“The moon, with its repeating cycles of waxing and waning, became a symbol to the ancients for the birth, growth, death, and renewal of all life forms. The lunar rhythm presented a creation (the new moon), followed by growth (to full moon) and a diminution and death (the three moonless nights, that is, the dark moon).” — Demetra George in Mysteries of the Dark Moon
Whenever we see a beautiful moon, we stand in awe of it. Newspapers and the social media love pictures of harvest moons and blue moons along with suitable scientific descriptions of how and why such moons look the way they look.
Other than sky shows, we notice the moon less often these days unless we live along the coast and see the changing tides or maintain our farms and gardens by planting by lunar phases. Science and technology have taken us away from the lumation cycle, the interplay of light resulting from the monthly dance of the sun and the moon, so most of us are unaware of the moon’s affect on us throughout each lunar month.
In a patriarchal world, the lunar cycles are generally ignored, distrusted or feared because–in a mythic sense–they represent feminine cycles, the unconscious, emotions, and purported instability. In fact, our word “lunacy” stems from an old belief that insanity came with moon phases, and our word “moonstruck” implies that when in love and affected by the moon, we cannot act normally.
Moonless nights suggest mysteries in many ancient traditions. Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days; Christ rose from the dead on the third day. In his “hero’s journey” sequence, Joseph Campbell refers to the belly of the whale step as a period of rebirth. We have, however, come to fear those three nights that Demetra George sees as “a time of retreat, of healing, and of dreaming of the future. The darkness is lit with the translucent quality of transformation; and during this essential and necessary period, life is prepared to be born.”
The lunation cycle
Since my novel Sarabande is a story of a heroine’s journey, the chapter titles follow the sun/moon lunation cycle in support of the action throughout the book. When the person who formatted the book asked about the significance of these headings, I realized that moon symbolism is not front and center in our daily lives in a world of texting and Facebook posts, jobs and hobbies, relationships with others, or even in our thoughts of day and night.
One post cannot do justice to the work of Dane Rudhyar, Demetra George and others who have written extensively about the meaning and impact of moon phases. Briefly, though, here are the over-simplified basics:
- Dark Dawning: New moon (and up to three and a half days afterwards). Life, or any other event, is a potentiality that is felt rather than seen. Think of a seed germinating in the dark earth.
- Light Quickening: Crescent moon (appearing three and a half to seven days later). A challenging time for moving forward after a first look at the reality of the new moon’s vision. Think of the seed’s first shoots appearing above the ground.
- Light Ascending: First quarter moon (seven to ten days after the moon was new). A time of conscious steps toward a goal. Think of a plant’s stems and roots forming to support the process of growth.
- Light Dominant: Waxing gibbous moon (ten and a half to fourteen days into the journey). The vision, development and knowledge to date are fine-tuned to meet conditions. Think of buds appearing on the rose.
- Summit of Light: Full moon (fifteen to eighteen days into the journey). The promise of the initial vision is realized as a reality in the temporal world and has a transformative condition within. Think of blooming flowers.
- Stirrings of the Dark: Waning gibbous moon (three and a half to seven days after the full moon). The purpose of the vision comes to fruition, an apt word that means bearing fruit.
- Withering of the Light: Last quarter moon (seven to ten and a half days after the full moon). With the potential realized, one begins turning away from the task. Think of flowers and stems withering away.
- Depth of Dark: Waning crescent moon (ten and a half days after the full moon). As the person prepares to fully look within, this phase–also referred to as the balsalmic moon–links life and death, past and future in a way that’s often viewed as destiny before darkness returns and germination begins again with the new moon.
The lunation cycle is often described as the result of an interplay between the active sun and the passive or receptive moon. This is somewhat misleading, I think, because it gives the impression that the moon (or the psyche) is accepting and then transmitting light from elsewhere (from without) as though no creative growth is taking place.
Darkness and light are often equated logically and symbolically with evil and good rather than as components of an interactive process in which yin and yang are equally necessary. As Dane Rudhyar has pointed out, it’s incorrect to refer to the lunation cycle as a lunar cycle. Instead, it is soli-lunar, that is to say, a cycle of sun and moon in relation to each other like the warp and weft strands of well-woven cloth.