In the Northern Hemisphere, tonight’s December Full Moon is often called the Cold Moon or the Long Nights Moon. Certainly, this month is cold in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and the long nights that accompany the winter solstice also make sense for a name.
Early Pagans saw this as a time of cleansing and ending bad habits to make one stronger to survive the cold winter ahead.
The Algonquin Indians used the Cold Moon name but I have also seen that some cultures connect this Full Moon with warmth. I had not heard of the Deborean Clan. A combination of Celtic traditional magical beliefs and Native American Cherokee spirituality make up their beliefs. Like the Wishram tribe who named this the Winter Houses Moon, this time is associated with being home and warm before a fire. The Zuni tribe called this the Moon Where the Sun Comes Home to Rest and maybe we should all try, if possible, to rest and recharge from this very difficult 2020.
The Sioux call this the Moon When Deer Shed Their Antlers which suggests the new start aspect that pagans celebrate at this time of year.
The Celts, on the other hand, call this the Elder Moon. The first time I saw that name I thought it meant elder as in those of a greater age than us. I know that “elders” serve a large role in Native American traditions and culture. But in the Celtic Tree Calendar, this is the Elder Moon. I have since done some reading on Celtic Tree symbolism.
Elder trees are fragile and easily damaged but they recover quickly. In North America, Acer negundo, the box elder, is a native species of maple. It grows quickly, often looks like a large bush and is a short-lived tree compared to oaks and other hardwoods.
The flowers and berries of the elder can be used to make wine. Elderflower wine was drunk at the Beltane celebrations. Elderberries were made into a wine at Samhain which was consumed to promote divination and hallucinations. My mother always bought elderberry wine at the end of the year, though divination and hallucinations were never part of our drinking of it. CAUTION The seeds, bark, leaves and flowers of the elder can be poisonous as is the unripe fruit so I would advise against preparing such beverages on your own.
With the winter solstice past, the Celts saw the Elder Moon as a time of endings. But endings also signal beginnings. This Full Moon is called Ruish by the Celts (roo-esh) who viewed this as an opportune time of creativity and renewal and planning for the new year.
Elder wood was said to protect against demons and other negative entities and it has magical connections to faeries and other nature spirits. In Ireland, the elder was considered a sacred tree and, like the hawthorn, it was forbidden to cut one down. The elder tree was prized for its many uses culinary, medicinal and mystical.
It is interesting that the early Christian church in trying to eliminate pagan beliefs gave the elder a bad reputation. It was said that the tree that Judas hanged himself from was an elder. It was sometimes said that Christ’s crucifixion cross was made of elder wood. The elder became associated with witches and tales of “elder-witches” associated with the devil were known in Ireland and Britain. Burning elder wood in your fireplace would bring the devil into your house.
More on Celtic tree divination in a future post. Right now, I have to get some elderberry wine.