Solstice Moon

June 21, 2013

solsticemoon
This Friday, June 21st, at 12:04 AM Eastern Daylight Time (5:04 Universal Time) the sun reaches the northernmost point in her travels, marking the Summer Solstice. Of course, the sun isn’t really moving north; the northern hemisphere of the earth is tilting toward the sun and will begin a reciprocal tilt following the solstice. But from our perspective, the sun has come to the north. This is a high energy time, wonderful for spell work or for group ritual. Traditionally this is the time when covens that have “hived off” to form their own groups return to the mother coven for reunion. Interestingly, it is not the midday zenith of the sun that is considered the most auspicious but rather the short twilight night.

On Sunday morning at 7:32 AM Eastern Daylight Time on June 23rd, we have the full moon in June. The June full moon is always special. Women used to gather dew from the leaves of the trees just before sunrise at June’s full moon to use in their spells. This dew is potent for love charms or anything that the heart desires. This full moon arrives twenty-two minutes after the moon is at perigee, the nearest point in her orbit around the earth. At perigee the moon’s influence is obviously stronger, so a full moon at perigee is very powerful.

In the past I have expressed skepticism over certain dates that are promoted as unusually auspicious times for doing magic, but this weekend really is a big deal. The perigee full moon occurring so close to the Summer Solstice makes this an extremely powerful time for magic. Analyzing the various factors involved (waxing versus waning moon, astrological sign of the moon, moon void-of-course, and proximity to the solstice or full moon), I would say that the evenings of Friday June 21st, Saturday June 22nd, and Sunday June 23rd are about equally powerful for those living in North America, although I lean very slightly in favor of Saturday the 22nd. If you live on the West Coast, I would recommend a specific time for ritual: that would be during the very early morning hours of June 23rd between 1:10 AM and 1:30 AM Pacific Daylight Time. At this time the moon has entered Capricorn, the astrological sign of her fullness, and the sun will be at her nadir.

Since Mercury is getting ready to go retrograde, don’t expect the results of your spells to manifest immediately. Project your energy toward attaining goals that can come to fruition toward the end of the summer or later.

If you live in the southern hemisphere, this Winter Solstice weekend is also powerful for magic. The energies particularly favor the beginning of new projects and (metaphorically) the planting of new seeds.

The Origins of Candlemas

February 1, 2013

Madonna Lily. Photo by Maciek Godlewski.
Madonna Lily. Photo by Maciek Godlewski.

While there are many longstanding Pagan holidays observed in the beginning of February, the Christian holiday of Candlemas grew out of a specific Roman Pagan observance. February was an important festival month on the Roman calendar and thus began with a purification ceremony known as Juno Februa, Juno the Purifier. The most prominent of the Roman matriarchal deities, Juno is essentially the goddess of essence itself. She is thought of as a moon goddess, since her worship originally revolved around the lunar cycle, but this only partially explains her. She is the state of Being, illustrated by the waxing white moon appearing out of the black void. The Romans saw not only plants, animals, and inanimate objects such as rocks or mountains as having spirit, but core truths or principles as well. Thus the month of vital ceremonies required not simply purification practices, but the calling up of the essence of purification herself. Some say Juno Februa occurred at the second full moon following the winter solstice before Rome adopted a solar calendar, but by the start of the common era the date of the festival was fixed at forty days past the (also static) December 25th date of the winter soltice festivities.

Under Christian rule, Juno Februa became a celebration of the purification of the Virgin Mary following the birth of Jesus. The mass was celebrated with a procession involving a great many candles like the earlier Roman holiday. Mary took on not only the ritual date and its association with purification, but Juno’s white lily. The lily became a symbol of Mary’s renewed purity. The goddess Juno, though like Mary also a mother, needed no such purification because the idea of pollution in childbirth was foreign to her cult. She came to bestow purification, not to partake of it, and would give birth a full month later to her own son, the god Mars. The birth of Mars was also a virgin birth: Juno conceived him through the fragrance of the white lily, the white lily being a form of Juno herself. In other words, Juno impregnated herself and her white lily symbolizes self generation.

Detail from restored statue of Juno. 2nd century. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Detail from restored statue of Juno. 2nd century. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Some attribute the instigation of Candlemas to Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century, but it appears that he was railing against the climactic February festival of Lupercalia, which eventually became St. Valentine’s day. Gelasius may have been successful at driving Lupercalia underground, where it began its own long transformation, but people continued to openly celebrate the Juno rite. In 684 Pope Sergius I officially instituted the mass of the Purification of the Virgin Mary at February 2nd on the church calendar. From the start many theologians protested the event, arguing that Mary would have needed no purification since she was impregnated not through sexual intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. Within the logic of Christianity they were right, but as time wore on the church had conflicts at Candlemas not only with remnants of the Roman pagan cult but with propitiation to weather deities and and fire goddesses elsewhere. The tension between theological purists and synergistic forces was eventually satisfied by fixing the time of the presentation of Jesus at the temple, which is referenced in scripture, at forty days following his birth, or February 2nd. The focus on Mary on this day remained popular with the masses, however, so the celebration of the purification of the Virgin, while declining in emphasis, never totally went away.

Today among witches and many other Pagans February 2nd is a time for vows and initiations. There are many reasons for this having to do with Celtic and Germanic beliefs, but the Roman observation of Juno Februa also fits nicely with this understanding of the holy day. During this time of commitment intentions need to be unassailable, informed by the essence of purity Herself.


Sources

Durdin-Robertson, Lawrence. The Year of the Goddess: A Perpetual Calender of Festivals. Wellborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1990.

Hazlitt, William Carew and John Brand. Faiths and folklore of the British Isles. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905. http://books.google.com/books/about/Faiths_and_folklore_of_the_British_Isles.html?id=JDXYAAAAMAAJ

Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.

Perowne, Stewart. Roman Mythology. London: Paul Hamlin, 1969.

Walsh, William Shepard. Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances. 1898. Detroit: Gale Research Company. 1966 Reprint. http://books.google.com/books?id=VKwYAAAAIAAJ&dq=Candlemas+Pope+Innocent+XII&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

Hecate and the Waterway

November 2, 2012

White willow. Photo by Willow.

Throughout most of human history, the primary method of travel was via water rather than road. Even in the Ice Age, settlement patterns and artifacts reflect reliance on river trade, sometimes over long distances. Considering the primacy of early water travel, it is not surprising that the route to the afterlife is via river in many cultures.

Water is also linked with birth as well as death, since the fetus grows in a sack of liquid which opens at birth. The moist birth canal can be compared to a small waterway. Water nourishes all animal and plant life. Water is the most basic and important substance of healing.

Water has a special relationship with the moon. The full moon’s influence on the tides is the most obvious, but the moon has a subtle effect on other waterways, including the waters of the womb. While scientists scoff, midwives and others involved in obstetric care firmly believe the full moon is capable of inducing labor. “As the moon empties, so does the womb.” The moon’s reflection on slow-moving rivers and pools of fresh water magically charges the water with the moon’s life-giving energies.

In the northern hemisphere the most ubiquitous tree along rivers is the willow. This tree produces a strong yet pliable bark that is useful for basket weaving. The birch twigs of the witch’s broom are traditionally latched to the ash handle with strips of willow bark. Dowsers generally use willow (or hazel) twigs for divining underground water sources. The willow is certainly in the top five preferred trees for magic wands, partly because it grows along riverbanks and is thus nurtured with water charged by the moon.

Willow catkin
The willow is one of the first trees to reawaken in early spring, and the fibrous blossoms (called catkins) have in bygone eras provided nourishment during this hungry time. Bees also feast on catkins as they emerge from their hives. The most important contribution of willow to humankind, however, is as a medicine. The bark of the willow tree contains an important pain relieving anti-inflammatory substance from which aspirin was originally derived. While aspirin, both synthetic and derivative, is a relatively new arrival, the use of willow bark is documented in early medical texts.

The white willow tree (Salix alba), which produces the preferred bark for pain relief, is native to Europe and western Asia. It is called a “white” willow because the underside of the leaf is covered with silky white down that gives the tree a silvery appearance. This is the tree sacred to the goddess Hecate. She is a goddess associated in classical times with death and travel, and her followers at that time were primarily healers and primarily women. It was once common for Hecate shrines and offerings to be located along roads or at crossroads. As goddess of death she became linked with the dog, while as goddess of the road she became linked with the horse, but Hecate’s worship predates the domestication of both the dog and the horse. I believe she was originally worshiped as Queen of the Waterways in the form of the willow tree. This is how she received her association with healing and with the moon. Her association with death relates to the dark waters flowing quietly back to the source.

Hecate is sometimes called a “crone goddess,” but despite her death aspect she appears as a youthful woman, reminiscent of the pliant willow which alleviates the effects of time on the body. She has dark hair, large black eyes, and luminous white skin. Like her tree she has a large, beautiful and unassuming grace.



Sources

Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.

Plants for a Future. Salix alba.

Review ~ Grandmother Moon: Lunar Magic in Our Lives, by Zsuzsanna E. Budapest

October 12, 2012


Grandmother Moon recently became available again through Amazon Createspace. The book is a collection of goddess lore based on the lunar calendar, a wheel corresponding to the zodiac sign for each lunation. There are thirteen sections or “lunations,” each starting with basic information about the moon followed by a contemplation about a goddess associated with this moon energy. There is information about the emotional side of the moon, auspicious activities, a few spells, and descriptions of lunar holidays. The lunar holidays are usually not European but Middle Eastern, Chinese, East Indian, Native American or Mesoamerican. Z explains, “This was my intention because these cultures have preserved their lunar calendars to this day.”

Looking at the section for the upcoming new moon in Libra, October 13–15, Grandmother Moon categorizes it as the “Blood Moon.” Its herb is oatstraw and its animal is the cat. The goddess is the Egyptian overseer of truth and justice, Maat — not surprising since the symbol for Libra is the scale. This is a good time to fall in love and to decorate the home, and the energies of pleasure dominate. In keeping with this, Z offers a spell for physical pleasure. The festivals for this moon highlight the difficulties of incorporating an array of lunar calendars in a solar framework. The Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah occurred at the last new moon and the Hindu festival of Diwali will occur next month. The full moon festivals occurred the end of September. We’ll have to look ahead to the Mourning Moon on October 29th and the festival of Oschophoria, when the full moon in Taurus will celebrate the ecstatic Greek God of the grapes, Dionysus. Sounds like a wonderful time for a party.

Grandmother Moon is easy to pick up and put away, skim through and read out of order. It seems tailor-made for busy schedules and short attention spans. It has an index, which is helpful. The rituals, which appropriately focus on the emotions, can be done solo. It’s a great book for developing an understanding of moon energies.

It’s all in how you see it

August 30, 2012


The internets have been in a titter for a week, and no doubt every Blue Moon café, restaurant and tavern is in high celebratory mode. Really, the significance of the Blue Moon is that it is hard to categorize. Solar and lunar time only reconcile about every nineteen years, so there are twelve lunar cycles and some change in any solar year. Whether there are twelve or thirteen full moons depends on which day you start the calendar. Depending on the tradition (and the latitude), we label each month’s moon according to its seasonal significance. Thus the January moon is the “Wolf Moon”, the February moon is the “Hungry Moon,” the March moon is the “Storm Moon,” etc. What happens when you have two full moons in a month? You don’t know how to categorize the second one. It’s also an uncommon occurrence, occurring only about every three years.

A Blue Moon is a full moon in which you do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do, and something that you probably won’t do again for awhile. When I had a large teaching coven, the women would circle with the men on that night, just to show that we were not categorically opposed to it (but still not willing to make it a regular occurrence).

The color blue in lunar context has some significance. Red is ordinarily the color associated with the full moon (look at it closely some time), a phenomenon that was easier to see when the moon was closer to the earth. Red is a very powerful magical color, associated with the Mother and characteristic of the Dianic Tradition. White is the color of the waxing moon, associated with the Maiden, while black is the color of the Crone and the dark portion of the waning moon. Thus we have the three important magical colors of the Dianic Tradition and many others. Blue is a cooling color less frequently invoked, which nonetheless has its own important properties. If colors are invoked when casting a circle, blue is often linked with the direction of West. In shamanic traditions which are based on the number four, unlike Indo-European cultures, which are almost always based on the number three, blue is usually included as one of the four basic colors.

A lot of pagans are saying that the Blue Moon has very special powers, but I disagree with this. In and of itself, the Blue Moon only has meaning if you accept the validity of the Julian calendar. How many of us do? I accept that I have to work with this calendar, to navigate the business and larger social world, but magically my calendar is marked in different time, beginning on November 1st. Other people may start their year at the winter solstice, or the spring equinox, or at some other time. What gives the Blue Moon its significance is the the permission people give themselves to loosen up, be unorthodox, try something new. This is the special energy that drives the Blue Moon.