The Phases of the Moon

Does the Ever-Changing Face of the Moon Have Any Astrological Significance?

“The Earth together with its surrounding waters must in fact have such a shape as its shadow reveals, for it eclipses the Moon with the arc of a perfect circle.”—Nicolaus Copernicus

The Moon is about one quarter the size of Earth and is believed to be four billion years old. Our Moon is the fifth larg­est satellite in the solar system and causes our planetary tides, due to the gravitational interaction between the Moon and Earth. The Moon revolves around Earth in an elliptical orbit, lasting 27.32 days. The Moon also rotates on its own axis in the same amount of time, forming a synchronous rotation with Earth. Therefore, the same side of the Moon is always visible from Earth.

Contrary to whimsical nursery rhymes, the Moon is not made of green cheese but instead has a thick outer crust of solid rock and a central core of solid metal, with a very small inner core of molten metal. The cratered surface of the Moon is covered with a layer of fine dust. The Moon has no atmosphere, and temperature extremes range from +100°C to -200ºC, depending where the Sun’s rays fall on the lunar surface.

Moons in our solar system can be small objects that were captured by their parent planets or big objects that rival planets in size. Jupiter has sixty-three moons at last count, and Jupiter’s large moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, discovered by Galileo in 1610, are like a mini solar system. Saturn has sixty-one known moons, including the mysterious Titan, which possesses a hazy, nitrogen-rich atmosphere, thicker than Earth’s atmosphere. Most of the large moons in the solar system were created as proto-planetary disks, dusty disks that surrounded the planets during their formation. The moons condensed in much the same way the planets did, coalescing out of the solar nebula.

Since astronauts have returned home with Moon rocks, scientists have been able to study the Moon’s origins and geology first hand. They now believe our Moon formed in a different manner than other moons. Using high-tech computer-generated images, scientists believe that 4.6 billion years ago there were two planets circling the Sun where the Earth and Moon are now. In this scenario, a Mars-sized planet, traveling in a tight orbit with Earth, collid­ed with us, stirring up and jettisoning a great deal of planetary matter. After cooling and coalescing, our Moon formed and settled into orbit around Earth.

So rather than planet and moon, we are really two planets, poetically termed Terra and Luna by astronomers, moving in a circular pas de deus around the Sun. No wonder our bond with the Moon is so strong; she is more sister than satellite. Astrological interpretation has long understood this intimate and symbiotic relationship.

The Moon rises and sets every day, appearing on the horizon just like the Sun. The time of moonrise depends on the phase of the Moon. She rises about 30 to 70 minutes later each day, so the Moon is visible during the day as often as at night. Therefore, in a symbolic sense, part of our nighttime subconscious awareness is available to us during the day. A lunar eclipse occurs during a full Moon, when the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon. Lunar eclipses occur, on average, about every six months. A total eclipse of the Moon occurs when the entire Moon enters the Earth’s umbra, the darkest part of Earth’s shadow. A partial eclipse happens when only part of the Moon enters Earth’s shadow.

Moon Madness

The term lunacy derives from Luna, the Roman Moon goddess. In eighteenth-century England, a murderer could plead “lunacy” and get a lighter sentence, if the crime was committed during the full Moon. Psychologist Arnold Lie­ber and his colleagues at the University of Miami, Florida, collected data on homicides in Dade County over a period of fifteen years—1,887 murders in all. When they matched the incidence of homicides with the phases of the Moon, they were surprised to find that the two rose and fell together like a tide for the entire fifteen-year period. As the full or the new Moon approached, the murder rate rose sharply and distinctly declined during the first and last quarters of the Moon. They repeated the experiment using homicide data from Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, Ohio, and the statistical pattern repeated.

An earlier report by the American Institute of Medical Climatology to the Philadelphia Police Department entitled, “The Effect of the Full Moon on Human Behavior,” found similar results. That report showed that the full Moon marks a monthly peak in various kinds of psychotically oriented crimes such as murder, arson, dangerous driving, and kleptomania. Dr. Lieber speculated that since the human body is composed of almost 80% water, some kind of “biological tide” may affect human emotions. For persons already on psychologically shaky ground, such a biological tide might push them over the edge. Like legends of werewolves, potent archetypal material may come to the surface of consciousness from the shadow, or “dark side,” during the light of a full moon. For some, facing these psychologi­cal demons could result in irrational behavior.

Lunar Astrology

At night we face away from the Sun looking instead at the Moon and stars in a dark sky. Symbolically, the Moon is seen as the agency which reflects different kinds of archetypal light into “earthly” consciousness. Astrologically, the Moon represents our instincts, memories, the past, our habitual behaviors, and our inheritance. The Moon reveals and conditions our evolving personality. This hidden side of our nature conceals our habitual selves and unconscious patterns which need to be healed or reclaimed. As science may now be explaining, the Moon is seen symbolically as our lost psyche, separated from our waking consciousness.

In Indian, or Vedic Astrology, the Moon is revered as a god named Chandra and is the most important planet in the horoscope. This masculine deity rules women and mothers and signifies feminine qualities. Eastern astrologers also pay attention to the Moon’s Nodes as indicative of major soul lessons. The nodes are the two points in the Moon’s monthly orbit when it crosses the ecliptic, the Sun’s apparent path. In China these points are called The Dragon’s Head and Tail.

As the Moon circles Earth, the shape of the Moon appears to change because different amounts of the illuminated part of the Moon are facing us. The shape varies through eight phases, ranging from a new Moon, when the Moon is between the Sun and Earth, to a full Moon, when Earth is between the Sun and the Moon. The cyclical relationship of the Moon to the Sun produces what is called the lunation cycle—the Moon’s phases. The Moon increases in light, fullness and distance from the Sun as she waxes from conjunction to opposition, and the process reverses during the second half of the cycle as she grows dark again.

Like a “mini-year,” the waxing and waning cycle of the Moon is a microcosm of the seasons. The darkness of the new Moon is compared to the long nights at Winter Solstice, and the full Moon is akin to Summer Solstice and the longest day. The eight lunar phases are also symbolically linked with the stages in the planting cycle, beginning with the potential represented by the seed as the New Moon, and the culmination of the fruit and the subsequent “death,” and return to seed, as the closing of the lunar phases.

Lunar Personality Types

Like the apparent annual journey of the Sun, the Moon’s monthly path is also a circle of 360 degrees, from the zero point of the Moon-Sun conjunction. The degrees of separation, noted below, delineate the shifting from one phase to the next. The phases of the Moon’s reflected light are thought to offer periodic illumination into our individ­ual and collective nature.

1. New Moon 0-45 degrees. Winter Solstice—new beginnings, instinctual awareness, emergence, projection, and rebirth. At the New Moon, the Moon and Sun are conjunct and in the same sign. Symbolically, this may repre­sent an emphasis on subjective and emotional stimulation. There is an innate curiosity. This phase represents the be­ginning of the planting cycle, when the seed sends forth new shoots while still in darkness.

2. Crescent Moon 45-90 degrees. Imbolc, or Candlemas, Feb 2—Expansion, initiative, challenge, struggle, and opportunity. The Moon is growing in light and is halfway between New and First Quarter Moon. Astrologically, the individual may be driven by the momentum of past lives and have a knee-jerk reaction to problems. There is an act first, think later mechanism. The Crescent phase may provide an impulse to change old ways. In the planting cy­cle, the sap begins to run through branches again as the plant prepares for a new cycle of growth.

3. First Quarter Moon 90-135 degrees. Compared to Spring Equinox. Key words are growth, expression, and action. The Moon is waxing and can be either square or trine to the Sun. Individuals at this lunar phase usually have a strong will. This calls for forceful activity, building an energetic scaffold to hold the structure of new thought. This phase is often called crisis in action, and the lesson involves seeing the consequences of our choices. This repre­sents the time in the planting cycle when the organism puts out leaves and branches. It’s a time of rapid growth.

4. Gibbous Moon 135-180 degrees. Analogous to Beltane, May 1—half way between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Key words are analysis, perfection, expansion, and development. The waxing Moon is halfway between First Quarter and Full Moon. Those born during this phase are often motivated by intense devotion or zeal and must learn to trust and become more receptive. In the planting cycle, the bud begins to form, holding the prom­ise of the flower.

5. Full Moon 180-225 degrees. Summer Solstice—Clarity, illumination and fulfillment. The Moon and Sun are in opposition with the Earth between. This is the time of maximum light in the cycle of the seasons and is the point in the lunar cycle where conscious creation is possible. Here, what is felt emotionally can also be “seen.” It’s a time to pause to understand how creation takes place. This corresponds to the time when the flower emerges.

6. Disseminating 270-315 degrees. August 2—Lammas, Harvest Festival—Sharing, teaching, distributing, ad­justing and reaping. In this phase, the Moon is waning, halfway between Full and Last Quarter Moon. Individuals born at a disseminating Moon can be driven to spread their strong ideas with the fire of a crusader, so a synthesis of beliefs is required. In the planting cycle, this corresponds to the first appearance of the plant’s fruit, midway between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox.

7. Last Quarter Moon 270-360 degrees. Last Quarter Moon—Fall Equinox—Decline, decrease, cleanse, re­vise, and reorient. In this phase, the Moon is waning and square or trine to the Sun. This point is described as a crisis in consciousness, as developing principles must be turned into concrete systems or outcomes. We have to learn and accept what isn’t working. The last quarter represents the harvest and the time when the plant dies back, while what is left of the fruit prepares its seeds for planting.

8. Balsamic Moon 315-360 degrees. Balsamic Moon—Samhain, Halloween, October 31, midway between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice, when the veil between worlds is thin. Key words are letting go, transition, sep­aration, synthesis, and release. The lessons of the cycle must be distilled and turned into “solution.” The Moon is waning and halfway between Last Quarter and New Moon. In the final state of the planting cycle, the plant dies away and life energy becomes concentrated in the seed being prepared for the next cycle.

Just as space travel has given us a glimpse of the side of the Moon we don’t see, the relationship between Earth and Moon is a journey of ever-changing, but ever-increasing, light and consciousness. Everything is always in motion and in relationship to everything else. If we are wise, we learn to seize the unique nature of the moment and flow gracefully into what the future offers.


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