The symbol of the moon has been so appropriated by the “witchy” community, that often times, when we see Moon artwork, we automatically associate it with witches… But much like the elemental symbol of the pentagram, the Moon does not belong to any particular religion or spiritual path… The Moon is for EVERYBODY.
In this article, we’ll discuss the astronomical significance of each of the Moon’s phases, and learn how to apply them to your personal development journey.
Why The Moon?
As we’ve already mentioned, the Moon is one of the most popular symbols of the witchy and neo-pagan community. Lunar symbols accompany almost all witchcraft and pagan imagery, and in artwork, witches are often depicted with the moon somewhere in the composition. For those who like to categorize themselves as particular types of witches, “Moon Witch” is one of the most popular choices. We’ve all heard of the old stereotype about witches dancing under the Full Moon… But what really is the deal with witches and the Moon?
In a nutshell, witches and pagans (among all nature-venerating spiritual paths) turn to the hands of the Universal Clock for guidance along our life journey. We attune our lifestyles, goals, and activities to the rhythms of nature, feeling that it helps us to “go with the flow” of life. Regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, it is scientifically proven that living things grow in specific patterns in relation to what phase the Moon is in. Just ask the Farmer’s Almanac, for example!
On a broader spectrum, many of us firmly believe that the same is true for ALL astronomical movements, which is why there is so much interest in topics like the Wheel of the Year and Astrology… But since not everyone is an expert astrologer who can manage to keep track of the movements and correspondences of every single heavenly body, (some of which have huge cycles that span multiple Earth years) the Moon and Sun tend to be the easy go-to orbits to plan our lives around.
It is very natural for humans to attune our lives to the cycles of the Moon as well as the Sun. The only issue with the Sun cycles is that the Sun’s two noticeable patterns are the day, which is very short, and the year, which is very long. If we liken the year to the face of a clock, the day would be like the second hand, the lunar cycle would be the minute hand, and the year would be a full day. Because a day goes by so quickly, and we have so much to concern ourselves with on a daily basis, it’s easy to overlook the 24 hour cycle. However, you may naturally have a self-development practice around the daily cycle that is so normal to you that you take it for granted! For example, if you do yoga every morning and enjoy a candlelit meditation session before bed, you are naturally using the 24 hour cycle of the sun to aid you in your development! Go you! On the other hand, there is the yearly Sun cycle, which creates our four seasons. Obviously, it takes a full year to complete a single annual cycle, so it is best utilized for longer term lifestyle goals.
The Moon, on the other hand, completes a full cycle every 28 days, making it’s movements very noticeable. The monthly cycle of the Moon is much longer than a day, but much shorter than a year, so many of us find it to be the perfect tool to guide our development!
Phases Of The Moon
We’ve all seen the popular symbol of the full Moon with two mirroring half or crescent moons on either side. We call it the Triple Moon symbol. What we’re seeing in that image is the chronological pattern of the waxing Moon, the full Moon, and the waning Moon. What is usually not pictured, but is hidden in the symbolism, is the dark Moon. Lets break these down and get an understanding of what they mean astronomically, and then move on to their significance in our personal development practice!
“Waxing” is another term for “growing.” This is the half of the Moon’s cycle in which the shadow area is shrinking and the light area of the Moon’s face is growing. The waxing phase lasts for two weeks. The beginning of the first week is called the New Moon phase. This is when the crescent shape goes from a tiny little sliver of light all the way up to a half moon shape. When it reaches half fullness, that is called the First Quarter Moon. The second week of the waxing phase, the light grows from covering half the Moon’s face to brightening the whole face. When the entire face of the moon is a bright circle, this is of course the Full Moon.
Once we arrive at the Full Moon, the light of the moon begins to shrink down again, or “wane” away. The third week of the lunar cycle is the first week of waning time. This is when the light goes from covering the whole face of the Moon down to just the opposite half. The half of the Moon that was dark at the First Quarter is now the side that is lit during the Last Quarter. The fourth and final week of the Moon’s cycle is when the light fades from being half lit all the way down to being totally dark. When no light is reflected on the moon at all, this is called the Dark Moon… And then that New Moon sliver appears again in the sky, and the cycle begins all over again!
Using Each Phase for Personal Development
Let me take this moment to insert a little disclaimer here: This is the part where different Moon Magick practitioners will sometimes disagree about exactly which phase is for which type of working. Some practitioners say that the New Moon IS the time when the Moon is totally dark, while others will insist that the Dark Moon has its own significance, and the New Moon is the following night, when the sliver of light appears. Some argue that rituals must be done on the exact night of each lunar phase, while others give more wiggle room. Rather than getting caught up in this sort of debate, I always suggest going with your own intuition. For me, the Dark and New Moon are two different things, so for the purpose of this article, we’ll look at it that way. Lets get into it!
The New Moon is when the first sliver of light appears after the Dark Moon. This is a time of new beginnings. It’s a great time to set new intentions for the month to come. As the light of the Moon begins to grow, we can gradually nurse our intention into tangible reality. It’s wonderful if you can carve out the time to do your New Moon ritual or journaling practice on the official first day of the New Moon, but if your schedule is too busy for that, feel free to do this intention setting practice any time during the first week of the Moon cycle. You can tell the Moon is in its new(ish) phase by seeing that it is still in a distinct crescent shape.
The First Quarter is not always recognized as an official “esbat” (lunar ritual day), but it can be a great time to check in with yourself to see how your intentions are shaping up. Once that first half of the Moon’s face is lit up, we are no longer in the New Moon part of the cycle. If you missed out on your New Moon intention setting ritual, you can still set intentions now, but be advised that things may be a little out of sync, harder to keep track of, and may even feel a little less potent. If you find yourself at a quarter Moon, and haven’t done your “proper” intention setting for that cycle, feel free to skip the intention setting and simply take this as an opportunity to observe. We grow in lunar patterns whether we’re tracking it or not! Have a look at what already is naturally taking form in your life, and begin to track it’s development as the month goes on.
The Full Moon is the brightest and most lively part of the lunar cycle! This is a time to celebrate any progress you’ve made in your intention work, or even just to be thankful for any positive developments in your life! Many creatures feel more energetic and more awake during this phase, so it can be a great time to have a social gathering and celebrate togetherness. This can also be a time of heightened emotions and impulses, so just be conscious of how you’re directing your excess energy during this time. Again, if you can’t celebrate on the exact day of the full Moon, feel free to acknowledge it within the few days before or after. When the Moon is full, or mostly full, you’ll probably easily be able to see and feel it, so feel free to celebrate as your intuition calls you to do.
Now, please note: immediately after the night of the Full Moon, the Moon does begin its waning phase. It’s still okay to celebrate the Full Moon a few days after the actual astronomical date, but don’t wait too long. The longer you wait after the Full Moon, the more “waning” the Moon will be, and the waning phase is really for a different type of energy work. As a rule of thumb, if the Moon has waned down to anywhere near the Last Quarter, it’s time to stop being in Full Moon mode, and to shift into Waning Moon mode.
The Waning Moon phase is an extremely important one for personal development and magick, but it’s not typically celebrated as a particular “esbat.” As we discussed with the First Quarter, the time around the Last Quarter is a great time to check in and make the necessary shift into the next phase of the cycle. The Waning Moon is all about cleansing. As the light begins to fade away, we can focus our attention on releasing any habits, beliefs, or things in our lives that are no longer serving our highest expansion. As a Shadow Work junkie, I feel that this is one of the most vital parts of lunar wisdom. Anything I notice is no longer welcome in my life has no business carrying over with me into the next Moon cycle. The Waning Moon phase is the perfect week to let. that. shit. go.
Okay… So, as you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty flexible about working with all of the previously discussed phases… But this one, I’m more of a stickler about! The thing about the Dark Moon is that it’s energy is really only pure for that one night. Again, this whole article is just based on my personal opinions and experience, but I gotta say, this one is best acknowledged on the exact night of the Dark Moon. If you know you’re going to be busy that night, you can get away with doing your ritual/journaling a day or two beforehand, but I would not suggest procrastinating at all. As soon as the Dark Moon is over, it’s already New Moon vibes the very next night! If you still feel connected to the Dark Moon energy during the first days of the new cycle, feel free to let your intuition be your guide. But for me, the Dark Moon is a time to really hunker down and get real with myself before the next phase even begins.
This is the time to really acknowledge the entire outcome of the last 28 day cycle. What were your intentions? How did you actively improve upon them? What did you achieve? What were you thankful for? What didn’t work out as planned? What did you choose to let go of? What did you learn? And what kind of energy are you inviting in for the next cycle? If you’re a journal junkie, or if you’re into spell casting or ritual magick, and you can only carve out the time to do one big entry/spell/ritual per month, I would suggest doing it all on the Dark Moon! This is the end of a full cycle, and the “time between times” before another one begins. It’s almost like a magickal void where you can pause and regroup for the next leg of your journey.
How Can I Start a Lunar Practice?
There are countless ideas for rituals, spells, and practices based around the lunar phases. You’ve probably already heard about some of them. In my experience, trying to keep up with everyone else’s suggestions for what kind of magick to do on “esbats” and such can be exhausting and overwhelming. In my opinion, the easiest, simplest, and most personally fulfilling way to work with the Moon is just to carve out the time on the Full, Dark and/or New Moon to do some basic self-care and self-reflection.
I identify as a “Witch,” and like to use words like “magick,” “spell,” and “ritual,” but at the end of the day, my practice is centered around self-reflection and self development. You don’t have to consider yourself to be a “Witch” at all in order to benefit from lunar wisdom. My very most important practice as a Witch is the same practice that has always been important to me since before I even knew what a “Witch” was… and that’s JOURNALING.
When I was younger, I used to write extensive journal entries every single day or week. But now that I have so many responsibilities and projects in my schedule, it can be hard to keep up with my personal care practices. When life gets busy, I’ve learned to use the lunar cycles as my signposts to take a break and check in with myself along my journey.
Think about what activities make YOU feel the most spiritual, the most relaxed, the most connected to Self, or the most potent and powerful. Choose appropriate lunar phases to schedule in those activities, and really allow yourself to get into the zone. Even if your practice consists of simply taking a candlelit bath on the Full Moon, writing a journal entry on the Dark Moon, and doing yoga and meditation on the New Moon, you’ve got yourself a perfectly healthy lunar practice!
With so many different subjects in the witchy reading list, and so many events on the astrological calendar, it’s easy to loose touch with the fact that these practices are supposed to make your life flow easier! As with most of my Magickal Musings, the idea here is to keep it simple and go with the flow, not against it! Let the Moon be your reminder to take a deep breath and pause to reflect a few times a month!
Looking for a super easy way to keep track of the Moon’s phases?
Get your free printable moon phase book of shadows page!
I’ve transcribed a short, sweet version of what we discussed above into a printable page for your magickal journal! Your free download comes with a full color version and a black and white version in case you’d rather use only black ink.
Click HERE to get your free page!
Enjoy your lunar adventure, and please share your story in the comments!
Until next time, Brightest Blessings!