Moon Cycles

There was a beautiful full moon here on Wednesday evening, round and fat, rising orange before turning yellow and then silvery white as it ascended into the clouds. We took turns going up the stairs to view it while also trying to cook dinner. A time of intense energy, I was feeling so alive the next morning that I found it hard to settle – tricky when our regular activities saw me at a group where most people sit and chat!

I keep being assailed by incorrect illustrations or descriptions of the moon at the moment. Children’s books love to picture the moon, but will frequently have a quarter moon rising at sunset, and then in the same place several hours later, or even in the same place facing the other way in the morning! Even books written for older people, such as teenagers or adults, will have moons rising at the wrong time of day for their shape, or in the wrong direction relative to the sun. An impossible moonrise spoils, for me, whatever illusion has been built up.

For those confused about what to expect from the moon, in rises roughly in the East and sets in the West much as the sun does. However, the Full moon is seen at night while the New moon is occasionally seen during the day as a shadow eclipsing the sun. To move between the two extremes, as the month progresses the moon rises about an hour later each day – so a waxing moon is often seen in the afternoon and a waning moon seen in the morning.

There is another aspect however, which is that sometimes referred to as ‘wobble’. This means that although the moon rises roughly in the East, like the sun it moves back and forth along the horizon a little. It does this over a period of around 27 days, rather than approx 29.5 of the full moons or 365.25 of the sun’s seasons, so doesn’t coincide with anything very well – although it does make for exciting eclipses, as well as Metonic calendars of nineteen years (or only slightly less accurately, eight and eleven years. I have recently discovered that biodynamic gardening calendars take this wobble movement very much into account, even more so than which constellation the moon is moving through. The ascending, Spring-like path is far more dynamic for growing things, for example, than the descending, Autumn path when pruning or weedkilling might be done. When I have enough gardening time to guarantee being free on the right days for the right type of plants to be cultivated, I will try and work with this… I look forward to it!

Autumn Equinox

This week was the Equinox, when day and night equalise briefly as the sun passes over the equator. Here in the Northern hemisphere we have now entered the ‘dark’ time of the year. M and I held a ceremony at the time of the equinox, conveniently 9.22 on Wednesday morning when we were at home, so we lit candles, rang bells, and I sang some songs celebrating the turning of the Earth. At the moment of the equinox we paused, and then had the rather awe inspiring sight of the candle flames dipping down very small for several seconds, before growing back to full size again. Her delight that something had actually happened was very touching.

For me the equinox was time to call in a new way of being. I could feel many cycles coming to an end in the month preceding the equinox, but nothing new really happening yet. Impatient as ever, I have been finding this frustrating. There are things I want to do, to achieve, and I need to look after me a bit more since I am down to one pair of trousers that fits, the other having worn out last week. (M now has a full autumn wardrobe…)

However I also have to remember what autumn is all about. Getting the harvest in for the winter, making sure it is safely stored away so that we will not starve in the months ahead. Animals retreat into hibernation, plants retreat below ground. They are busy resting, building, growing in ways that we cannot see but that will bear fruit in the light half of the year. I need to look after myself more, sleep more, keep warmer and eat more sustaining or starchy foods than I do in summer – root vegetables instead of salads. This should be a time for dreams. Dreams need time, and even dark to grow, before they can manifest in their full glory.

Luckily there is one cycle I began during the summer months which has reached the active stage this week – that of my garden redesign. As the grass ceases its growth, it is time to mark out the new paths so that digging may commence. That will be a great job to do in winter!

Clearing the old

It is a fact of nature that some things have to die in order to make way for new growth. As a pagan I generally feel well connected to the cycles of the land, and when the time is right, can even enjoy being destructive as part of clearing the way for something positive to follow. So I have begun the work of transforming my garden in accordance with the plans I made earlier this year.

The first big job turns out to be the removal of a pyracanthus ‘hedge’. It was planted by the previous occupants so is probably 20-25 years old. Being evergreen, it hides the grey breeze block wall at the end of the garden from view all year round, and so is appreciated by the rest of the family from that point of view. As a pagan I should appreciate it for its white flowers and fiery berries, and the thorns which can cut to the root of a problem. However as a gardener, I have found it hard to love. The ground is too dry or too lacking in nutrients for it to flower, so after setting buds it turns brown and fails to make berries. (The raspberry bushes I planted immediately alongside have fruited well for 15 years, so I suspect the problem is the plant, or the original soil preparation. No amount of pruning to remove the dead bits has helped…) Being summer the rest of the family doesn’t notice its brown-ness, as there are plenty of other plants nearby to divert the eye, but to me it becomes an eyesore. In addition its thorns will go through any glove, and are frequently found some distance from the hedge after its annual prune, where I may not even have the benefit of hand protection. In short it is not a plant I have come to love, and part of the redesign gave me pleasure in finding an excuse to get rid of it and put in something I do like. Viburnum tinus, or cotoneaster, or box or hebe, or just about anything evergreen and non-prickly!

The hedge is fighting back. I am covered in scratches and bruises, and have thorns stuck in my fingertips and elsewhere that have to be dug out. There are substantial thorns on every stem or trunk, no matter how old or thick they have become, right down to ground level. Not wanting to risk trying to shred such an awkward plant with its twisted branches, they have to be cut up small enough to go in the bin, over a series of weeks as it is only collected fortnightly.

But then I looked at it a different way. This plant has protected our garden from intruders, and cows, for a long time. It may not have always looked pretty, but it succeeded in the job it was asked to do. Therefore in order to remove it without major difficulty, I have found it helpful to thank it for its efforts. It is so easy to forget to properly acknowledge what was!

And the results? With even a small part of it now gone, I am finding some rewards. M has discovered she can now hide around the corner from the raspberry bushes and pinch the fruit from the back, and even more importantly, she can see the cows or horses or donkeys in the field behind without me having to lift her up. Maybe I shouldn’t plant right up to the wall!


Fallen Hornbeam Tree

Fallen Hornbeam Tree

A fallen tree is a familiar sight in our woodlands – frequently with an air of sadness and decay. They are frequently the oldest trees, who have come to the end of their upright life and been felled by fungi and wind. We mourn them, for the passing of an era if the tree was ancient. And then we enjoy the extra light that can reach the forest floor, the sudden growth of woodland biennials and perennials, the extra insect and fungi life that begin the business of breaking down the old tree so that the carbon and nitrogen locked within its cells may be recycled into the next generation, and of course, the new saplings that spring up to take its place. The cycle is endless, and essential if there is to be new life.
Hornbeam Twists

Hornbeam Twists

Occasionally, however, the cycle takes a new twist. This Hornbeam tree growing at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire is just coming into leaf. The wonderfully twisted branches now lying on the ground are still growing happily, because it has managed to reroot itself. It has also sent up a new ‘sapling’ of its own.
Regenerating Hornbeam

Regenerating Hornbeam

Rhythms of the Moon

It was a full moon this week – but so cloudy and wet for three nights that I missed seeing it. Much like the winter solstice really! Before M was born I particularly enjoyed having an evening walk at the full moon, seeing familiar countryside in a slightly different way. It is rare that I can do that at the moment, but it will come again and I may even have company in the future.

M is very good at moon spotting, not being hampered by any expectations of time of day or direction. I still get it wrong on occasion and look in the wrong place, although I am improving provided I don’t miss seeing it for too many days in a row. The waxing moon can be seen in the afternoons and evenings, following the sun’s path through the sky so that it rises where the sun rises and sets where the sun sets according to the time of year. The full moon I see in the evening only, while the waning moon is visible sometimes on late evenings or in the morning.

Many witch covens meet at the full moon; they are the Esbats of the pagan year. I have had times when I have celebrated esbats by myself, especially when I have wished to make changes in my life, and then periods when I have done very little. Some covens also celebrate new moons – because if you wish to start a new project there is no better time. To work with the rhythms of the moon will always be more powerful than to ignore what is around us, for it is subtle energies that must shift for the changes we wish to see. The simple rule I follow is that if you want something to increase, then let it increase with the waxing moon. Maximum power is at the full moon, while things you wish to loose are best lost with the waning moon. This rule works for gardening too, with seeds planted just before the full moon being the quickest to emerge in my experience, while pruning can be adjusted depending on whether you are trying to stimulate growth or restrain it.

January’s full moon is sometimes known as the Wolf Moon; it represents a time of frozen lands and hunger, when the pack and family relationships become all important to survival. This has certainly been important in my own life this year as the holiday season comes to a close – and various seasonal illnesses have meant we have all had to look after each other even more than usual. Unlike bears though, wolves don’t generally hibernate, they just hide out from the worst winter weather in their dens. People are very much like this!