The Moon and I: A Look at Cultural Celebration

The Moon and I: A Look at Cultural Celebration


The Moon and I: A Look at Cultural Celebration


This blog first appeared on the Gondwana Ecotours Blog.


Thailand's Lantern Festival


Celebrating the Moon

While visiting a friend in Ireland this summer, I had the luck of being at her home on August 10th. On this auspicious day, I had the good fortune of witnessing a “Supermoon”, a wonderful natural phenomenon that is maybe only slightly less amazing than the name, “Supermoon”, itself. However, it is still a highly noteworthy instance of the Moon’s elliptical orbit bearing it closer than usual to the earth, causing it to appear larger than normal. (The scientific name is perigee-syzygy, which is still pretty neat). She, a devout practitioner of Yoga and generally-inclined to explore spiritual/natural phenomenon, set aside a portion of the evening for reflect on, and bathe in the light of the Moon.


Lunar Eclipse


So this got me thinking about the Moon, always hanging up in the sky, subtly (or some might argue, not so subtly) affecting our lives. In order to ascribe some meaning to this celestial icon of femininity, I undertook an exploration of lunar psychology, beliefs, and rituals from around the world. While thousands of forms of worship and connection to the Moon have come and gone, many are still with us today.

The earliest documentable reference to the Moon may come from Ireland about 5,000 years ago. Here, the site of Newgrange was built, a massive stone structure with a chamber that becomes flooded with light only on the Winter Solstice, the period when night is longest. Before adopting the solar calendar that we use today, (which bases time and date off of our position relative to the sun) the Moon was the basis for the measurement of time and creation of calendars. In fact, the word “Moon” may have its origin in the word “month”, as well as the word “Monday”. It becomes quite clear as one takes a cursory glance at history that the Moon is kind of a big deal. Even today, the Islamic calendar is still based around the lunar model.

In the realm of astrology, the Moon is given great importance. Astrology, while today we might associate it with horoscopes, tarot, and crystals, is a system of belief that has been used in Chinese, Indian and many other cultures for over 4,000 years. At its simplest, Astrology is a system that describes the relationship between astronomical phenomena and physical events. And, if you subscribe to the Buddhist belief that everything is interconnected, it’s not such a great leap to believe that massive celestial objects could subtly affect our lives. Within this system, The Moon is a hugely important icon with respect to feminine energy, and a trove of other traits related to the unconscious mind.

Representing our basic habits, reactions, and our dreams, it’s no wonder the Moon has been written about so frequently with regard to magic, mystery, and the unknown. Such subconscious connotations are at the root of the word “lunar”, which shares the same origin as the words “lunatic” or “lunacy”. Though disputed by the scientific community, claims always crop up of crimes and strange events taking place more frequently near a full Moon. Throughout this Astronomical belief system, we see the Moon symbolize the feminine side of a dualistic picture, with the sun playing the opposite role, effecting masculine energy.

The Moon, and human relationship to it, long predate the more common ideologies of the west. From ancient Greece to the Aztec Empire to modern day India, nearly every culture has found meaning in Earth’s only satellite.

Of course, given the nature of many Pagan belief systems, which share a truth that the natural world is holy and connection to it is a most sacred goal, there are countless Pagan-based systems that draw inspiration from the cosmos. Nearly every Pagan culture had a different name for the Moon, but curiously, almost universally regarding her as female. Many of those practices have splintered over the centuries, yet are present in modern life, nonetheless.


Ireland's Gaelic Imbolc Festival


The Winter Solstice is an example of Moon-related practice that dates back over 5,000 years, as we saw, to Newgrange in Ireland. The Winter Solstice occurs in later December (quite close to the birth of a well-known religious icon of the Christian faith), and represents rebirth, with special connotation to growing food and fertility. Since this Moon-filled night marks the occasion of the return on the Sun, the Winter Solstice, in the light of the Moon, was a time to begin tilling fields and planting seeds for new life to be born.

In a Siberian tradition, the Winter Solstice is a sacred moment of the year as well. On the night of the Solstice, trees, which are seen as a sacred bridge between heaven and earth, are adorned with ribbons containing wishes, prayers, and dreams. As the community of people watches the tree grow over time, it becomes a symbol of their prayers, carrying them skyward to be realized.

The Moon’s waxing and waning certainly has a level of influence on our daily lives that is undeniable. The moon’s presence and position affects the position and motions the oceans, causing the ebb and flow of the tides. Surely it is no great stretch of imagination then, that if the Moon can have such a measurable effect on the ocean, it could easily effect the bodies of humans that are 60% water. (assuming we’ve had our 8 glasses that day).

Given the impenetrable, constantly-occurring, and yet totally unfathomable mystery of human life, the Moon’s role is particularly profound for women with respect to their monthly cycles. Birth, maturation, death and rebirth occur each month in the sky, which many pagan-based beliefs can read as a mirror for the cyclical nature of life, as well as the menstrual cycle.

Many pagan rituals hinge on the full-Moon being viewed as a beginning to something new, or a point of departure. Thus, many practices take place on the full-Moon that invite new beginnings through the discarding of symbolic objects or regrets, and the Moon takes on a nurturing role of a guide through this period of change.

Tsukimi, literally “Moon viewing”, is a Japanese festival honoring the autumn moon. The origins have their roots in the 8th century when people would gather under the Harvest Moon with offerings of seasonal food and recite poetry. Often, prayers would be said to yield a generous harvest under the moon, again pointing to the moon as a symbol of fertility and birth.

In Chinese culture, on the thirty-day anniversary of the birth of a child, or the “Full-Moon”, gifts are brought as blessings to the new life in the world. Commonly, a red-egg is brought as a gift, which is a symbol of happiness and health.

The Full-Moon has ceremonial association in almost any country. Bali has “Purnama”, a full-moon ceremony said to calm the mind, cool hot tempers, and prepare us to receive gentle and calming energies. In Nepal, one of the biggest festivals of the year is the two-week festival of Dashain, devoted to worship of the Goddess Mother, with an emphasis on family and community, culminates on a Full Moon.

These traditions and rituals intended to honor the moon only hint at the depth which our psyche and lives are linked to the Moon. Celebrations of New Moons, Lunar Eclipses, Harvest Moons, and Blue Moons have occurred in countless civilizations throughout time, and no doubt will continue to do so into the future.

As you find yourself wandering the streets of Cairo, swimming through star-lit pools of Mexico, or sitting in your apartment in Oklahoma, there is a world of culture, mystery, spirit, and beauty gently resting in the sky. There is something to be said of the poetry of ever-sleeping Moon. Whether it is spoken inwardly, outwardly, though the emotions, or by scientific declaration, there is something pretty great going on out in space that can anchor us and enrich our lives.


Korea's Daeboreumnal Full Moon Festival


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