is “food” for the moon, and nothing more.
The location of the crescent moon is below Mary indicates that lunar energy, once received, has to grow deep down, literally form inner roots, and lay a foundation upon which further inner development is built.
Thus, as we look at this ancient and traditional image, we see a number of important cosmological, astrological, biological, and organic functionings gathered together into a single image. It comprehensively shows us the relationship between man, sensation, and Being, in terms of the lower level of Being — the "so below" of the traditional alchemical formula, "as above, so below." Here we see it illustrating the functional nature of energy exchange between earth and the moon in the solar system.
Students of Gurdjieff will remember that he said it’s not possible to develop a sensitivity to higher forces without developing a concurrent sensitivity to lower ones; and this symbol summarizes that teaching, in a traditional Christian context.
Here's another example of this image, this one from the Cloisters in New York City:
Virgin and Child on a Crescent Moon
Lime wood with paint and gilding
Austrian, South Tyrol, Brixen (present day Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige) ca, 1470
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.