A Grandfather Full Moon

This month’s full moon, often called the Full Snow Moon, arrives Monday, February 25, 2013. In my part of the country, it will appear to the east at 5:51 p.m., just 13 minutes after the sunset at 5:38 p.m. off to the southwest.

The heavy snows of this month figured into many Native American tribes marking of this moon. The heavy snow, the lack of game and difficultly of hunting gave it names like Hunger Moon and Bone Moon. Animals and humans might be hungry enough to gnaw bones and eat the marrow or make soup from it.

“Shoulder to Shoulder Around the Fire Moon” (Wishram Native Americans) and “No Snow in the Trails Moon” (Zuni Native Americans) reflect how geography and weather-influenced moon naming.

In my part of the Northeast, the woodlands Algonquin language tribes were most common and the Lenni Lenape were the most common natives in my New Jersey. The Lenape were the “grandfathers,” a term of great respect because it was believed that they were the original tribe of all Algonquin-speaking people.

The Lenape called their lands Lenapehoking (Land of the Lenape). Their first contact with white Europeans occurred in 1524, when Verrazano was exploring the New Jersey coast. Verrazano was taken with them and wrote that they “are most beautiful and have the most civil of customs… women are shapely and beautiful… well-built men.”

Because of their place in NJ’s history, I know a bit more about them than other Native Americans. They were quite accurate in computing time and had some astronomical knowledge. It was expected that one would could give names to many of the stars.

Their year began with the first moon after this February moon. They would calculate a time for planting by calculating the rising of the constellation we call Taurus in a certain quarter. They also gave this constellation a name of a mythical great horned beast.

Although the “calendar” for most native people does not follow our modern European calendar, it was noted early on that the Lenape had a word meaning a “year” or full cycle of twelve full moons. They used it to mark their age and events. They recorded years by adding a black bead of wampum for each year in a belt kept for that purpose.

They used picture writing scratched on stones or cut or painted on bark or wood. They recorded events and the history of the nation. One drawing given to William Penn was said to be the “Great Man” drawn within concentric circles which represented their idea of God.

At a full moon, a medicine wheels probably played a part in ceremony. Medicine wheels are placed on areas where the energy of the earth is strongly felt. Many tribes celebrated both the Full Moon and New Moon and a mid-winter renewal with the wheel.

The Lenape were also called the Delaware Indians. They did not give their name to the river and state. Europeans named the river for Sir Thomas West who was Lord de la Warr and governor of Virginia. They called the natives by the name (rather than the proper Lenape) because they lived on both sides of the river in modern New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

These Native Americans were not migratory and it appears that occupied their homeland for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The Lenni Lenape’s first contact with the white man was when the Swedish first landed in their territory. The Dutch and then English Quakers came and negotiated the first treaties in the New World, through William Penn. Although the treaties created a peaceful colonization and coexistence, after Penn’s death, his son Thomas tricked the Delaware Indians out of 1,200 square miles of land in the “Walking Purchase.” It would encompass lands as far as a man could walk in three days, but Thomas hired several runners to mark the boundaries.

Native American nations and tribes had a complicated organization. The Delaware contained three nations: Minsi (People of the Stone Country), Unami (People Who Live Down-river) and the Unalachtigo (People Who Live by the Ocean). Nations were subdivided by families (not matching our sense of the word) and each of the 12 clans within the families had their own chief. A clan chief represented the clan at tribal councils. It was matrilineal system, so a chief (sakima) inherited his position through his mother.

Names varied amongst tribes, but the importance of the Moon’s phases was common across people. The Cherokee called this the Bony Moon, and it was traditional time for families to mark those who had departed this world with a family meal with place(s) set for the departed. Connected to this moon is the “Medicine Dance”.

In colder climes, Snow, Storm, and Ice Moon were names used.

Colonial Americans called this the Trapper’s Moon or the Winter Moon.

In China, this a Holiday Moon connected with the New Year. The country of Tibet celebrates the conception of Buddha and the Feast of Flowers during this time of year.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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