The Moon & Lunar Cycles
Last month I explored the function of the sabbats in attuning oneself with the rhythms of nature with the solar cycle. This month I will turn to the moon and the significance of its phases. This luminous body both mystifies and haunts us in the inky darkness of the night sky. When full it gleams as a brilliant silvery-white orb which dwarfs even the brightest star to seeming insignificance. Month after month it comes and goes from our perspective, growing to full and once again waning back to darkness. Yet it always returns as does the sun, and for that reason becomes another powerful symbol of immortality and rebirth. The sun is vital to life and makes sustenance possible, but it cannot be there to light the way for us in the night and the darkest of times. That is when we call to our closest companion of all the celestial bodies – the moon.
The moon orbits our planet hundreds of thousands of kilometers away. It is sometimes mistakenly said to be about a quarter of the size of earth when in fact its diameter is about a quarter that of earth’s. In terms of comparing two spheres the moon is much smaller than our planet. We can usually only see it during the night when the sun isn’t overwhelming our view. The moon does not produce its own light, but instead reflects the sunlight it receives. The relative positions of the sun, moon and earth are what determine the amount of the moon’s surface that is visible to us, thus creating what we refer to as the “phases” of the moon. For instance, when the bodies are aligned in the order sun-moon-earth we experience the new or dark moon. This is because at night we are facing away from the sun and the moon does not appear anywhere in our sky. When the alignment is sun-earth-moon we likewise see the full moon. Waxing and waning phases are the transitions between these alignments as the moon rotates around the earth. Sometimes when the alignment is just right we get what is called an eclipse, when one of the bodies blocks the light from the sun in a temporary but awe-inspiring phenomenon of nature.
Those in the Craft honor the cycles of the moon in several ways. Just as the eight sabbats mark the solar year and aid us in attuning with the sun, the celebration of what is termed the esbat brings us into alignment with lunar forces. Esbat traditions vary from group to group and even from individual to individual. In a lot of ways it is mostly what you make of it. Many witches choose to do magical workings, spells, and matters of practical concern. Others hold a special ritual to mark the occasion. Most select the full moon as the point of the esbat but there is no rule that says it can’t be held at the new moon or even multiple moon phases instead. Whether focused on magic or simple observance, the purpose of the esbat is attunement with natural cycles via the moon.
The moon completes a full revolution every 29.5 days and therefore esbats are typically monthly affairs. This is a natural connection for women whose own monthly cycles mimic this pattern. Indeed, women in particular are frequently able to harness lunar energy and use it to great effect. The period from new moon to full is referred to as the waxing phase, and is associated with increase and growth. The waning phase is from full to new and is used for decrease or banishing of negative influences. Both the full and new moon are times of great power and are culminations of the energies leading up to them. To be in tune with the moon is to know at any one moment what the current phase and energies are. Observing and learning the moon’s phases is one of the easiest and most immediate ways to connect with nature. It is also interesting to note that when trying to begin a new habit or replace an old one people frequently recommend maintaining the activity for about one full moon cycle for the habit to take root. Lunar cycles and humanity share an intimate connection with deep roots in our psyche. As the tides rise and fall from the pull of the moon’s gravity, so do our spirits feel the allure of our silent companion, and sit enchanted beneath its pale light.
Journal for the Month of February:
As I write this the new moon has arrived, and it’s time for me to commit to new goals and eliminate useless clutter and stress. I personally love observing the moon; maybe it’s leftover from picking out constellations in the night sky as a child. There is something absolutely mesmerizing about it, and for me it has been much easier to connect with lunar cycles than solar ones. I think that’s partially also because a year is so much longer and a day is just too quick. A moon cycle is the perfect length of time to plan things, work on them, and bring positive change to any area of life. For me this month it’s going to be getting on that pre-spring cleaning that so desperately needs to be done!
In this column and the last you may notice that I haven’t really delved into God or Goddess associations with the sun and moon in much depth (or at all). Deity is such a broad and personal subject that I would rather save that for its own separate entry to give it justice. These past couple of months I have been giving so much thought and meditation to what God/dess means to me. I expect it will take me a lifetime to come up with any true answers, but I refuse to take it at face value and leave it at that. The symbols and correspondences we work with point to deeper meanings that cannot be understood by grazing the surface. Nor can they be understood using only the intellect. I think that all of us who began a spiritual journey started it in order to come to more than just book knowledge – we want to experience deity. We want to awaken the deepest levels of our consciousness and feel something. Union with the divine. Realizing our higher selves. God. Goddess. What that something is we find hard to define in words, but we seek it nonetheless. I am only taking the first steps in that journey, but I hope that one day it will come together. And I hope that we may all find that which we seek.
Until next month, blessed be! )O(