February 23, 2005

Moon Thoughts : Snow Moon, Hunger Moon.

It seems the general concensus regarding the the names of the full moons throughout the year is the following:

"Full Moon names date back to Native Americans, of what is now the northern and eastern United States. The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full Moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred. There was some variation in the Moon names, but in general, the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior. European settlers followed that custom and created some of their own names."

-- from the Farmers' Almanac online

The Wiccan and Neopagan movements have adopted some of the same names, while changing or reordering others, often citing centuries old roots in European and/or Celtic traditions. Although I was unable to find any information to support this claim, some of the images and metaphors evoked are quite moving, and you should feel free to explore the many different possibilities and associations--maybe even developing your own (this might be especially helpful for those living in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are opposite those in the north, to which many of the moon's names refer).

I celebrate each new moon and each full moon (which averages out to about one ceremony every other week), performing a small ritual, more formal than my daily meditations, in which I pray for an extended period of time, light candles, sometimes listen to a beautifully composed Mass sung chant-like in Latin or sometimes sing or chant myself, and practice whatever prayer or magic is appropriate for the time. I have also twice now taken the opportunity of my full moon ritual to contemplate-through-poetry on the moon's name, its relationship to the seasonal calendar and to the liturgical calendar.

February's full moon is called both the "Snow Moon" and the "Hunger Moon," since this is the month when the northeast usually receives most of its snow (it was snowing just last night, as I wrote the following piece) and because the winter store of food usually reached its limit (back before supermarkets). This latter association with scarcity is reflected in the Lenten season of the Church, when many people choose to give up foods like meat, eggs and butter, or choose even stricter fasts to follow. Fasting and experiencing hunger at this time of year has connections both to the earth, and to the 40-day period Jesus spent on "spirit quest" fasting and meditating in the desert, preparing for the culmination of his work. In both cases, physical hunger and cold (it's cold in the desert at night!) remind us of our spiritual hunger for God and the warmth and protection given to us by Divine love and grace, and that we must also learn to radiate and give to others in times of trial.

The following is the poem which I wrote last night, while contemplating these ideas:

Snow Moon, Hunger Moon

Gullies of moonlight banked
against dark hills, muddy with
the mark of heavy work,
each edge a sunset—lapped
night, condensed and carried
into the clouds’ cracked lips—
this is parting, this is ice
appetite—this is what falls
and cannot reach the ground,
what empties glass after glass
into a hungry wind and sweeps
white thirst against what will
not turn—this is the creviced
skin, cold, and the throat, clenched
and smoking sore with crying out
—this is that night, when
the moon and desert are whole,
and what is beautiful shrinks
back against this weathered chest.


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