As a trained scientist, I have always seen the moon as a huge ball of rock orbiting our planet, keeping it in check both with its axial spin and also in the tides generated by its gravitational attraction which churn the oceans and thus sustain the biosphere. However, whilst journeying with my Pagan friends and listening to their deep fondness of and reverence towards the Moon, Lady Moonlight, the Silver Wheel and and so on, something within me changed my way of seeing and interacting with her.
This expansion of understanding came about from an attempt to listen to what my own Christian tradition had to say on this subject and the research that ensued back into pre-Christian times.
“God fashioned the two great lights—the brighter to mark the course of day, the dimmer to mark the course of night—and the Divine needled night with the stars.” Genesis 1:16
“You made the moon to mark the seasons…” Psalm 104:19
One of the first things I learned was that there are two New Moons: the astronomical one (which is also called the Dark Moon and is shown in paper diaries and calendars as a black circle), and the cultural one (the first observable crescent of the Moon’s new phase)
However, it was to my surprise and joy when I realised the Moon featured quite a bit in ancient Jewish culture:
- Firstly the festival of Passover was always celebrated on a Full Moon¹, as was the festival of Shelters (or Tabernacles).
- Then there was Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon festival. This was the time when the first crescent sliver of the Moon appeared following the setting Sun and marked the beginning of the month as the appointed astronomers notified the high priest of its appearance. The high priest then declared to the public the beginning of the new month.
It is hardly surprising that ancient cultures used the moon to mark the beginning of a new month. Try using just the sun to discover when a new month starts – a much trickier, if not almost impossible task without some sort of device (be it of stone or otherwise). God has given us a wonderful way of marking time visually in a way that is incorruptible by human hands.
More “recently” (well, 664 AD is recent compared to ancient Israel) , the Roman Church at the Synod of Whitby won the argument to set the date of Easter to be the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. How’s that for linking one’s highest and holiest day to the motion of the Moon?
Regarding other cultures and the New Moon, I am aware that I write this during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan which itself starts at the appropriate New Moon.
“Ah, but did the early Christians celebrate anything moon related?” you may ask. Purely going to Scripture alone, we have these tantalising words in Colossians:
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” Colossians 2:16
It appears that it was a matter of choice, or conscience, whether or not the Colossians celebrated various festivals, and one of those spelled out was Rosh Chodesh, the Jewish New Moon festival. With this in mind, I decided to write a New Moon ritual.
Amongst the times I’ve celebrated this ritual, I had the honour of celebrating it back in January 2015 at a Christian college not far from my home, in Derbyshire. The snow was gently falling and it was a truly magical occasion. That said, some people present really didn’t get it at all and were completely perplexed and outraged at what they perceived to be utter heresy within it. I leave it with you the reader to determine the orthodoxy of it and whether it crosses any boundaries. ²
The New Moon was a time of celebration and dedication, and as such, the objective of this ritual surrounds dedicating the plans we have during the coming month to God.
“Commit your path to the Eternal; let Him direct you.
Put your confidence in Him, and He will follow through with you.” Psalm 37:5 (Voice)
Herewith I gift you my New Moon Ritual (click here). Feel free to comment below if you have any questions regarding it. If you hate it, it’s probably not for you and best left alone. If you like it, please feel free to use / adapt it to your context. The context this was written in is a Pagan-Christian context, hence the particular “flavour” of it.
I wish you every blessing of the month and may Lady Moonlight shine brightly upon your path.
¹ Jesus was crucified at Passover. Being a Full Moon festival, the Moon would have been in a position behind the Earth, not between the Earth and the Sun (a New Moon position). With the moon in its full phase position, it would have been unable to cover up the Sun as would occur in an eclipse. This renders the null and void the argument that it was an eclipse which caused the darkness upon the land at Jesus’ death.
² The usual objection is that it is heretical to bless inanimate objects such as the Moon. However, I regularly observe the blessing of bread and wine at the Eucharist, or the blessing of the land at Rogationtide as blessing inanimate objects. To bring one’s blessing upon either a person, animal or inanimate object is something the early Celtic Church actively encouraged. I also see blessing as pronouncing “Good be upon you” upon whatever, or whoever you bless. With all this in mind I have no problem with blessing inanimate objects and see it as a role the follower of Jesus can do in bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth in a number of ways (such as land and house blessing, especially where evil acts may have taken place, but that is another blog post for another occasion I feel). I also see it as a matter of conscience as to whether or not it’s something for the individual to enact, and would not want to force someone to do something they’re not happy with.
Another objection comes from speaking / singing to the Moon. As a scientist, I completely understand that the vacuum of space precludes sound waves travelling between myself and the Moon, even if the Moon was able to understand the words I was saying. To this I answer that although there may be a physical “language barrier” between us, communication between ourselves, the cosmos and the Creator is something the Psalmist did not seem to have a problem with the “animistic” writings of Psalm 19 and 148 (for example), so why should it be an issue for me? Thanking the Moon for fulfilling her creation ordinance of marking time and enabling life upon this planet through her interaction with the sea (in some mythologies, her sister) seems eminently sensible and fits in with both the Psalmist and Fransiscan spiritualities.
Yet another objection comes in the raising of the hands towards the moon. This is in no way worship of the Moon herself – any more than raising ones hands at a concert is worshipping the band on stage, or raising one’s hand in class is worshipping the teacher. What is happening here is an attempt to maintain Biblical imagery when blessing someone / something, in that hands are raised over (or placed upon) that which is to be blessed.