The Cold Wolf Moon After The Yule

Tomorrow, January 9, 2012, is the Full Moon that starts the new year.

This Cold Moon (called Unolvtani in Cherokee celebrations) marked the start of the season for personal and ritual observance, fasting and personal purification. It was a time for families to prepare for the coming of the next season which will start with the Windy Moon in March. The tools for planting are repaired, and new ones are made. The ancestors are honored with the telling of stories about them to young ones.

This month is the time of a Cold Moon Dance in communities. Another tradition found here in America by natives was also a part of celebrations by ancients in Europe. To mark the ending of one cycle of seasons and welcoming the beginning of the new cycle, community hearth fires are put out and new ones are made. The putting out of Fires and lighting of new ones was the duty of holy men of certain clans.

This time also coincides with the first arrival of the Morning Star in the east. Of course, 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.

While names for the Full Moons were used by Native Americans and other ancient civilizations to keep track of the seasons, their names applied to the time period that began with the full moon and extended until the next Full Moon. Remember, they did not use a calendar, so weeks, months and years were not concepts of time for them. No messy leap years, time zones or daylight savings time to negotiate.

Some of the Native American names that I have seen for the January full moon are the Cold Moon, Cooking Moon, Moon of the Terrible, Moon of the Raccoon, Full Snow Moon (also applied by some tribes to the February moon).

Why so many different names? Most variations in naming can be explained geographically. Tribes of the southwest and the northeast did not share the same climate, plants or animals and the names of the moons show that. One name that comes from far northern tribes is the Moon When Trees Pop.

A very common name used for our January moon is the Wolf Moon, a name inspired by the howling of hungry wolves during this time of scarcity that would gather outside villages and encampments.

Other names for this month’s full moon include the Winter Moon, Hunger Moon, Old Moon (an Colonial settlers name borrowed from Native Americans), Moon After Yule, the neo-Pagan Ice Moon.

The word January comes from the Roman god Janus. Janus had two faces and ruled over beginnings and endings and the past and the future. It was considered the time to put aside the old and outdated in your life and make plans for new and better conditions. It is not hard to see that we have maintained the idea in our annual ritual of new year’s resolutions.

The Holiday Moon is a name used in China. The Chinese celebration is actually similar to the Romans in celebrating their New Year, which occurs on the first day of the New Moon when the Sun is in Aquarius. This is considered a time for settling debts, honoring ancestors, and having family reunions. Paper images of dragons are carried through the streets and set off fireworks to chase away evil entities and misfortune.

In Tibet, the year began at the end of January and there was a celebration to expel the Old Year. They would make a human image from dough for the demons to inhabit. The image was worshiped then for seven days and then it was taken outside the village to a crossroad and abandoned. Why worship the demons? These negative beings, who have accumulated during the Old Year, get recognized for their existence. Then, by leaving the image outside the village, they are told that they are not welcome.

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

Venus, the Morning Star

The Buddha Full Moon

Though it is behind clouds here in Paradelle, the 2011 May Full Moon occurs tonight, May 17. This Full Moon has many names including Hare Moon, Merry or Dyad Moon, Fright Moon, Flower Moon, Frogs Return Moon, Thrimilcmonath (Thrice-Milk Month), Sproutkale, Winnemonoth (Joy Month), Planting Moon, and Moon When the Ponies Shed.

The Greek goddess Maia, the most important of the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) and said to be the mother of Hermes, gave the name to this month. Some form of this goddess’s name was known to people from Ireland, to as far away as India. The Romans called her Maius, goddess of Summer, and honored her during Ambarvalia, a family festival for the purification and protection of farm land.

In the Celtic cultures, May was called Mai or Maj, a month of sexual freedom. Green was worn during this month to honor the Earth Mother. May 1 was the Celtic festival of Beltane, a festival celebrating fertility of all things. Cattle were driven through the Beltane bonfires for purification and fertility. In Wales, Creiddylad was a character connected with this festival and often called the May Queen. The maypole and its dance is a remnant of these old festivities.

Bona Dea, the Roman Good Goddess, had her festival on the night between May 2 and 3. No men were allowed to attend.

The Greeks had a special festival for the god Pan during May. Pan was a wild looking deity, half man, half goat. Pan invented the syrinx, or pan-pipes, made of reeds.

In Finland, May 1 was celebrated as Rowan Witch Day, a time of honoring the goddess Rauni, who was associated with the mouton ash or rowan. Twigs and branches of the rowan were, and still are, used as protection against evil in this part of the world.

This year I chose the name of the Buddha Full Moon for my post title. This full Moon occurs on May 17 which is known as the Buddha-Wesak Festival. It is said that Buddha was born, died and received enlightenment on the Full Moon in Scorpio and many followers consider this the highest spiritual day of the year.

Turning to nature, May’s many blooms give this month another full moon name of the Flower Moon in many cultures.

Each full moon has many names and they are often related to the natural or planting cycles. The natural cycles are more closely connected to Native Americans. The planting cycles are generally more associated with the early colonists. However, both groups seem to have called this the Corn Planting Full Moon.

Native Americans did not domesticate cows, so it was the settlers who also named the May full moon the Milk Moon. During May, cows, goats and sheep enjoy the abundant sprouting weeds, grasses, and herbs in the pastures and produce lots of rich milk.

There was a belief that the same Moon force that pulls the tides and pulls a horseshoe crab ashore to mate, also causes crops (particularly those that bear fruit above ground) to sprout faster from the earth during the full moon. Conversely, when the moon is waning (appearing smaller after the full moon) and the pull decreases,  good old gravity has its way and roots and root crops like potatoes and carrots are best planted.

Believers would also say to plant nothing when the moon is “dark.” That’s when plants rest. Gardeners should kill weeds then because they won’t grow back.

In the Native American tradition of the Medicine Wheel, the Corn Planting Moon is the third moon of Wabun, the Spirit Keeper of the East. The stone on the wheel representing this moon is placed three-quarters of the way between the eastern and southern stones in the outer circle of the Medicine Wheel.

Planting By The Egg Moon

April’s Full Moon, which occurs tonight for 2011, is known as Chaste Moon, Growing Moon, Hare Moon, Maiden Moon, and Planting Moon.

Days began getting longer, the air and ground is warming up and people may be a bit warmer too as they shake off winter.

This moon has been long associated with the return of the Maiden, and a time to look at your life and restore its balance.

I have written here about this as the Full Pink Moon. That is a name that is associated with the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the early flowers of the spring that is commonly found in the United States.

Among indigenous tribes of North America, it was also known as the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon. Among coastal tribes, it was the Full Fish Moon because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn. It was also known as the Waking Moon because the hibernation of some animals ended now.

Native American Moon names vary according to geography and don’t follow our monthly calendar formalities. Northern Native Americans were the ones most likely to call April’s full moon the Pink Moon. The Dakotah Sioux called this the Moon When Geese Return in Scattered Formation (or at least that’s our translation). The Choctaw called this the Wildcat Moon and the Cherokee called it the Flower Moon.

A Medieval name was Seed Moon and a Celtic name was the Growing Moon.

In the Chinese moon sequence, this is the Peony Moon.

The Roman festival of Cerealia celebrated the return of Proserpina to the Earth goddess Ceres. (Our word “cereal” comes from the name Ceres.) It was the time of planting grain. Ceres was the Roman equivalent to the Greed goddess Demeter.

Gidhet (gee eht’) is the seventh month of the Druid year, and also known as the Flower Moon. The first day of Gidhet is the Full Moon when the Celts celebrated Beltane.

The New World colonists were always concerned with their own manipulation of nature and so referred to this month as the Planter’s Moon.

Snow melt, rains and warmer days, finds us preparing for planting. Farming folklore says to plant root crops during the waning moon (after the full moon and until the new moon) and plant above ground crops during the waxing moon (as the moon thickens, like the wax drippings of a candle) from the new moon until the full moon. The belief was that the moon’s magnetic force pulls everything that contains water. So, the ocean, our blood, and the water in plants and seeds are affected by the Moon’s pull. Our green leafy plants will seek the moon during its waxing phase, while root crops growing below the ground will need to push their energy down, away from the moon, during its waning phase.

Romanian decorated eggs

In some years, the April moon is called the Egg Moon, if it is the full moon before Easter. This year that’s true with Easter coming late on the 24th.

Why egg moon? Not only do domesticated hens begin laying more eggs with longer days, many wild bird species also lay their eggs now. Eggs have long been a symbol of spring, regeneration, and rebirth.

If you think egg painting is a recent tradition, you are wrong. The ancient Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration, which falls on the Spring equinox. Sculptures on the walls of Persepolis show people carrying eggs for Nowrooz to the king.

At the Jewish Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The pre-Christian Saxons had a spring goddess called Eostre, whose feast was held on the Vernal Equinox, around 21 March. Her special animal was the spring hare (rabbit),  so it is believed that Eostre’s association with eggs and hares, combined with the rebirth of the land in spring was adapted for the Christian holiday of Easter.

Losar – The Tibetan New Year

Prayer wheels at Samye Monastery, founded in 779 AD, located at the foot of Mt. Hepo Ri.

Tibetans will mark their New Year (called Losar) on Sunday, February 14th, this year. In the Tibetan lunar calendar, this day marks the beginning of the Iron Tiger Year 2137, a time for change, hope, and renewal.

Last year, Tibetans around the world united and did not celebrate the day as a protest against the escalation in Tibet of the imprisonment, torture and death of Tibetans under Chinese rule.

Losar is celebrated for 15 days (with the main celebrations occurring on the first three days) by Yolmo, Sherpa and in Bhutan, although different regions in the country have their own respective new years.

This year, many Tibetans are planning to observe Losar as a show of solidarity and will speak Tibetan language, wear Tibetan dress, and observe Tibetan customs.

The celebration of Losar predates Buddhism in Tibet and can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist Bön period. In this early Bön tradition, every winter a spiritual ceremony was held, in which people offered large quantities of incense to appease the local spirits, deities and protectors.

This festival took place during the flowering of the apricot trees of the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region in autumn, and it may have been the first celebration of what has become the traditional farmers’ festival.  Later when the rudiments of astrology, based on the five elements, were introduced in Tibet, this farmer’s festival became what we now call the Losar or New Year’s festival.

The Tibetan calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month. In the monasteries, the celebrations for the Losar begin on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month. That is the day before the Tibetan New Year’s Eve.

On that Eve, monasteries do a protector ritual make a special noodle called guthuk. Dough balls are given out with various ingredients hidden in them such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and coal. What you find in your dough ball is supposed to be a lighthearted comment on your character. While chilies means a talkative and white-colored ingredients (salt or rice) are good signs, finding coal is similar to the Western idea of finding coal in your Christmas stocking – you have been bad and so have found a “black heart.”

Tibetans and supporters around the world can light butter lamps and candles on their altars and in their windows on February 14th to honor the courage of the Tibetan people in Tibet who continue to resist the Chinese government’s occupation of their homeland.

Nirvana Day

Parinirvana Day, or Nirvana Day is a Mahayana Buddhist holiday celebrated in East Asia. By some it is celebrated on 8th of February, but by most on 15th of February. Some Western Buddhist groups also celebrate Parinirvana Day.

It marks the day when the Buddha is said to have achieved Parinirvana, or complete Nirvana, upon the death of his physical body. Buddhists celebrate the death of the Buddha because they believe that since he was Enlightened, he was free from the pain of physical existence.

Observances include the reading of parts of the Nirvana Sutra which describes the Buddha’s last days of life. The day is also marked by meditation and visits to Buddhist temples and monasteries which sometimes open their doors to laypeople, who bring gifts of money and household goods to support the monks and nuns.

In Buddhism, parinirvana is the final nirvana, which occurs upon the death of the body of someone who has attained complete awakening (bodhi).

For any person, this might be an appropriate day is a time to think about one’s own future death and on the deaths of loved ones.

The Paranirvana of the Buddha. Gandhara 2-3rd century. ZenYouMitsu Temple, Setagaya, Tokyo. In Buddhist art, a reclining Buddha usually represents Parinirvana.