Ceremonies played an important part in the life of Native American tribes and the Full Moons were important to many of those ceremonies. For example, the Cherokee celebrated a series of seasonal ceremonies and festivities that corresponded to the food cycle of the tribe.
The Cherokee moon ceremonies were the seasonal round of ceremonies practiced during ancient times by the Ah-ni-yv-wi-ya or Principle People. Although a modern calendar year comprises 12 months, there are actually 13 cycles or phases of the moon each year. Their ceremonies are based on 13 moons. They were considered to be both spiritual and social gatherings among the Cherokee Clans and Cherokee Society in the ancient culture.
The Ah-ni-yv-wi-ya believed the number 13 was significant. Not only did this number correspond to the lunar cycles of the year, but by a startling coincidence, all species of turtles living in the ancient homeland (in fact, all species turtles in the world) always had 13 scales on the back of their shells. As a result, Cherokee culture associated the spaces on the back of the turtle with the 13 yearly phases of the moon.
These phases have shifted over time and do not fall within the 12 month year calendar year precisely every year. The Ripe Corn Ceremonies (now called the Green Corn Dances or the Green Corn Ceremony) fall in early September but probably occurred at the July or August Moons at one time.
A good book on this is Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons by Joseph Bruchac.
For the Cherokee people, March was the first of the thirteen moons and it was the feast of the deer. April’s celebration focused on strawberries, and then subsequent harvests were “little” corn, watermelon, peaches, mulberries, and the “great” corn.
For 2011, the August Full Moon is on the 13th. For the Cherokee, this was the Fruit Moon (Ga’loni) and the foods of the trees and bushes were gathered at this time.
The various “Paint Clans” begin to gather many of the herbs and medicines for which they were historically known.
The “Wild Potato” Clans begin harvesting various foods growing along the streams, marshes, lakes and ponds.
Shifting geographically, the North American fishing tribes called August’s full moon the Sturgeon Moon since that species was abundant during this month.
There are many other names including: the Grain Moon, Green Corn Moon, Red Moon (for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze), Mating Moon, Dog’s Day Moon, Woodcutter’s Moon, Chokeberry Moon, Summertime Moon, Corn Moon, Barley Moon, Dispute Moon, and the Moon When Cherries Turn Black.
The month of August was originally called Sextilis by the Romans, but was later named Augustus in honor of Augustus Caesar. It was also for the Romans a time of gathering harvests. A popular belief was that the month has 31 days because Augustus wanted as many days as Julius Caesar’s July. Actually, Sextilis had been 31 days since the time of Julius Caesar and the Julian calendar.
The Senatorial decree renaming Sextilis to Augustus reads in part:
“Whereas the Emperor Augustus Caesar, in the month of Sextilis, was first admitted to the consulate, and thrice entered the city in triumph, and in the same month the legions, from the Janiculum, placed themselves under his auspices, and in the same month Egypt was brought under the authority of the Roman people, and in the same month an end was put to the civil wars; and whereas for these reasons the said month is, and has been, most fortunate to this empire, it is hereby decreed by the senate that the said month shall be called Augustus.” (A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities by William Smith)