Phases of the Moon and the Lunation Cycle
Lunar cycles, that mark the changing phases of the Moon, occur over a period of twenty-eight days. So there are a consistent occurrence of lunar cycles that make up the solar year, representing the oscillation of light and darkness, diminishment and increase, which change the apparent shape of the moon and also the times when it is present in the sky. The moon passes through the entire zodiac in a single month and its synodic period lasts 29 days and 12 hours, which is pretty close to the thirty day average period for a calendric month.
The moon also changes its shape as it makes its passage across the celestial equator, and this is due to the constant changing angular relationships between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. Thus, the moon travels swiftly through the zodiacal signs, averaging around 14 degrees in a twenty-four hour period. The sidereal period of the Moon is 27 days, 7 hours and 43 minutes. What this means is that the moon makes a complete revolution from any given point back to that point during that period. The sidereal period is, therefore, more accurate and so it is used by astronomers. When we say that the Moon makes its cycle in 28 days, that is an average approximation of the synodic and sidereal periods.
A full moon occurs when the Moon is at a point opposite of the Sun in relation to the Earth. Therefore, a full moon always occupies the exact point opposite of the sun within the astrological zodiac. A new moon occurs when the Moon is conjunct with the Sun in relation to the Earth. Therefore, the moon is in same exact zodiacal sign and degree as the Sun when it is in the phase called the new moon. A new moon symbolically represents the time of renewal and reinvigoration, when seeds are planted and ovulation ideally occurs. Full moon represents when these processes reach their maximum potential, and it is the ideal time for harvesting and also for the onset of menstruation. The quarter phases are where the Moon is waxing from new to full, or waning from full to new, representing when the Sun and Moon at right angles to the Earth. (I am not implying that a woman’s period is directly aligned with the phases of the moon, although there is an ideal association between the cycles of the mon and fertility cycle of women.)
Moon rises in the middle of the day when it is waxing and in the middle of the night when it's waning. The direction that the “horns” or tips of the crescent moon are facing indicates whether the Moon is waxing or waning. Horns pointing to the east indicates a waxing moon, and horns pointing to the west indicates a waning moon.
The cycle of the moon is called the “Lunation” cycle. It’s symbolized on a personal level as the struggle for conscious evolution, beginning first with awakening into individual self-consciousness and egoic awareness. Moon also has two qualities that are expressed by the lunation cycle. These two qualities are the zodiacal positions that it occupies as it moves across the celestial equator in a single month, and the four lunar phases that it makes as it crosses the path of the sun and the earth.
The elemental quality that the four phases of the moon has are:
- New Moon - Earth
- First Quarter - Air
- Full Moon - Fire
- Last Quarter - Water
Four phases of the moon are defined in astrology as the specific angular relationships that occur between the moon and the sun. These angular relationships are broken into 90 degree quadrants. The qualities of the phases are symbolized by the aspects of conjunction, ascending square, opposition, descending square, and arriving again at conjunction.
- New Moon to First Quarter (0̊ - 90̊) - individualism and impulsiveness
- First Quarter to Full Moon (90̊ - 180̊) - maturation and fulfillment
- Full Moon to Last Quarter (180̊ - 270̊) - formulation and objectification
- Last Quarter to New Moon (270̊ - 360̊) - fruition and also dissolution
Lunation cycle is actually an extension of the well known four phases of the Moon, producing eight types that characterize the lunar qualities. Each lunation type has its specific properties, and is extremely useful for working earth-based magick that affects the material based concerns and enterprises for humans, and even animals.
The lunation cycle of the moon is called the lesser cycle of transformation because it represents the variations of the reflected power of the sun and is far more mutable and subtle in regards to its affects on the life cycle of the individual human being when compared to the sun. While the solar cycle symbolizes the greater cycle of transformation, representing the seasonal milestones as well as the annual and multi-year achievements, the lunation cycle is critical to the resolution of deep and internal issues and complexes as the self strives to become individuated and self-illuminated.
In the lunation cycle, the four lunar phases are broken into eight divisions (types) consisting of 45 degree segments. Each segmental division of the Lunation cycle lasts approximately 3.5 days (84 hours). Each of the phases and the types of the lunation cycle are useful for a different kind of magick. Therefore, they represent a different mystery in the process of individual development. Lunation types include two states of the balsalmic (healing) and two of the gibbous (swelling) moons, adding four more types to the regular four phases.
Balsalmic phases are defined as the ascending and descending lunar crescent, which occurs just before and soon after the new moon. Gibbous phases are defined as nearly full, which occur just before and soon after the full moon. The following table was distilled from Dane Rudyar’s book “Lunation Cycle: A Key to the Understanding of Personality” (see pp. 50 - 56).
- New Moon Type - 0̊ - 45̊- Emergence - Subjective, impulsive, novelty
- Crescent Type - 45̊ - 90̊ - Expansion - Self assertion, self confidence
- First Quarter Type - 90̊ - 135̊ - Action - Crisis in action, strong-willed
- Gibbous Moon Type - 135̊ - 180̊ - Overcoming - Clarification, revelation & illumination
- Full Moon Type - 180̊ - 225̊ - Fulfillment - Objectivity, formulation, manifestation
- Disseminating Type - 225̊ - 270̊ - Demonstration - Disseminator of ideas, populist, teacher
- Last Quarter Type - 270̊ - 315̊ - Re-orientation - Crisis in consciousness, inflexibility
- Balsamic Type - 315̊ - 360̊ - Release - Transition, seed-state, germination
Looking over the above table, one can get a pretty good idea how to use the Lunation Cycle in magick and as well as pagan liturgy.
A powerful bell curve can be imagined when examining the key words used in this table. The latent powers of the unconscious mind emerge on or just after the New Moon, and then continue to grow as the moon waxes. From emergence, to expansion, to action, then to overcoming, the lunar energy reaches a climax with the Full Moon, whose forces are defined by the keywords: overcoming, clarification, revelation and inner illumination. Then the energy begins to wane, but a gibbous moon after full still has power and also an important role to play. So at this point, the lunation type becomes objectified and capable of communicating what has been precipitating within the unconscious mind. Then, there is a critical re-orientation or re-alignment, and finally, a release, where the energy fully submerges and all is once again outwardly quiet.
New magickal workings would typically start during or just after the New Moon phase, where a type of internalization is at its point of maximum effect. Then, one builds up the powers and magickal structures until on or just before the occurrence of the Full Moon, where the power is outwardly expressed as a climactic expression of force. Afterwards, the resolution that one is seeking through magick is either revealed or not. Then, with the exteriorization of all the energy, one seeks the solace of self-reflection, as the powers of the unconscious mind sink into its internal source. The waning moon, particularly at the point of the Balsamic type is useful for healing and for divination, so the entire lunation cycle is practical for the application of many kind of magickal operations.
Here are some key points about using the phases and types of the lunar cycle when you work magick. You should not only consider the astrological and astronomical environment (sun and moon signs), but also realize that magick is best served when performed at the most auspicious time. Therefore, timing is important!. The Sun and Moon are indicators of whether or not the time is right for a given magickal action. To unleash the most effective magick you must build up in a symbolic manner the “temporal snapshot” of your world, to establish the time and location where the magick is to be applied. This “temporal snapshot” is what I call the temporal link, and it’s amazing how many people don’t seem to realize how important making such a link is to the overall success of large-scale, magically assisted undertakings.
Small scale workings don’t really require a temporal link, but I have discovered, nearly by accident, that producing a temporal link for large scale workings helps to do two important things. These two things are:
- To establish a temporal signature that will be intelligible to spirits and magickal forces,
- To mark a spiritual mile-stone and to give it a focus in the present space-time continuum.
Establishing a temporal link can also be useful in establishing a time-limit for a given process to produce the results, even incrementally, that the magician is seeking.
The temporal link can consists of the following six elements (listed below). It should, at the very least, contain the combination of the seasonal, diurnal Solar aspects along with the phase/type for the Moon. These two elements will produce a symbolic expression of time. Additionally, the place (space or location) is defined as the exact point where the magick is projected into the earth (through the temple or grove).
The temporal symbolic link consists of:
- Solar Hour as Planetary Hour
- Sun in Zodiacal Sign - in relation to nearest Equinox or Solstice
- Moon in Zodiacal Sign - Seasonal Moon in relation to the four phases
- Lunation Type - 8 phases of the Moon
- Geological matrix - latitude, longitude and altitude
- Internal domain of the practitioner - natal zodiacal chart, progressed and transit chart.
Of these six items, the first four are most critical and used to determine the magickal equivalent of the temporal signature or link. In order to cause material manifestations and alterations one must first determine the temporal signature.
Moon in the 12 Zodiacal Signs and Full Moon Lore
As previously stated, the Full moon always occurs in the zodiacal sign opposite the Sun. It has specific astrological qualities, since the full moon represents a certain degree of fruition for spiritual and occult activities. The zodiacal sign that the full moon occupies is therefore quite significant, since it specifically qualifies it. There is also specific folklore that is associated with the full moon occurring during a month, and this folklore is often used to qualify any full moon working, whether liturgical or magickal.
First we will begin by examining the Moon in the twelve signs, so we can examine the qualities of those twelve aspects in greater detail. The moon signifies emotional energies and internal states of consciousness, and as it passes through the twelve signs, the qualities change and mutate according to the qualities of the astrological sign. (I have distilled these moon signs from the book, Planets in Signs, by Skye Alexander, pp. 71 - 96.)
Aries - boundless enthusiasm, assertive, emotional outbursts, highly energized, individualistic, impulsive, to live for the moment.
Taurus - easy going, placid, devoted friend and lover, simple and basic needs, emotionally centered and earthy, possessive, love of material things, luxuries, believes happiness can be bought, resistant to change.
Gemini - gregariousness, sociable, good communicator, restless, always seeking new stimulations, important of being unfettered, curious about everything.
Cancer - sensitive feelings, changeableness, emotionally expressive, heart rules head, strong empathy, maternal instincts, nurturing, protective of family and friends.
Leo - self confident, optimistic, cheerful, natural leader, always seeking attention, self centered, love of drama, creativity, strong willed.
Virgo - emotionally subdued, internalized, outwardly aloof, tight self-control, overly critical, self deprecating, helpful to others, service, selfless, concerned about the welfare of others.
Libra - emotional balance, need for harmonious interactions, displaced emotional expressions, sense of propriety, social tact and social awareness, compromising, indecisive, artistic, musical.
Scorpio - emotionally passionate, secretive, intensely sexual, seeks total union, jealous and possessive, can be vindictive, ruthless.
Sagittarius - happy go-lucky, optimistic, witty, affable, very sociable, loose emotional ties, importance of friendship, need to be free, disdainful of smothering and restrictive relationships.
Capricorn - emotionally internalized, unexpressive, deeply serious and sober, depressing, devalues self, fear of rejection, loyal, devoted to friends, family and lovers, reliable, practical, responsible.
Aquarius - unpredictable, explosive, sudden outbursts, strong sense of social justice, passionate about causes, rebellious, stubborn, willful, anti-authority, bohemian, radical, visionary.
Pisces - deep and intense emotions, secretive, introverted, psychic, empathic, compassionate, vivid imagination, reclusive, shy, seeks refuge, desires to be alone.
So the moon will acquire qualities depending on the sign that it is in as well as the sign that the Sun is occupying. Since the Sun changes its sign around the 20th of the month, the full moon will occur in the opposite sign. For each monthly full moon and its lore, we have two possible qualities for that full moon, depending on when in the month it occurs. Here is a list of three items to examine and research when planning on a full moon working:
- When seeking to qualify the full moon, combine the astrological qualities with the seasonal Full Moon folklore.
- Check almanacs and other sources of folklore to qualify the full moon for a given month.
- Build up a booklet of Seasonal Full Moon lore and astrological considerations (Moon in 12 Signs) to use for liturgy and magick.
Here’s an example of what you might assemble as information for the full moon in the month of June.
June - Strawberry Moon or Mead/Honey Moon
After the abundant flowers of the previous month have bloomed and passed away then the fruits begin to form, and strawberries are some of the first fruits to be harvested. Flowers also bring the bees which gather the pollen and produce honey, and from that is brewed the beverage called mead. June is also the time of the Summer Solstice, and the advent of the warm days of summer, and the planting of the rest of the crops in the more northern and less temperate lands. This month is partitioned by Gemini and Cancer.
- New Moon in Gemini - time for planning gatherings and celebrations
- New Moon in Cancer - protection against harm, nurturing and growing
- Full Moon in Sagittarius - happiness, fulfillment of pleasure, new liaisons
- Full Moon in Capricorn - material gain through hard work and organization
I assembled most of my full moon lore from, of all places, the Farmer’s Almanac. You can find that source in an online web-page here. There are also lots of other sources for lunar folklore as well, since most pagan publishers will have a book or two on lunar folklore.