This month, on January 31st there is a particularly interesting moon occurring in which we have a full super moon, blue moon and lunar eclipse! It is the “Ice” moon according to the Coligny calendar!
“To our ancestors’ unaided perception both sun and moon appeared the same size in the skies. The path of the sun expanded and contracted, its power increasing and diminishing through the year, while the moon waxed to a perfect silver white circle, then waned until it disappeared into the darkness. Little is known of how the ancient Druids worked with the moon’s cycles, though there is evidence that their calendars were moon orientated. Pliny tells of Druids cutting mistletoe on the sixth day of the waxing moon. There is mention, too, of other herbs, of the moon phases and the moon being a source of healing. There is imagery of gods and priests with crescent shapes assumed to be lunar symbols. For those practising Druidry today, the moon is equal in importance to the sun and as many rites are held at night, in the flickering light of the fire, as are held during the daytime.” -Emma Restall Orr
While we know practically nothing about actual celebrations or rituals the Celts might have participated in during the varying cycles of the moon we do have historic written accounts of their knowledge of its cycle and its effect on earth, the tides and us. We know that they performed certain rituals or picked specific herbs during particular phases of the moon and this practice survived into at least the 18th century. The word for moons the same in many European languages and mostly means “to measure”. The Coligny Calendar was based on both the lunar and solar cycle. Many stone circles are aligned with the moon cycles and even rare lunar events. The Stenness standing stones on Orkney Scotland as well as the Black Forest Stonehenge are aligned with a lunar phenomenon occurring every 18.6 years when the moon appears at its most northerly position on the horizon. The Stenness stones specifically have been locally known for centuries as the “Temple of the Moon”. We know they held the moon in high regard, at least equally to the sun but maybe even more so as they started their days with the rising of the moon verses the sun. This reverence has persisted among locals on the British Isles and has been revitalized in paganism today all around the world.
The Celts understood the direction the sun and moon were traveling and completed most tasks in this direction, going “sunwise” or clockwise. There seems to have been a strong association between clockwise being lucky and counter-clockwise or “widdershins” being unlucky. This practice is referenced as early as Posidonius who died in 51 BCE when he tells us that the Celts follow actions in the same way “in which they worship the gods, always turning towards the right hand.” This belief was passed down through the generations and even survived up through the 18th century through accounts in the Carmina Gadelica and arguably, right up to the present day. There was an old tradition in Scotland that survived into the 18th century that pregnant women walked around a church three times sunrise before delivery for good luck. People in Ireland and Scotland typically walk sunwise around wells three times before taking water or making an offering. This belief is also illustrated in the tale of Boand, who when going counterclockwise around a well, caused the well water to rise up and wash her away all the way to the sea, creating the River Boyne. In the process she lost an eye, an arm and a leg and ultimately her life.
It is alluded in many various folktales that the new moon and full moons were the most commonly celebrated in various ritual, song and rhyme. In the Carmina Gadelica (1860-1909), Alexander Carmichael tells us of common and casual new moon rituals. In Cornwall, people nodded to the new moon and would turn silver in their pockets. In Scotland, they would turn their rings on their fingers and make wishes. It’s thought by many that humankind’s earliest gods were the sun and the moon, which came to represent the divine male and female. The popularity of a matriarchal and largely agricultural religion at one time is clearly proven through archaeological remnants. At the very least, the masculine and feminine were equally worshipped and celebrated in various ways and deities. Did you know it takes the moon approximately 29.5 days to revolve around the earth? Coincidently, a woman’s period cycle is on average 28-30 days and as a result women are innately connected to the moon. By honoring and celebrating the moon, we celebrate the divine feminine energy and connectedness in everything and our importance in continuing, nurturing and celebrating the cycle of birth and life on our earth. The full moon is said to be the time when our intuition and “powers” for cleansing or ritual are at their highest. We celebrate the masculine, the sun, equally in depth what it lacks in breadth with the solstices and equinoxes!
“Hail to thee, thou new moon,
Guiding jewel of gentleness!
I am bending to thee my knee,
I am offering thee my love.
Holy be each thing
Which she illuminates;
Kindly be each deed
Which she reveals.”
-The New Moon from the Carmina Gadelica (1860-1909)
“The men of old would not kill a pig nor sheep nor goat nor axe-cow at the wane of the moon. The flesh of an animal is then without taste, without sap, without plumpness, without fat. Neither would they cut withes of hazel or willow for creels or baskets, nor would they cut tree of pine to make a boat, in the black wane of the moon. The sap of the wood goes down into the root, and the wood becomes brittle and crumbly, without plight, without good. The old people did all these things at the waxing or at the full of the moon. The men of old were observant of the facts of nature, as the young folk of today are not. The new moon was propitious for clipping hair, for cutting peats, for reaping corn, for shearing sheep, and for many things of that nature.” -Carmina Gadelica (1860-1909)
“Mistletoe rarely grows on oaks, but is sought with reverence and cut only on the sixth day of the moon.” –Pliny the Elder (Roman, 23 – 79 CE)
“Some authors assert that the Gallaicans are atheists whereas the Celtiberians and the neighboring peoples of the North dance and revel all night long by their homes, with their families, during the full moon, in order to honor an anonymous god.” –Strabo (Greek, 64 BCE – 24 CE)
“While Attalus was encamped on the Macistus, an eclipse of the moon took place, which the Galli took to be an unfavorable sign; and they were also wearied of moving about with their wives and children who followed in the carts. Accordingly, they refused to march on.” –Polybius (Greek, 205 – 125 BCE)
Ways to Celebrate:
For more information check out Moon Magic: Your Complete Guide to Harnessing the Mystical Energy of the Moon or Moon Spells: How to Use the Phases of the Moon to Get What You Want, both by Diane Ahlquist!
Writer and Herbalist
A founding member of Discover Druidry, Isla is a writer, photographer and avid gardener. She wrote the Celtic Druidry Handbook: An Evidence Based Guide.