Moon Supersitions

From the 1865 edition of The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities, here are some Moon superstitions that were once popular beliefs.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com
  • It is unlucky to kill a pig in the wane of the Moon, or the pork will waste in boiling.
  • It is unlucky to see the New Moon for the first time through glass – such as a window or telescope. But what about my eyeglasses?
  • A Saturday moon, If it comes once in seven years, Comes once too soon.
    So, if the new moon is on a Saturday, the weather will likely be bad for the ensuing month.
  • To see “the old moon in the arms of the new one” is a reckoned sign of fine weather. The sliver of a New Moon does sometimes appear to be hugging the rest of the Moon which looks a bit older.
  • More fine weather comes with the turning up of  “the horns of the new moon.”  In this position, it is supposed to retain the water that is imagined to be on the Moon, which would run out and fall to Earth as rain if the horns were turned down.
New moon

Tonight’s Micromoon Is Still Full

A view of Earth from our Moon. We look micro.

You’ve heard of the Supermoon, right? That is when the Full Moon is at its closest point (perigee) to Earth. It looks a bit larger to the naked eye. It’s not an astronomical term but more of a popularized term.

So, it is no surprise that the opposite – a micromoon – began to be used when a Full Moon or a New Moon coincides with apogee – the point in the Moon’s orbit farthest away from Earth.

The Moon orbits Earth in an elliptical path, which means one side of the path is closer to the Earth than the other.

The January 2023 Full Moon is typically called the Wolf Moon. It will be full at 6:08 PM EST or 11:08 PM UTC. It is considered to be the first Full Moon of the Winter 2022-2023 season as the December 2022 Full Moon occurred prior to the Winter Solstice. This is the Full Moon in Cancer.

How different will the Moon look tonight? It is further away and looks approximately 14% smaller than a Supermoon – though that is easy to discern to the naked eye. The illuminated area appears 30% smaller, so it might look a little less bright.

Old folklore accounts suggest that Full, New, Super, and Micro Moons all affect human mental health and bring on natural disasters, like earthquakes, but no scientific evidence supports any such correlation. Still, be on the lookout tonight…

Solstice Gods, Goddesses and Monsters

In researching the winter solstice, I found a number of good and bad characters that are associated with this time.

In the way that the solstice can be seen as the beginning of longer days and shorter nights, there are optimistic figures that include Tonantzin in Mexico, Cailleach Bheru in Scotland, Horus in Egypt and Spider Grandmother by the Hopi.

Horus

Mythological gods and goddesses associated with the winter solstice, also have optimistic stories of the Earth’s regeneration or rebirth. The goddess, Beaivi is associated with health and fertility. In Scandanavia, it was believed that she flew across the night sky in a structure made of reindeer bones to bring back the plants that the reindeer needed to eat. Reindeer were so important to them that she was worshipped during this time of year.

In Italian folklore, La Befana is a goddess who rides around the world on her broom during the solstice, leaving candies and gifts to well-behaved children. Placing a rag doll in her likeness by the front door or window entices her into the home.

But not all the myths have benevolent characters. In Finnish mythology, Louhi, the “witch goddess of the North,” kidnapped the Sun and Moon and held them captive inside a mountain, causing the darkness of winter. She was considered to be more wicked than other benevolent goddesses.

The Yupik peoples of Alaska and the Russian Far East tell the story of the Kogukhpak, subterranean monsters with bulbous bodies and frog-like legs who could only be killed by the Sun. On the winter solstice, the Kogukhpak emerged to hunt. When the people had found mammoth carcasses on the Arctic tundra, they were said to be the corpses of the Kogukhpak who stayed out too long and died when the Sun returned.

Similarly, the Kallikantzaros in Greek mythology could only be killed by sunlight, so they emerged during the solstice to wreak havoc. They were angry, hairy, gnome-like creatures who lived underground. They wanted to cut down the tree of life.

kallikantzaros – by Spencer Alexander McDaniel.

Yuletide

yule log

If you have heard the word yule, it probably was in a song or verse related to Christmas, but the Yule time predates Christmas.

Modern Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas, December 25. However, it is believed that this date was chosen to offset the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. 

Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light.

In 2022, Yule began with the solstice on December 21 and ends on Sunday, January 1, 2023. For a long time, I have believed that any Yule/Christmas celebrating (decorating etc.) should only begin with the solstice. Retailers do not agree with me.

For Christians, celebrating the birth of the “true light of the world” was appropriately set to synchronize with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days have more light (at least in the Northern Hemisphere).

Christmas is sometimes referred to as Yule. The word “yule” may have derived from the Norse word jól or juul, referring to a pre-Christian winter solstice festival.  This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. (The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes.)

Yuletide comes from Yule +‎ –tide (“period around a holiday”), from the Old English tīd (“time”)

The Feast of Juul was observed in Scandinavia at this winter solstice and fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun.

A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log.

In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.

French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning.

The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas that is sometimes adorned with evergreens, holly and pine cones is believed to have originated in the bonfires associated with the Feast of Juul.

That Yule Log cake that people buy in the stores is pure retail marketing. Thor would not be happy.

yule-goat

According to the Yule Blog, the Yule Goat is a Scandinavian tradition that predates the arrival of Christianity in Northern Europe. The goat was a symbol of the Norse god Thor, whose flying chariot was pulled by two goats.

When entertaining the other gods, Thor would kill goats to feed his guests and then resurrect them afterward, using his hammer Mjöllnir.

In Sweden, a Christmas custom based on this tale of Thor is still performed in the Juloffer, or Yule Sacrifice. Two actors sacrifice a third player dressed as a goat while singing a song, but at the end of the song, the goat is resurrected. Yule Goats are also made of straw both large and small as decorations.

The Yule Goat was once considered to be a bringer of gifts, but this role has been taken over by Father Christmas, who sometimes rides the Yule Goat.

Can a New Moon Be Super?

The New Moon is the phase when to the naked eye there is no Moon. The New Moon is when the Sun and Moon are aligned, with the Sun and Earth on opposite sides of the Moon. The alignment of the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth leaves the side of the Moon that faces the Earth in darkness. This is called conjunction or syzygy.

When the Full Moon or New Moon occurs near the Moon’s closest approach to Earth, its perigee, it is often called a Supermoon. How super will this New Moon look to us? Not super at all. Tonight’s Moon, as with any other New Moon, won’t be visible from Earth.

But what is worth noting about tonight is that the dark night skies coincide with the peak of the Ursids meteor shower. (I’ve posted about the Ursids before, so read about them here.) They are a meteor shower that I associate wit the Winter Solstice and Christmas.

The dark sky (though still lots of light pollution here in Paradelle) is also an excellent time to spot Mercury in the night sky.

Aligning With the Sun

I’m not a fan of winter. I don’t like the cold. Yes, I could move south where winter is warmer. I could go to the Southern Hemisphere where my winter is summer. But I do like solstices which turn autumn into winter and spring into summer.

Ancient monuments around the world (and something in my backyard) are aligning with the Sun and will line up on the 21st for the solstice. It starts winter. Or it begins the trip to spring.

Although the word “solstice” derives from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), the sun won’t stand still on December 21st. The solstice occurs at the instant when the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer’s hemisphere.

I like that people have been paying attention to this for a very long time. Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous “henge monument” that marks the solstices. The first monument was built about 5,000 years ago, and the stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC. And some of us are still paying attention.

We all eventually realize that the nights will be getting shorter and the days will be getting longer after this solstice. It is the day when there is no sunlight at the North Pole. That must be quite strange.

Druids would be chanting as the solstice dawn approaches at Stonehenge. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstices.