The Dark Moon Esbat

People avoid those sensitive, difficult topics in life too often. We all strive for order, harmony, cosmos and forget that cosmos does not exist without the contrast of chaos, that harmony could not be recognized without disharmony or order without disorder. It is because of this that I write about the upcoming dark moon (September 13, 2015).

Dark or New Moon?

In scientific vocabulary, the term "dark moon" cannot be found. It isn't all that common in the English language actually. However, the term "new moon" is familiar to most people. The new moon is a generally accepted lunar phase which is usually defined as an astronomical phenomenon in which the Sun and Moon are located close to each other. The Sun then prevents the Moon from being visible from the Earth. Technically speaking, the Sun and Moon are conjunct in the sky during the dark moon. But, the problem here is that the new moon is often equated with and includes the lunar phase called the first quarter (when the Moon is "growing" and resembles a crescent as seen from the Earth). Of course, this makes the terminology quite confusing.

The new moon is clearly defined in the English language as that period in which the Moon is absolutely invisible from the Earth because the Sun then casts its shadow on it. In the few days that follow, when the Moon is in its first quarter, it has an entirely different name - the waxing crescent moon.

In order to avoid any obscurities, in Paganism, at least that which has grown out of English-speaking countries, the term "dark moon" has become widely accepted to refer to this period when the Moon isn't visible in the sky. Dissimilarly, the term "new moon" is used solely to refer to the crescent moon (which is also called Diana's crescent since the Moon in this period is connected to the divine figure of the Maiden, and the goddess Diana is known in mythology practically as the archetype of the maiden/virgin). So, by using the phrase dark moon, any ambivalence is avoided.

Basically, the notion of the dark moon is more a Pagan term than it is an astronomical one and it refers exclusively to that time when it is not possible to see the Moon from the Earth. The night of the celebration of the dark moon is called an Esbat, as is the celebration of any other lunar phase, but just to clarify that the celebration at hand is that of precisely this lunar phase, we will be talking about the dark moon Esbat.

The Meaning of the Dark Moon in Paganism

In Paganism, the Moon is generally connected to the Goddess and the Sun to the God. Since the days of old, the Moon has been connected to women and female mysteries, partially because the lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle are approximately equal in length (the lunar cycle lasts 29.5 days on average and the menstrual cycle, though it varies from woman to women, about 28 days).

In its cycle, the Moon goes through several visible phases - the first quarter, full Moon and the last quarter. During the first and last quarter it has a crescent shape and as it grows, it takes on the shape of a half-moon. The final, invisible phase is (using scientific terms) that of the new moon, or the dark moon as we Pagans would call it. In Paganism, each of these phases is connected to a certain aspect of the Goddess. The first quarter, when the Moon is at the beginning of its cycle, it is connected to the figure of the Maiden which is still young and inexperienced, but shows great potential. The full moon is connected to the Mother aspect, symbolizes her life experience, maturity, reaching her full physical potential and inevitably reminds one of a pregnant belly. The last quarter is connected to the Crone phase who is physically exhausted but makes up for this with her wisdom and full life. Each life has a beginning and and end, just as the lunar cycle does. The end of life, death, is represented by the invisible lunar phase, that is the dark moon. In Paganism, this short period of time is mystical because it is not represented by any "constant" aspect of the Goddess. Rather, it is connected to the Dark Goddess who represents everything hidden us and embodies the chaotic and destructive forces of the universe. In Wicca and similar Pagan denominations, one can usually hear about the Triple Goddess (the Maiden, Mother and Crone), whereas this final aspect is rarely mentioned and often is not incorporated into the Goddess' iconography.

Hrefngast - Hecate
To a person who encounters the notions of the dark moon and the Dark Goddess for the first time, they will surely sound dark, mysterious and simply put bad. Perhaps it is because of misunderstood phrases such as these that negative stereotypes of Paganism and similar spiritual paths have evolved. But, it is necessary to understand the philosophy behind them very well before one labels them as negative. In Paganism, these phrases to refer to that darker part of life which people do not want to pay attention to because it is as it is. It is a part of human nature to gravitate towards beauty, harmony and order (cosmos) and avoid everything that seems bad, chaotic, that we do not know, or perhaps are not able to know just yet (i.e. the unknown). But, as I emphasized at the beginning of this post, cosmos (order) does not exist without chaos (disorder), the day cannot exist without the night just as light does not exist without darkness. Both are two halves of the same whole.

On their spiritual path, Pagans aspire towards wholeness and consequently acknowledge both the light and dark sides of life. We do not believe that we have to avoid the dark sides just because they are dark, because they seem bad, or arouse fear in us. It is necessary to get better acquainted with them in order to know how to cope with them. Although it is extremely important to emphasize that this does not mean that we welcome them into our lives with widespread arms. Human nature is the stronger force here. Of course, we do not wish to invite any negativity into our or other peoples' lives or do any harm to ourselves or others. But, we are aware that life has its good and bad moments, that it is sometimes necessary to face the facts which may hurt us momentarily, but will aid us in our growth and development in the long run. Respectively, in our spiritual path, we accept the darker sides of life as something completely natural or not fully dark. After all, no matter how dark the night, morning always comes, right? Hence, we look at death as just another natural, integral part of life (for those that believe in reincarnation, this is just another step in the birth-death-rebirth cycle). We try to react to the challenges and problems in our lives as if they are all obstacles which can be overcome and to whose solutions we can arrive through facing facts, our own emotions, our subconscious and so on. Every such confrontation is difficult in its own way, but brings necessary insight.

of the Moon
When one sees the Dark Goddess as a figure that represents all of the above mentioned, she stops being something to be afraid of and starts being something that is necessary and sometimes even welcome in order for us to develop as human beings in a mundane and spiritual way.

The time of the dark moon is therefore a time of worshiping the Dark Goddess and recognizing the darker sides of life. This is mainly done through meditations, introspection, asking key (often difficult) questions in order to reach necessary insight. I would like to emphasize, and this is purely a personal opinion, that insight cannot be anything but necessary. That is to say, I do not believe that a piece of insight can come at the wrong time. If something is perceived willingly (emphasis on willingly because I believe that another person's will should not manipulate ours and that such manipulation mainly has only negative consequences), then the person at hand must surely have been ready for this. They could not have comprehended this, or even have thought in this direction were they not ready.

Some believe that the dark moon is not an appropriate time to do magic because, as the Moon is not visible, its power is at its lowest. In contrast to the dark moon, the full moon represents the peak of the Moon's strength. However, this way of thinking is not equally logical for everyone. If one sees the lunar phases as equally worthy phases which correspond to equally important aspects of the Goddess, then neither lunar phase is more ore less potent than another. It's simply a matter of a change in the type of potency. For example, during the first quarter (the waxing phase) of the Moon, it is appropriate to perform magic that will invite good things into our lives. The full moon is the peak of the waxing period so relatively similar magic will be performed during it. During the last quarter (the waning phase), the appropriate kind of magic is that which drives away harmful forces from our lives. The dark moon, as the symbolical end do this waning period of the Moon, has its own energy and is appropriate for a specific type of work which is similar to that done during the last quarter. What I am referring to is that type of magic which focuses on destroying unwanted things in our lives and driving away negativity (be it in the form of relationships, traits, habits, fears and so on), and logically apotropaic and defensive magic. Some also use this time to strengthen their magical and psychic abilities and for certain types of divination. The latter is based on the belief that the full and dark moon are contrary to one another in terms of their energy (cosmic forces being at their peak during the full moon and chaotic ones during the dark moon), but that they have on thing in common. That is to say, they are both transitional points in the lunar cycle. Because of this, it is said that both nights are situated in a moment beyond time. These transitional periods are known in folklore as times when the veil between worlds is thinnest, which makes it easier to come into contact with divine forces, our ancestors etc. during this period than others. Divination is more potent then because of the same reason. Of course, depending on what you wish to find out, you will choose both the method of divination and the appropriate time. So you probably won't ask any types of questions on the night of a dark moon, but rather those that correspond to its chaotic nature.

When devotional practice is at hand, it is usually thought that evoking i.e. calling upon the Dark Goddess is much more desirable than invoking her (as in inviting into a person) considering her nature. Her extreme intensity can be too much for one person to handle, but when all this energy is shared among a group of people, or when one comes into indirect contact with it, it's as if the body determines on its own how much of this energy it is capable of soaking in at that moment. Some will prefer working in a group because of this, while others will prefer to work alone given that the insights one has tend to be personal in nature. After all, everyone will experience the energy of the dark moon in their own way.

Although dark moon Esbats are not typical Pagan celebrations; they aren't filled with dancing, celebrations, general merriment and so on, they are celebrated in their own way which has its own charm and practical value. These periods are useful for recognizing the hidden parts of the world and our own personalities. But of course, in moderate doses.

Given that the night of the dark moon is approaching as I write this post, I can only wish you a pleasurable Esbat and much productive work! I hope that you will be able to apply the information you read in this post during this or any other upcoming Esbat.

Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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