The passing of a season to another gives rise to the observation of the lunar cycle changes, and with that the observation of the length of a day, that marks the daily passage of time. It has been observed by archeologists that ancient civilizations relied heavily on the sun, moon, and star positions to mark the passage of time. Their repeated patterns provided a reason for these people to determine how much time has passed. With it arose some of the normal questions you often hear children of present time to ask. What is next year? What is tomorrow? Why do the leaves change? Why is it darker most of the time in winter, but always sunny in the summer? How do you answer a child when you do not even know the answer. Often times I wonder if the pre-modern people were really good bull-shitters. I wonder how much they believed the tales we know they told. There is no way to determine level of belief of the author or a culture based on the fact that they wrote down the stories. Modern man is the author of some fantastic stories, which are all fiction. Did pre-modern man understand the concept of fiction and nonfiction? I digress, as this has brought up more questions to answer, and it allows me to make hypotheticals to the real answer, just like pre-modern man did so long ago.
Lunar cycles and solar cycles present a wonderful opportunity to track what time of year it is, and how long to expect the more difficult months to arrive. (poor phrasing??) There are approximately 13 full moons in the year. Each lunar cycle is approximately 29.2 days. For you math gurus out there, that leaves 2.2 days left in the year, officially. Yes, you are right! Now, forget what you know about the Gregorian Calendar (which is a solar calendar anyway, that deals with how often the Earth revolves around the sun). Jan-Dec is out! Now, each moon begins and ends on about the same time of year each year, give or take a day! They happen to fall on different parts of the month due to the calendar being really imperfect. Those religious holidays of Easter, Yum Kippur, and other lunar holidays, will always fall within the same time frame every year. If you are anything like me, having to plan around that extra ambiguous day or two will likely have me joining the protestors to riot for a less messy calendar. So, Gregorian Calendar is in. Some Pagans call the lunar days that are honored and celebrated an Esbat, however, it is not universally used as a term by all Pagans to mean a celebration of the moon.
But never fear, if Pagans are anything, they are deviant to the rest of the world, and they could really care less. The lunar phases are each honored as a way to motivate themselves, and to release negativity. At the beginning of each new lunar cycle, there is a period Pagans call the new moon. Scientifically, the new moon rises in the morning, travels the sky during the day, and sets at dusk. There is no moon in the night sky to see, but Pagans call it a new moon, as it begins a new phase. Pagans attribute new beginnings, habits, and what have you during these first few days of a new moon cycle. Coincidentally many women’s menstrual cycle is in sync to begin at either this moon phase, or at the full moon phase.
The next phase is the waxing moon, in which a sliver of moon can be seen for most of the day, and sets at the beginning of the night. Because the moon is transitioning toward the full moon, the same attributions that the new moon had is applied to the waxing moon as well. This phase can be called waxing crescent (looks like a tiny sliver), and a waxing gibbous (looks like it is halfway to being full).
Then we arrive to the full moon. Much ado about the full moon has been given through rumor, lore, and general hysteria. I wish I could be kidding on this, sadly, I am not. But, because of size constraints, I will allow you to hurry off and look up all the weird and wacky things that have been said about how a full moon can affect people, and not bore you with the details here. As for Pagans, we have the tendency to believe that we can absorb energy from the moon into ourselves or our work and intentions. For you Pagans reading this, yes I am purposely glossing over a whole lot of deity lore in this, but that will come later, bear with me people! I invite all non-pagans to spend time outside to observe a full moon. To be still in the night, and enjoy the sunlight reflecting off of it’s surface on to you. I hope you feel wonderful and moved by the experience. I hope you feel something there that you hadn’t noticed before. If not, we are not all made to experience the same thing.
Then we come to the waning moon. This moon follows the same pattern as the waxing moon, but in reverse. First it turns into a waning gibbous, then to a waning crescent, and then it disappears into nothing. As the moon slowly waists away, Pagans use this time to banish negativity, banish bad habits, or what have you. The us, it is a time to get rid of the junk that is holding us back, and to clean our house and selves of any lingering issues that we may have encountered over the previous month. Each phase of the moon has around 2.5 days of being in that phase, and each phase has a set time of day it rises and sets. You can literally set your watch to the moon, if you knew how. I will now pause to allow you to hurry off and conduct your searches to see how you can do that, or if I’m putting one on you.
Now there are some communities, depending on which one you encounter, that will name each full moon with a specific reference to the type of weather or seasonal activity that is during that time frame. Moon Magick by D.J. Conway is a wonderful source of moon lore and references to the reasons why the full moons are named specific names through out the year.