How many moons be there in the yeare?

Wiccan Rede * Winter 1984 by Merlin Sythove

The Thirteen Moons

The eight festivals which mark the beginning and middle of each season are well documented in Craft literature. But not much attention is given to the so-called Esbats, the full-moon meetings. Actually this is a shame, since there are a few clues which link the full moon meetings with the yearly cycle and with symbols, animals, trees etc.

The cycle of the moon is often seen, and rightly so, as the pulse of life. Life’s processes seem to exhibit a tidal flow which is concurrent with the waxing and waning of the moon. In agriculture this is fairly well known: for example, sowing is best done during the waxing or full moon. In the Craft we know that constructive work is also best undertaken during the waxing moon whilst work aimed at dissolving things, loosening ties and ridding oneself of something is best performed during the waning moon.

Sensitive people notice the influence of the moon even more: again well-known is “lunacy’ or “moonsickness’, which occurs during the full moon. And we have noticed that the last three days before new moon represents some sort of “spiritual void’, a period when nothing in the esoteric areas will work, often accompanied by a slightly depressed feeling, being physically uncomfortable, tired etc.

In the light of the above it is surprising that our Esbats are so often portrayed as “ordinary’ meetings, where work is done, training is given, particular subjects can be discussed or joint projects undertaken. Although all of these activities do in fact take the moon’s cycle into account, and they have a religious significance, when one compares them to the Sabbats very little is known about the symbolic or archetypal background of each full moon.

About two years ago I started looking into the 13 full moons, trying to find something which made each cycle individual and unique, not just “one of the 13′. A few books and magazine articles came up with a list of names, both for the moons and for the full moon Esbat, and starting with that I tried to find some sort of link with the moon’s cycle and its influence on us in the course of the year. One of the things which sparked off this idea was a question which was put to us more than once. In runs more or less as follows: “How come we advocate a “natural life’, a nature religion, get in touch with nature etcetera, and do not live on a small farm in the country”.

Apparently many people have a very narrow idea of “nature’, in the sense that they immediately assume that you must live off the land, grow your own vegetables etc. Living in a town or city is out, as are having a car, not being a vegetarian, having a job as a computer consultant, ad infinitum. We find it very hard to explain that to us “nature’ means more than that; it encompasses all natural processes and especially the forces which work behind the visible manifestations of nature. Living in the country, close to the woods or the windswept hills is very nice, but not for everyone. To us “getting in touch with nature’ means that one should aim at finding one’s spiritual roots. We have been cut off from these roots for long enough, especially in the West, and all over the world we can see the consequences of that. So to us “back to nature’ means that we should try to forge anew the link with nature; become attuned to natural processes and forces which work in ourselves, our psyche, in the weather, but also in politics and social events.

The cycle of the year, with its many festivals, is a good basis for regaining this lost contact. By celebrating these festivals we will find that some rhythm comes back into our life – not a clock-dominated rhythm but a natural living rhythm. Slowly one notices that unexplainable as it may be, the contact between us and the web of life will be re-established. This is experienced in many different ways; some sense that their backbone is connected to the centre of the earth; some only have a vague gut-feeling which to them spells certainty; others notice definite changes in their spiritual faculties, and so forth. The complete cycle of festivals can help us in re-establishing this lost contact.

Meditation is an excellent tool, which can help us in this respect, but there are many other ways. One of them is a calendar, some sort of “mandala’. Of course we can write down the names and dates of the festivals in our diary, but nothing works as well as a picture, often seen. This thought led to the production of the Silver Circle Moon Calendar. An extremely reduced version is shown below. Many details will be unclear, but a general idea can be formed of the calendar. The thought behind it is that through seeing it often, the ideas will seep through into our unconscious and help us in linking up with all natural forces – foremost the cycle of the year of course.

mooncalendar“This was the way of the Old Religion: to celebrate the turning of the year, and the pulsing of the moonlit tides of life. And when our Lord, the Horned One, lies with the young Goddess at Beltane, or sacrifices himself in Life’s cause at Lughnasadh, we tread the old paths of magic. Come dance with us in the dead of night, in firelit forest, in sunshine bright! This is the way of the Old Religion.”

A few notes about the calendar as such. A calendar which is based on the lunar cycle needs frequent adjustment to keep it in tune with the solar year. The time between two full moons is 29½ days, which means that in each year we’ll find 12 moon-cycles giving 354 days and 11 days left over. These extra 11 days result in the inclusion of a 13th moon every third year. Even so, this will not be accurate for ever: in roughly 10 years, the same full moon will have moved back about a month. Without going into all the intricacies of calendars and time reckoning here, we can say that once every 19 years the same full moon will fall on the same date again. Those interested in the scientific side of this should have a talk with a Jewish friend – the Jews use this calendar system, as do the Tibetans. The Moslem calendar has a year of 12 moons, i.e. 354 days, and people age faster that way. Incidentally, our 7-day week is of Jewish origin as well.

In the Craft, it is the Ice Moon which is inserted every third year.

The calendar itself should be seen as a mandala-type drawing. Each of the 13 lunations is depicted in a half-symbolic way, keeping in tune with the natural cycle of the year. The solstices and equinoxes are marked, as are the four cross-quarter days. It is quite possible that in earlier times the cross-quarter days were flexible, and more in tune with the lunar cycle. To me this seems more logical as they were agricultural festivals originally, and older than the solstices and equinoxes. Samhain could have been set for example on the waning of the Blood Moon.

The drawing shows a circle with 365 days, where the months are also marked. Within this circle the phases of the moon are marked for 1985. The “gap’ in January, flanked by two full-moons, indicates that the calendar needs adjustment every year.  By cutting out the inner circle we can make the calendar into a perpetual moon calendar, which will mark the days of full and new moon for 1986 and so on.

The calendar comes complete with a leaflet with instructions, and a table of correspondences, which gives some more information about the 13 moons, the names of the corresponding Esbats, etcetera. It is printed on heavy cardboard, 220 grams and chamois coloured, and can be personalised using inks or watercolours – an idea which is catching on.

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