We humans have always been drawn to the moon. It has been the source of myth, legend, art, and ritual for cultures around the globe. Practitioners of magic and witchcraft tend to be especially tuned into the power of the moon.
In this article, we’ll explain the science behind the phases of the moon and how to harness its power to enhance your practice.
Moon Phase Basics
Why Does the Moon Appear to Change?
When you look up at the night sky, you might see a big, bright, round moon, a tiny crescent-shaped sliver, or no moon at all. The moon itself is not changing — the moon doesn’t produce any light of its own. The difference in the moon’s appearance throughout the month is due to the amount of sunlight reflecting off of it. How much light falls on the surface of the moon depends upon where the moon is in its orbit around Earth.
What Are the Eight Phases of the Moon?
The moon takes about 27 days to complete it’s orbit around the Earth, which means that we see a full moon about once a month. But, the full moon is just one of the eight moon phases in each lunar cycle. The list below describes each phase as seen from the northern hemisphere.
- New Moon: The moon appears dark (unseen) during a new moon.
- Waxing Crescent: The light falls on the right side of the moon in a thin sliver of light.
- First Quarter: The right half of the moon is illuminated.
- Waxing Gibbous: About three-quarters of the right side of the moon is illuminated.
- Full: The entire surface of the moon is illuminated.
- Waning Gibbous: About three-quarters of the left side of the moon is illuminated.
- Third Quarter: The left half of the moon is illuminated.
- Waning Crescent: The light falls on the left side of the moon in a thin sliver of light.
The Names of the Full Moons
Throughout history, people have marked time by the phases of the moon. We have worked, played, and celebrated beneath the light of the full moon. The moon is such an important part of the rhythm of our lives, that each month’s full moon has been named to describe what’s happening down on Earth at the time. Though there are different names for the monthly moons, here are some of the more common ones:
- January The Wolf Moon is named for the howling of wolves searching for food – which is scarce during this cold winter month.
- February The Snow Moon is named for the blanket of white that covers much of the northern hemisphere during this winter month.
- March The Worm Moon is named for the earthworms that emerge from the ground during the spring thaw.
- April The Pink Moon doesn’t refer to the color of the moon itself, but rather the first pink buds of spring appearing on the trees and in the fields.
- May The Flower Moon acknowledges the blooming of spring flowers. The full moon in May is also known as The Hare Moon for the abundance of newly born bunnies.
- June The Strawberry Moon is named in honor of the first harvest of the summer fruit.
- July The Buck Moon refers to the regrowth of antlers on male deer. It is also known as The Thunder Moon because of summer storms.
- August The Sturgeon Moon is named in honor of the returning of the fish that is vital food source in the Great Lakes region of the United States.
- The Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs nearest the Autumn Equinox (which falls around September 21st each year). This moon may occur in the calendar month of September or October. This moon tends to be particularly bright and hangs high in the sky, allowing farmers to pull in crops at night under its light.
- September The Corn Moon is named for the ripened corn that is typically harvested during this month.
- October The Hunters Moon refers to the time of year when game is hunted and put up for the long winter months ahead.
- November The Beaver Moon is named for the business of beavers, and other animals, making their final preparations for winter.
- December The Cold Moon refers to the frigid depths of winter. The winter solstice, which is the shortest day and longest night of the year occurs in this month (usually around December 21st), so the December full moon plays an especially important role in cutting through the long, dark, nights.
- Finally, what is a Blue Moon? Well, because the complete lunar cycle is about 27.3 days, and a year has 365 days, twelve moon cycles don’t fit neatly into our calendar. So, every two and a half years or so a 13th full moon falls within a calendar year and is known as a “blue moon.” Some people also refer to a second full moon within a calendar month as a blue moon.
Using the Moon in Witchcraft and other Occult Practices
New Moon Rituals
The New Moon is the time to plan and set intentions that will trigger manifestation. A good way to remember this is that you can’t see the new moon in the night sky. The black sky resembles an empty chalkboard, or a blank slate. And, remember that in the coming weeks leading up to the full moon, the moon will be waxing, which means it will appear to grow and its illumination will spread as it races toward fullness. Picture your intentions growing and brightening toward completion.
Here are some ideas for making the most of the New Moon:
- Turn a Want into an Affirmation: Rather than saying you want something, imagine and believe that it’s already yours. So, instead of saying, “I want to land that promotion,” say, “I’m so grateful that my hard work and skills have allowed me to advance in my career.”
- Put Your Affirmation in Writing: Journaling is a powerful way to work your manifestations during any part of the lunar cycle. On the New Moon, try making a list of the things you wish to accomplish or bring into your life. Make entries on your progress in the days leading up to the Full Moon. At the Full Moon, list the things you wish to remove from your life and track your progress until the New Moon… Rinse & Repeat! Once a year, either around Samhain (The Witches’ New Year, October 31st) or the traditional calendar new year (January 1st), review your entries to see how you did.
- Visualize the Future You Desire: Gather up visual representations of the things and life you want for yourself to create a clear picture of your ideal life. You can do this literally by cutting pictures out of magazines and pasting them into a collage, or drawing images in your journal, or curating a digital mood board using computer software like PowerPoint or a social media platform like Pinterest.
- Use Candle Magic: Using a needle, inscribe a candle with the thing you want to attract into your life (either the actual word, or a simple representative symbol or drawing). Beginning on the day of the New Moon, light the candle and as it burns, say aloud (or repeat in your mind) an affirmation and meditate on manifesting your desires. Extinguish the candle after each session. Repeat this daily until the candle has burned down completely. Dispose of any leftover wax by burying it in the garden or a potted plant, or tossing it in the trash.
- Lay a Tarot Spread: Check out our article on Tarot Spreads for the New and Full Moon
Full Moon Rituals
The Full Moon is a time to take stock and release what no longer serves you. A good way to remember this is that the full moon illuminates everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Use its light (metaphorically) to take a look at your life and see where you might have gotten off track. In the weeks between the Full Moon and the next New Moon, the moon will be waning, which means to appear to shrink and grow dimmer. Picture the things you wish to release shrinking away with the waning moon.
Here are a few ways to connect with the Full Moon energy:
- Use a Full Moon Affirmation: Repeat affirming words as part of any of the rituals below, or any time it feels right. Try something like, “May the Full Moon illuminate what needs to be seen and cleanse away that which does not serve me.”
- Clean Your Space: Are you hanging on to old clothes, objects, or paperwork that no longer fit you or what you want for your life? Use the day of the full moon, and the following two weeks, to purge excess clutter from your surroundings.
- Give Thanks: The flip side of releasing the negative is embracing the positive. Make a list of things you are grateful for and tape it somewhere where you can see it every day until the next new moon. As you reflect on the good things in your life, imagine the things you no longer want or need being pushed away.
- Use Candle Magic: Collect a candle, a fireproof dish, a small slip of paper and a pencil. During the Full Moon, write the thing you wish to remove from your life on the paper. Light the candle and repeat your affirmation while setting the slip of paper on fire, then carefully drop the paper into the fireproof dish to burn. Extinguish the candle and wait until the wax and the paper ashes have completely cooled then dispose of the waste by burying it in the garden. Tossing it in the trash will do just fine too.
- Charge Your Tools: Set your tarot deck, crystals, and other ritual tools outside (weather permitting) or on the window sill to soak up the moon’s rays. Here’s a post on how to use the moon to charge your magical tools.
- Charge Yourself: Go soak up some rays! Standing under the full moon can be a powerful experience. You don’t have to stand on a beach or a mountaintop (although it’s pretty great if you can)… standing in your own yard, or even inside the house near a window, will do just fine. Turn your face toward the moon, spread your arms wide, and feel the energy flow into you.
- Lay a Tarot Spread: Check out our article on Tarot Spreads for the New and Full Moon
Drawing Down the Moon
Drawing down the moon is a Wiccan ritual in which a coven’s High Priestess summons the goddess to enter the human vessel. It can also be performed by solitary practitioners. The Drawing Down ritual is performed in a meditative state under the full moon. It is typically performed from within a cast circle and employs ritual incantation.
A Word About Moon Water
Visit any social media platform around the full moon and you’ll see loads of posts about moon water… how and when to make it, how and when to use it, what to store it in, etc. Full transparency, I’ve been studying and practicing the craft since the 1970s and I’d never heard of the practice until recent years. Not to say that it wasn’t around, it just wasn’t on my radar.
I personally don’t use moon water in my practice (I made it once, but didn’t do anything with it), so I don’t have any strong opinions about it one way or the other. But my general philosophy on rituals and mystical tools is that the power is in the practitioner’s belief, so if it works for you, go for it!
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