Spiritual space in a violent world
Text and image: Harriet Smith
Our moon is gravitationally connected to earth’s large bodies of water, and astrologically connected to our intuitive sense of purpose. The ‘theory’ of astrology and lunar magic are obviously subjective, a mere part of specific belief and value systems, but are there rituals and practices of lunar worship that could hold wider contemporary relevance? There is certainly something magic in staring up at the full moon, reflected below in the ocean, listening to waves lapping the shoreline.
Astrology is a system of pattern recognition, a reflective tool, or a life-orienting religion depending on who you ask. It maps the movement of the night sky, like astronomy, but then ascribes meaning to planetary positioning. It might act as a divination technique or simply a way of knowing yourself better, depending which astrologers you listen to. The astrological zodiac signs are divided into categories of earth, air, fire, and water, and there are three water signs: Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. The moon is the astrological ruler of Cancer; therefore, water is also connected to the moon, denoting emotion and intuition, reflecting the inherent meditative quality of gazing at the moon. This connection between the moon and water feels inevitable given that the tides are, in part, connected with the gravitational pull of the moon.
The moon can make us feel more connected to the earth, not just the ocean’s tides. There is a romance to viewing the moon with a lover or friend, whether together or separated. Perhaps, because gazing at the moon is a moment of stillness in a busy world. The moon moves relatively slowly: it takes roughly 28 days for the moon to complete one orbit of the earth. This is roughly the same amount of time as the median menstrual cycle, and this association has led to the moon being viewed as a symbol of the feminine, ascribed this gender in most forms of astrology. I prefer to think of the moon as genderqueer, but feel free to make up your own mind.
The sun is cyclical and grounding, the same glowing orb every day gifting us energy for growing food and vitamins for our physical bodies. The moon is more mysterious, visible only through reflected light and invisible on each new moon. Its 28 day cycle is typically considered to have eight distinct phases. Astrologically, these are imbued with different energy, again reminiscent of a menstrual cycle. Physical and mental energy, confidence, and emotions shift throughout the lunar cycle. Much like a menstrual cycle, these shifts in physical and emotional state are not universal, but personal, recognisable only through observation and building a relationship with our own body. In this way the theoretical connection between the moon, water, emotion, and intuition can become transformed into a personal ritual, a regular deliberate habit of introspection.
To connect with our watery emotional side, we need rest. Yet, to write about revolutionary rest while feeling stretched for time and often exhausted feels hypocritical and has been difficult. It seems like a time of burnt-out activists, weary students, exhausted sex workers, and struggling entrepreneurs, at least among my friends in Amsterdam. The world has changed in the past few years; millions of people have died, many are developing chronic illnesses, yet it feels like we are meant to be as productive as ever, remaining unchanged. Vaccines have been developed but patents have not been waived. In 2022, the world’s ten wealthiest people, who all happen to be men, have doubled their fortunes, while 99% of humanity has seen a reduction in income. The Russian war against Ukraine threatens lives, alongside ongoing conflict and military occupation in Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Palestine. The difference in European and US response has exposed further systemic racism and xenophobia. Many of these problems are caused by an unacknowledged history and the legacies of colonialism.
The prevalence and prioritisation of an economic system, which relies upon extraction, economic crashes, and cash profit above all else has led us to a place I find strangely dystopian. It is in this contemporary context that observation of the regular cycles of the moon brings a sense of comfort. How do we replenish ourselves when we feel the weight of violent cultural practices (an economic system is a cultural practice too)? Sometimes it helps to howl at the moon in frustration or burn words that need releasing surrounded by candles and dreamy music under a full moon. Rest is revolutionary when pausing is necessary for us to recognise our planetary potential: to dream beyond the present.
Building an intentional relationship with the moon is a gift of ancestral wisdom across multiple cultures. The time of the full and new moon have historically been associated with rest in many different settings. Astrologists, Wiccans, and Buddhists typically believe full moon energy is slower, viewing it as a reflective, rather than creative period. Indigenous groups, such as the Ojibwe of Turtle Island, named full moons in relation to seasons, flora, and fauna. These include the frog moon, strawberry moon and falling leaves moon; each a specific reference to the emergence or movement of animals and plants of a specific time. Lunar observance can extend beyond the self, referencing relationships with the land and building an awareness of what grows and emerges from the earth.
In astrology the new moon is a time for manifestation, whereas the full moon is associated with harvesting and checking personal alignment. This gives a lunar timeline to potential productivity, that reminds you to ask how you feel as well as what you want to achieve. The full moon acknowledged with introspection, may have an extra restorative dimension if we bathe lit by candlelight, connecting with the sensation of our body’s weightlessness in water. Sometimes we need a sensual experience to connect our body and mind. I think moon rituals offer the possibility for us to disconnect from an industrial patriarchal capitalist model of constant growth and productivity, unaffected by the seasons or personal circumstances. Instead, moon rituals are an invitation to check in with ourselves, while recognising the changes and movements around us, a tool for grounding.
Take what resonates
Astrologically speaking, water is about connecting to our embodied emotions, desires, and feelings. Lunar wisdom connects our body with an awareness of time and place, with other humans, with the ‘natural’ world, of which we are part, and the possibilities we can create. I am aware that spirituality and connecting to sources of power outside of ourselves may feel unnatural to many secular people. However, I believe there is something pragmatic enough about lunar observation, that it may serve as a bridge to something magical, yet not religious. Utilising lunar calendars to open ourselves to emotions, feelings, and intuition offers the potential for the co-creation of a kinder, more resilient, and empathetic world, as we could begin to understand our own needs and boundaries better. Building a connection with the earth around us is essential to prevent ecological disasters and build greater food resilience. The new moon and full moon days, every two weeks, can be special days, if you want them to be. This is an invitation.