Once we told time by the phases of the Moon and the cycles of the Sun and the Earth. We watched for signs in the land and in the animals that told us when to sow and when to harvest, when to prepare for winter and when to open the doors to spring. Of necessity, we lived in harmony with nature.
For most of human history, the seasons of nature have been the essence of the sacred. Our bodies still respond to the cycles of the Earth, and to the shorter cycles of the Moon. We are born with a natural wisdom that we have forgotten how to tap, a wisdom bred into us in blood and bone.
The calendar of moons expressed the mysteries of the Earth’s sacred cycles through mythology and through the tasks which belonged to each season of the year, and to each season of a person’s life. The stories are old, but somewhere, deep within, we remember.
THE DEATH MOON – Beginning and Ending
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Endings/New Starts, Death/Rebirth, Transformation/Stability, Change/Stagnation, Recognition/Ignorance of the mysteries of transition
Life arises from death. We find this in the renewal of the Earth when life “springs” again from the devastation of winter. Our life continues because we eat dead plants and animals. We bury our dead so that they may rot and release the substance of their bodies to new living things. The year begins with the Death Moon, the beginning and the end, which are the same, two sides of the same coin. The deaths in nature that characterize the Death Moon are caused by the waning of the Sun, whom we name Father even as we call both Earth and Moon, Mother. Now, in the midst of winter, animals hibernate, plants die back into dormancy, the world seems headed for an icy end. Each day, the light grows weaker, departs sooner, and warms us less.
THE BIRTH MOON – YULE (WINTER SOLSTICE) – Rebirth
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Beginnings/Completions, Birth/Statis, Hope/Despair, Creativity/Destruction
Into this frightening time comes the defining event of the Birth Moon, the winter solstice, the traditional festival called Yule or Midwinter. The sun stops (literal meaning of “solstice”) in its apparent southward travel and begins its journey north again, strengthening with every day. The Mother has given birth to the Son (Sun), the Divine Child whose coming is celebrated throughout the world at this time.
THE MILK OR NURSING MOON – IMBOLC – Renewal and Purification
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Recognition of Self/Others, Nurturing/Not nurturing, Generosity/Selfishness, Independence/Dependence
After the trauma of birth, the Mother is exhausted, but, as milk comes into the breasts of new mothers soon after birth, so in the Milk Moon (also called the Nursing Moon) does the Earth reflect the first faint signs that the Mother’s ability to nurture us will return as the Sun strengthens. Winter herbs and flowers poke their heads up and show green promise if we know where to look. The buds of trees begin to swell on warmer days, birds make mating sounds. Spring lambs are born. The traditional festival of Imbolc, the beginning of spring in the old calendar, comes in the Milk Moon. Imbolc is a festival of renewal and of purification for the coming revival of life. It is the day on which the Goddess, in Her phase as the aged Crone, visits the sacred well and comes away the Maiden.
THE FASTING OR WEANING MOON – Fasting
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Forbearance/Indulgence, Wise/Unwise Use of Resources, Spiritual Seeking/Contentment, Concern/Unconcern for Community Resources & Future, Recognition/Lack of Recognition of the Limits & Capacities of the Physical Self
The promise of new life heartens us, but we must still endure the bitter end of winter’s diminished resources. We come to the Fasting Moon (also called the Weaning Moon). Here the final stores from the fall harvest must be stretched until new green plants are available in sufficient quantity to collect and cook. The Mother is weaning Her children, preparing them to adapt to the changes and chances of the world. Humans fast so that today’s forbearance may assure that dwindling food stores and precious seed will last until planting time and the green renewal of spring.
THE SEED MOON – OSTARA (VERNAL EQUINOX) – Renewal
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Beginning/Procrastination, Commitment to Action/Inaction, Faith/Fear, Renewal/Exhaustion
The vernal equinox, called Ostara, is the defining event of the Seed Moon. The Earth is warming and many plants respond to the longer days. Seeds falled to earth in the autumn now awaken. Farmers sow their fields. All life “springs” forth in joyous renewal. In the mythological cycle, this is the moon during which the seed is planted in the Mother so that, nine months later, She may give birth again to the Father/Sun at the winter solstice. The light half of the year begins, the days are longer than the nights.
THE COURTING MOON – INTERCALARY (EVERY 2 – 3 YRS) – Holiday, Dalliance and Fun
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Moderation/Excess, The Ideal in Reality/Fantasy, Freedom in/Slavery to Time
Every two or three years, an intercalary moon must be inserted into the calendar to bring the named moons back on track with the solar season. This intercalary moon is called the Courting Moon. The name indicates that it is a “between” time, a time for dalliance and fun, a holiday between the sowing of the fields and the journeys of late spring and early summer.
THE MATING MOON – BELTANE – New Life
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Joining/Separating, Relationship/Isolation, Fruitfulness/Sterility, Acceptance/Non-Acceptance of Self & Others
The Mating Moon celebrates the resurgence of life and hope for the future. In the life of the Earth our Mother, plants send forth their pollen, animals mate or bring forth young, and, in the words of the poet, “young men’s fancies turn to thoughts of love”. As green plants and other fresh foods are reintroduced into winter diets of salt meat and stored grains, bodies respond to better nutrition and look beyond bare survival to the production of new lives. The Mother looks upon Her Son, now grown into manhood, and loves Him, and in Him, all Her creation. At the traditional feast of Beltane, the beginning of summer, the Goddess in Her Maiden phase unites in love with the God to bring forth the bounty of the new season. The Maiden metamorphoses into the Mother.
THE JOURNEY MOON – Exploration
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Love/Fear of the Unknown, Risk/Safety, Innovative/Traditional, Unorthodox/Conforming, Progress/Stagnation, Time/Eternity
Humans make plans to travel to fairs and other communities to find wives and husbands, to make alliances, to enhance their own ideas of the world by seeking the ideas of others. The Journey Moon occurs near the summer solstice, a soft time of the year. This moon has long days and an abundance of food for the year. Young men venture with the herds to summer pastures full of new grass, or explore the world to find salt licks or sources of rare plants and other materials. They prospect for new resources for their communities while they await the time for harvest.
THE MOTHER’S MOON – LITHA (SUMMER SOLSTICE) – Abundance
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Motherlove/Fatherlove (Unconditional/Conditional), Abundance/Scarcity, Relationship of Material/Spiritual Value, Hope/Manifestation, Security/Insecurity, Independence/Dependence
The summer solstice, called Litha or Midsummer in the traditional calendar, normally falls in the Mother’s Moon, the time of the greatest abundance of life and food in the entire year. The life-giving power of the Sun is at its greatest strength, and the Father pours His energy into the Earth. This moon expresses the Earth’s bounty to Her children, a cornucopia of giving that fulfils her aspect of Mother. The Mother’s Moon is closest in moon to the idyllic feeling we associate with childhood, when all our needs were provided for by our mothers and when we experienced unconditional love (motherlove).
THE FATHER’S MOON – LAMMAS – Boundaries, Limits, Sacrifice, Transformation
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Sacrifice & Transformation/Self-Indulgence & Stagnation, Fatherlove/Motherlove (Conditional/Unconditional Love), Knowledge of Limits/Unlimited Potential, Learning/Ignorance
The Father’s Moon takes a sombre turn, and we experience the message of fatherlove, that life has boundaries and limits, and that what we receive must be earned. The Sun still warms the Earth, but, since the solstice, He has turned again towards the south, and each day He shines less than he did the day before. Those who are wise see the coming autumn. The Father, whose energies have ripened the grain, now offers Himself for the good of his children. In His persona as John Barleycorn, He gladly sacrifices His life that His body, the grain, may be transformed into the bread that will sustain life until the next year, when the cycle begins again. The festival of Lammas, which celebrates both this sacrifice and the first harvest – grain – is normally in the Father’s Moon. This festival is specifically a celebration of the life-affirming transformation that follows willing sacrifice. It is the essence of the mystery that the Father, who dies with the grain, will return again in the spring from that dead grain. “All that falls shall rise again”. In the old calendar, Lammas is the beginning of Autumn.
THE NESTING MOON – Preparation
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Preparation/Unreadiness for Trial, Wise/Unwise Use of Resources, Focus on Now/The Future, Protection/Vulnerability, Concern for Others (Guardianship)/Self-Centeredness
Those who are prudent now prepare for the coming winter while the weather holds. The Nesting Moon is a time for building the nest and preparing the homestead for harsh weather ahead. Now is a time of planning for the coming winter. Humans prepare means to store food, re-plaster walls with insulating mud, and re-thatch roofs. They also assemble materials for work that can be done indoors during winter, such as reeds for baskets, fibres for spinning and weaving, and plant materials for dying the fibres or finished cloth.
THE HARVEST MOON – MABON (AUTUMN EQUINOX) – Gathering and Harvesting
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Gathering/Releasing, Endings/Beginnings, Responsibility/Irresponsibility for Actions, Fulfillment/Incompletion
Chilly mornings herald the coming of winter. It is time for the Harvest Moon. The full moon of this month is one of the most brilliant of the year because the moon rises above the horizon just after sunset. Traditionally, its name comes from the extra hours of light by which the harvests of the season may be gathered. All strive to bring everything useful under shelter for winter. The feast of Mabon – both Autumnal equinox and the second harvest, of fruit and wine – normally falls in this moon. The Father, as the Wine God, again sacrifices His life for His children in the fruit that nourishes and is the seed of new plants. The equinox is the start of the dark half of the year, when nights are longer than days. The Mother offers Her second harvest, another flourish of gifts, in the late-ripening foods, especially fruit and nuts, which put all their goodness into the future before succumbing to winter dormancy. The harvested seeds are food for next spring’s sprouts and the fat roots are stored strength for the plants, which will reawaken from them when life renews itself again. Perennial herbs are harvested for the final time this year. Grapes and other fruits ripen. It is time to make wine and cider, which will warm winter bellies as humans wait out the cold beside their hearths.
THE SORTING OR CULLING MOON – SAMHAIN – Deeper Thinking
Key Words & Polarity Challenges: Discrimination/Acceptance, Choice/Failure to Choose, Analysis/Synthesis, Specialisation/Generalisation, Free Will/ Fate, Order/Chaos
Finally, we come to the Sorting Moon (also called the Culling Moon). Humans set aside bruised fruit to eat now so that better fruit, which will store longer, can be saved for later. They cull the herds down to a number that can be sustained by the fodder and shelter that are available for overwintering. The slaughter of animals is the third and final harvest. The God, in his persona as the Horned One, Lord of the Beasts, sacrifices Himself for the last time in the third harvest. The feast of the dead, Samhain, normally occurs in the Sorting Moon and marks the beginning of winter in the old calendar. Its mood accords well with the Sorting Moon, as we look past the veil of life and consider the greater questions of why we are here and what we should do to fulfil the Mother’s desires.
Earth Time Moon Time – Rediscovering the Sacred Lunar Year – Annette Hinshaw – 1999 – Llewellyn Publications
CELTIC MOON NAMES & DATES (SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE) 2011 – 2019