The Bone Moon of February

On February 19, 2019 at 10:53 am ET, we will see the February Full Moon. Often called the Snow Moon, that name for this Full Moon might not make much sense if you are in a climate where snow is rare or non-existent.

I have written about most of the Full Moon names below (click links for earlier posts). The Wolf Moon may be one English name for this month, but in the U.S. the January Full Moon is the one sometimes called the Wolf Moon.

American Indian tribes have the most variety in naming the Full Moons which were a very important way of marking the passage of time.

Transposing the Cherokee names for our Julian calendar months, our February would be Kagaʔli or Gŭgăli, the Bone Moon or the “month when the stars and moon are fixed in the heavens.” I couldn’t find the exact reason for the “bone” symbolism. Maybe the bare bones of a difficult time of year when it came to food? There might be little food and you might even gnaw on bones and eat bone marrow soup. This was the traditional time for families to mark those who had departed this world with a family meal with places set for the departed. Maybe it is the bones of the departed?

Other tribes called this Full Moon the “Shoulder to Shoulder Around the Fire Moon” (Wishram Native Americans), the “No Snow in the Trails Moon” (Zuni Native Americans).

In colder climes, Snow, Storm, Winter and Ice Moon were names that were used by Colonists.

Month Colonial America Cherokee Choctaw Celtic Medieval England Neo-Pagan Wiccan Algonquian English
February Trapper’s Moon Bony/Bone Moon Little Famine Moon Moon of Ice Storm Moon Snow Moon Storm Moon Snow Moon Wolf Moon

There is snow and ice in Paradelle at this time, but thankfully there is no famine or gnawing at bones or wolves waiting for me outside.

And This Month, No Full Moon

moon
Not full, not new – just an old moon for February.

Last month we had two Full Moons, the second one being that Blue Moon that was also a Supermoon, Blood Moon and coincided with a lunar equinox. All that bonus Moon fun will have to hold you over this month because we will not have a Full Moon for February.

Of course, there will be a New Moon on February 15, but most people don’t get excited at all about that black or missing Moon.

If you are feeling a bit lunar lost this month, feel free to read about all the February Full Moons from past years. There is the Moon of Snow and IceIce Moon, or Storm Moon. The names for this month’s moons are not very cheery – Hunger, Bone and Old Moon are all alternative names.

“February” is a name that derives from the Latin februum which means cleansing or purification. The rituals undertaken for this month that the Romans did to prepare for spring occurred at this time. So, maybe the New Moon is a good signal to get to that modern ritual of spring cleaning. Cleansing your altar, ceremonial tools, sacred space, and self as part of the ritual is totally optional.

An Ice Moon and Partial Eclipse

snow-moon-pixa

We can refer to tonight’s February Full Moon as the Snow Moon, Ice Moon, Hunger Moon, Old, Storm or Grandfather Moon. Most names for the month refer to very wintery weather. Of course, if you’re in a warmer climate, they may seem inappropriate.

Tonight’s Full Moon also coincides with a penumbral lunar eclipse. They are not as spectacular or as noticeable as a total lunar eclipse. When the Moon moves through the outer part of Earth’s shadow (which is known as the penumbra), the shadow blocks part of the sun’s rays. Therefore, the Moon will only appear slightly darker than usual.

To Colonial Americans, this was the Trapper’s Moon or simply the Winter Moon.

Tonight’s Full Moon will fall on a snow-covered Paradelle, so the moonlight should be quite bright, even with that Earth shadow.

A Storm Moon, With or Without Snow

moon snow pixabay

Our Moon will move from Waxing Gibbous to full today at 1:20 p.m. in Paradelle.  During the Waxing Gibbous phase, the Moon will rise in the east in mid-afternoon and will be high in the eastern sky at sunset. The moon is then visible through most of the night sky, setting a few hours before sunrise. The word “gibbous” first appeared in the 14th century and has it’s roots in the Latin word “gibbosus” meaning humpbacked.

This month’s Full Moon is often called the Snow Moon and February can certainly be a snowy and rough winter month. This past week it has been very mild in my area of the east coast. We have had one blizzard and one smaller storm this winter, but otherwise it has not been that bad. There was a week of days hovering around zero degrees, but that was followed with a jump of 40 degree up right after.

I note that many visitors to this site come through searching for things about weather lore.  When I wrote last October about the winter ahead, I put more faith in predictions about El Niño than signs in nature, predictions about winter based on the previous summer, looking at the wooly bear caterpillar) and other critters or just looking at the month of October as a predictor of things to come. But all of those less-scientific methods are certainly more fun.

Meteorologists were saying last autumn day that it would be warmer this winter in Paradelle and across much of  the U.S.,  but noted that a warmer winter doesn’t necessarily mean less snow.

This month’s Full Moon is also called the Storm Moon and I read that among the Micmac people of eastern Canada, the driving winds that often accompany February snows led  to the name Snow-Blinding Moon.

A Cherokee name for this moon was the Bone Moon in the “month when the stars and moon are fixed in the heavens.”  Another common name used is the Hunger Moon. Both of these probably reflect the bare bones and hunger that probably occurred in winters past. The Dakotah Sioux called this the Moon of the Raccoon or the Moon When Trees Pop.

 

A Trapper’s Full Moon (and maybe even a Moon pillar)

February 3rd is the Full Moon for 2015.  For the Cherokee, it is the Bone Moon or “month when the stars and moon are fixed in the heavens” – even though we know that they are not fixed. On this site, I have called it by some of its other names: the Snow, Storm, Ice Moon, and the Hunger Moon.

It is a tough month of winter for most of the United States. This month’s Full Moon names were most associated with the harsh weather or depleting stores of food. It makes sense for a Hunger Moon, maybe even a Bone Moon, as the food and meat is gone and only the bones remain. When I am hiking in the woods, I sometimes come across the bones of animals that did not make it through the winter. White bones, picked clean by hungry animals, white on the snow and even more so in the light of the Full Moon.

Our Colonial ancestors called this simply the Winter Moon or the Trapper’s Moon, a name that came from eastern Algonquin Indian traditions. Though the tradition is (thankfully) not as common today, this would be the time when it was optimal for trapping beaver, fox, and mink as their fur would be at the fullest.

This is a good time to witness the phenomena of “Moon pillars.” I have never seen Moon pillars which are an optical phenomena that is most likely to occur when the moon is low to the horizon, the air is cold, and ice crystals are angled in a position in the atmosphere where there is direct light in a straight column directly above or below the moon.

A light pillar is created by the reflection of light from ice crystals with near horizontal parallel planar surfaces. The light can come from the Sun (usually at or low to the horizon) in which case the phenomenon is called a sun pillar or solar pillar. It can also appear to come from the Moon or even from terrestrial sources such as streetlights.

There are billions of micro-sized ice crystals in clouds (even in warmer weather) or in minute snow crystals, and as these column-shaped ice crystals drift earthward, they tip and tilt. There are “upper pillars” that are formed when light is reflected downward toward our eyes and “lower pillars” when light is reflected upward from the topmost crystal faces.

I have read that the best time to see them is at sunset when a storm front is approaching (there might be a veil of cirrus clouds in the west). If those crystals happen to be nearly perfectly horizontal, a narrow column is the result. If they are tilted at various angles to the horizontal, then a the pillar of light spreads into what might look more like broad feathers to the Moon’s sides.

light pillars
“Light pillars over Laramie Wyoming in winter night” by Christoph Geisler / Wikimedia Commons

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.