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  • Mari Garcia

The Ancient Moon

Updated: Jan 15

As the most prominent celestial body visible to the naked eye, the Moon has played an integral part in our customs, traditions, folk-lore, religious and social practices for most of humanity’s existence. The Moon’s phases are defined by her relationship to the Sun and with her movement around the Earth and the different aspects she forms to the Sun lights up different sides of the Moon as it orbits around Earth. This is the fraction of the Moon from which we see reflected sunlight that determines the lunar phase.


The Moon’s importance in everyday activities such as farming, navigation and understanding the human body has been documented in many forms from the cave etchings of the Paleolithic era to the scientific and medical treatises today. Because sources of light are indicative of power, celestial objects were assigned a divine character. They become gods whose behavior bears watching because they are either a power source that affects things on Earth or they signal what’s taking place on Earth.

The Moon’s movement and dramatic changes in shape and light have been used as an indicator of not only time but also of human cycles.


Moon’s monthly transformation has long been equated with the female fertility cycle because the lengths of time are about the same. The number of Full Moons was also an indicator of the passage of time. Even today, an infant under the age of three years is often referred to in the number of month since birth i.e. fourteen months, twenty months, etc.


The Sun and the Moon were the first time keepers in most societies. The lunar calendar, which begins with the New Moon of every one of the 12-13 months per solar year, is still in use in Arabic and Jewish societies and households. In these calendars, the difference between the number of days in solar years and in the lunar months results in a seasonal shift of the months after a short period: this is corrected in soli-lunar calendars, which adjust the lunar calendar to the solar one by adding intercalary or extra days.


The Lunar Cycle


The lunar phase cycle (from New Moon to New Moon) is 29.5 days and is considered a symbol of growth and a metaphor of life’s different stages: from the planting of the seed at the New Moon, to the harvest at the Full Moon and then ultimately decay and death at the Balsamic or Dark Moon.

In Greek mythology, the Moon goddess was referred to by different names according to which phase was being considered. The Waxing Crescent was called Diana and she symbolised inception, expansion, the promise of new beginnings, birth, and youthful innocence. The Full Moon was known as Selene the personification of ripeness, fertility, sexuality, fulfilment, stability, power and life itself. Finally, the Waning Crescent was Hecate a goddess, whose image was that of the crone or old woman who embodied wisdom, repose, death, and endings. These representations have been enshrined in many religious and social rituals.


In the Torres Strait islands off the northern coast of Australia, lunar phases are linked to fishing. Elders teach that the best time to fish is during a neap tide during the First or Last Quarter Moon, rather than a spring tide during the New or Full Moon phase. The spring tides are much bigger, meaning the tidal waters rush in and out more significantly, stirring up silt and sediment on the sea floor. This clouds the water, making it harder for fish to see the bait and fishers to see the fish. The waters of spring tides also pull fish out to sea. During the smaller neap tides, the water is clearer and fish don’t move as far, making them easier to see and catch.


The New Moon


In Hindu culture, on the night of Amavasya, the New Moon marks the night of the autumn celebration of Divali, the victory of light over darkness. Amavasya is a no-Moon day where the Moon is invisible and plays a significant role in the Hindu calendar. The literal meaning of Amavasya is made up of two words, i.e. 'Ama' means together and 'Vasya' means to reside. It is the time of power and people offer to fast to the Sun and Moon God.


In Judaism the first sighting of the waxing Crescent heralds the beginning of a New Jewish month. In the Judaic liturgy the importance of the Moon’s waxing and waning is used as a metaphor for an individual or a group’s strength which is not static as there are times when nations and people are strong and times when they are weaker. The New Moon is celebrated with a prayer known as the Kiddush Levanah, or Sanctification of the Moon.


Like Judaism, Islam also uses the first sighting of the waxing Crescent as the start of a New Islamic month. It is also used as the main indicator for the month of Ramadan which is celebrated on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.


Chinese New Year, which is the Spring Festival in China, is based on the lunar/solar calendar, rather than the Western (Gregorian) calendar. In most cases, it falls on the second New Moon after the winter solstice, usually anywhere between the end of January and the middle of February. Chinese New Year celebrates the Spring Festival, the oldest and most important festival in China, and for Chinese communities the world over, it is about honouring the return of life to the earth. On the fifteenth day, the first Full Moon of the year appears and heralds the Lantern Festival, celebrated with parades, dances and lanterns symbolizing light, sight and fruitfulness.


The Full Moon


The Full Moon is round and completely illuminated. It represents completion, the height of power, the realization of desires and the peak of clarity. It is a time to celebrate growth, to take note of what progress has been made and to reflect on what is to come.


In the ancient world and in modern cultural traditions, the appearance of the Full Moon marks important religious and civic festivals which celebrate realisation, fruition and accomplishment. A symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion, Full Moons are often aligned to agricultural times. The Full Moon on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar marks the Moon Festival also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival. The round shape symbolizes family reunion as well as fruitfulness and celebration.


In Hindu tradition, the Full Moon day is called ‘Purnima‘ and promises prosperity and happiness. It is celebrated with a strict fast from sunrise to sunset and praying to the presiding deity, Lord Vishnu. After a day of fasting, prayer and reflection, adherents take a dip in the river and consume some light food at dusk.


The Moon dance is an ancient indigenous practice of Native Americans that comes in addition to the Sun dance. Both dances involve the gathering of a community with a focus on prayer and dance for the sake of healing.


In Astrology, the New or Full Moon before birth was an important point to take into account in several techniques which include the length of life, the time of conception as well as in determining the “noddings”. The time of conception was considered important in the past as this was one way of determining paternity. This pre-natal lunation was another important factor too in determining the almuten, or ruler of the chart as well as a testimony as to a native’s fortune. Valens tells us:


If the sign of the new or full moon or the ruler of this sign happens to be in the Ascendant or at MC, the native will be fortunate.[1]


Light and Darkness


The Sun and the Moon have always been seen as the ultimate symbols of partnership and polarity: one ruling the day, the other the night; one shedding light, the other reflecting light; one hot and dry, the other cold and wet. One symbolising the mind, the other the emotions; one masculine, the other feminine. The phases of the Moon are the result of the Moon’s relationship to the Sun as they travel around their designated courses and this reflects, both physically and metaphorically, their celestial partnership.


This partnership is mirrored in many ways especially in the understanding of the human body, its functions, its diseases and healing. The achievement of balance between the qualities which are inherent in the Sun – Hot and Dry, and in the Moon – Cold and Wet are the focus of traditional medicine. It is believed that the upset of this delicate balance in the human body is often the cause of illness.


Additionally, the left and right sides of the body are regarded as governed by the Moon and the Sun respectively. The internal vision of the Sun and Moon has a vital role to play in ensuring the balance of the cool wisdom of the Moon and fiery energy of the Sun.


Ancient Egyptian lore attributed the right eye as representing the Sun and was called the Eye of Ra while the left represented the Moon and was known as the Eye of Horus, associated with the Moon god, Thoth. This made its way into astrological tradition and its application in the different branches of astrology especially medical astrology.


Firmicus Maternus, Dorotheus, Valens and other astrologers of the Hellenistic and Arabic era placed significant emphasis on the Moon, her placement, condition and aspects. As the fastest moving celestial body, the Moon touches all points and planets in a nativity or inception within one lunar month. Her ‘translation’ from one planet to another was said to be the vehicle by which energy was transmitted. It is also used especially in Horary astrology to describe what would come to pass and the renowned English Horary astrologer, William Lily in his book, Christian Astrology tells the reader to:


“Have special regard to the strength and debility of the Moon and it’s far better the Lord of the ascendant be unfortunate than she, for she brings to us the strength and virtue of all the other Planets, of one Planet to another.” [2]


Astrology, Folklore and Science


Folklore has long revolved around the considerations of weather patterns which are often stronger and more prominent around the New and Full Moons. The idea that weather changes are more likely to occur around the Full and New Moons is increasingly supported by science, with some studies recording rain following the Full and New Moons.


There are other ways that astrology, folklore and science meet around the Full Moon. The Moon’s cycle has long been associated with the waxing and waning of women’s menstrual cycles (on average, both last 28 days), fertility and pregnancy. Some scientific investigations have noticed a similar correlation. It is said that more births are recorded after the Full Moon’s peak rather than at its wane, as if the swollen lunar belly tugs at the womb, drawing its life outwards like the ocean’s tide; while the onset of menstrual bleeding more commonly falls after the Moon’s peak.

Astrological texts such as those of Vettius Valens, Hermes Trismegistus, Dorotheus and Firmicus Maternus tell us to consider the position of the Moon not only in the birth chart but also in the days after birth to determine how the native is nourished and whether the natives flourishes. This is supported in the biology of childbirth: straight after birth a child is put immediately to the breast, but at this stage, it is only Colostrum[3] that is expressed from the mother’s breast. A woman's milk does not usually eventuate until the third day after birth. And so, the Moon on the third day after birth will say something about the nourishment [or lack of it] for the child.


The Moon and her position and condition were also used to determine the position, fortune and future of the Mother. In today’s modern astrological applications, the Moon still plays an important part as the signifier both of Mother and the native’s emotional and physical health.


The influence of the Moon on psychology and human behaviour was prevalent long before modern investigations began to notice the seeming accuracy of the correlation. In the English language, the words “lunacy” and “lunatic” derive from the word “lunar” and the 1842 Lunacy Act[4] defined a “Lunatic” as “a demented person enjoying lucid intervals during the first two phases of the Moon and afflicted with a period of fatuity in the period following after the Full Moon.” The Moon’s tug seems to throw things out of balance; the earth is out of alignment and as such the minds and bodies of its creatures are affected by the ebb and flow of their tidal energies. Some studies have also noted that incidents of violence and murder peak at the Full Moon.


The Moon and Life on Earth

There are three main ways in which the Moon impacts life on Earth:


· Time - many animals, particularly birds, rely on the Moon for migration and navigation. Other animals will time their reproduction to coincide with the specific phases of the lunar cycle.

· Tides – the world’s oceans and seas are governed by the tides which in turn help determine the life cycles of many marine plants and animals such as oysters, turtles and crabs, to name a few.

· Light - the fluctuating light levels reflected by the Moon also affect life on Earth. In Africa, the dung beetle uses the polarisation pattern of Moonlight and the way it scatters through the atmosphere to navigate in a straight line. Recent studies put dung beetles under non-polarising light in a laboratory and scientists found that they travelled in circles. Nocturnal species dependent on Moonlight are in trouble as growing light pollution all over the world is obscuring the amount of Moonlight that is filtering through. As a consequence, some of these species may become extinct.


We have seen how Astrological, scientific and metaphysical texts and references have, across ages and cultures, emphasized the importance and influence of the Moon and her phases. In modern astrological practice, it is important to keep these things in mind because the Moon continues her influence in our lives and is an essential determinant and significator in astrological considerations.

 

NOTES:

[1] Vettius Valens – Anthologies Book II, Riley trans., p.38

[2] Lilly, William Christian Astrology. “Aphorisms and Considerations for better judging any Horary Question.” (298-302). Aphorism 5

[3] Colostrum is produced by the mother during pregnancy and continuing through the early days of breastfeeding. This special milk is yellow to orange in color and thick and sticky. It is low in fat, and high in carbohydrates, protein, and antibodies to help keep the infant healthy. It is extremely easy to digest, and is therefore the perfect first food for the infant. It is low in volume (measurable in teaspoons rather than ounces), but high in concentrated nutrition for the Newborn. As breastfeeding continues, mature milk is produced around the third or fourth day after birth.

[4] In England the Lunacy/Lunatics Act 1845 had a most important provision: it was the change in the status of mentally ill people from criminals to patients.

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