The Old Moon After the Winter Solstice


Tonight, the moon will be full in Paradelle just before midnight (11:53 p.m. EST).  It is a bit odd that we give times for the full moon such as UTC, EST etc. because, despite our human efforts to control time, the moon turns full at the same instant worldwide. But, yes, it will be at 8:53 p.m. PST.

If we want to be astronomically correct, the moon is only “full” at that moment when it is most opposite the sun in its orbit.

You can also note this as a time of the arrival of the Morning Star in the east. The Morning Star isn’t a star at all, but the name given to the planet Venus when it appears in the east before sunrise. The Greek referred to “Phosphorus” (meaning “Light-Bringer”) or Heōsphoros [AKA Eosphorus in English] meaning the “Dawn-Bringer” for Venus in its morning appearance.

Popularized names for this January full moon are the Wolf Moon, Old Moon or Moon After Yule.  Some of the American Indian names include Cold Moon, Cooking Moon, Moon of the Terrible, Moon of the Raccoon, Full Snow Moon (also used by some tribes to the February moon).

The most popular name on this blog has been Wolf Moon. It comes from the deepening snows of midwinter in some area (like the Dakotas) and the howling of hungry wolves heard in the long nights outside villages. Wolves often hunt at night and many people associate their howling with the moon. However, it is lore rather than biology that wolves howl at the moon.

This Cold Moon (Unolvtani in Cherokee) marked the start of the season for personal and ritual observance, fasting and personal purification. The tools for planting are repaired, new ones made, and ancestors are honored by passing on their stories to young ones. Our seasons don’t align with American Indian seasons which were lunar-based rather than sun-based. This time was for families to prepare for the next season which starts  with the full moon in March.

Some tribes marked this time with the Cold Moon Dance and community hearth fires being put out and new ones being made. The renewal of fires was often the duty of holy men of certain clans. The new fires tradition was also a part of celebrations by ancients in Europe to mark the end and beginning of the seasonal cycles.

Moon ceremonies often involve fire, whether that be a bonfire or the lighting of candles.

One Moon prayer I found online used by some Pagan groups is “We gather tonight to rejoice by the light of the moon. We celebrate the season of darkness, knowing that the next turn of the Wheel will bring light. We use this time of darkness for thought, introspection, and growth. As the moon above, so the earth below.”

If you want to make that celebration a bit more English or American Colonist, throw in some wassail or cakes and ale.

Almost every name for the Full Moons is location-based. A Wolf Moon would have no meaning to many people.  A Snow Moon would apply to people in northern climes but not to people in warmer areas. Tribes of the southwest and the northeast did not share the same climate, plants or animals and the names of the moons show that. A name like Moon When Trees Pop would not apply to a tribe living in the Arizona desert.

In the distant past, the names usually applied to a period of time that included the month between the Full Moons and not just the day. Weeks, months and years were not the same concepts of time for them, and there were no leap years, time zones or daylight savings time to negotiate.

I chose Old Moon for this post’s title because I’m feeling old today and although the year is new, in some ways it seems like a continuation of the December winter and year. As a lifelong teacher and student, September feels more a the New Year than January.  If I had to pick a time for the calendar to begin, I would choose spring and let the year end with winter rather than start in the middle of it. How very Northern Hemisphere of me.

I like the Druid Poet’s Moon name for this month. Our January is their Llianth, the fourth month of their year, and this is seen as a time for peace, creativity, and inspiration.


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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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