I’ve been doing New Moon rituals for years. There’s always a voice inside that wonders “What good is this anyway?” Another voice usually replies, “Shut up, this is magic. You want magic, don’t you?” The skeptical voice persists: “So what. You do a ritual or you skip it. It doesn’t change the world.” Cries the magic-loving voice: “Skip the New Moon and the gods will be angry. Better do it.”
When all else fails, guilt wins. I do it. And because I’ve kept the commitment, I’ve received a teaching over the years that goes beyond the intelligence of either the skeptic or the magic-lover. This knowledge is deeply lunar. And that it came gradually, across many New Moon rituals, is precisely the point.
Rituals can be a means for joining with the natural order. In ancient traditions, ceremonies timed to the Sun, Moon and seasons were genuinely collaborative, a way to ensure that the natural rhythms were sustained. Fail to keep the rhythms and the world would sicken. Today we’re hampered by knowing the Sun and Moon will rise without our help. We cannot be as convinced, however, that the world hasn’t sickened without our ritual attentions.
This is not my reason for keeping New Moon ceremonies. It’s more personal. It’s about the developmental value of repetition, returning to the same moment, with a similar intent, over time. This is what the Moon does, always bringing the Full Moon to the eastern horizon at sunset, without fail returning the waxing Crescent to the western sky two weeks later. I return too. At times I’ll simply mouth words or mime gestures without much feeling or connection, until at one New Moon, I get such a deep “aha!” it resonates backwards and forward, charging both past and future ceremonies. Over the next New Moon something else is building. Nourished by the subtle weave of change, reflection and return, transformations come.
We get what anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson calls “longitudinal epiphanies,” discoveries that can only be made by walking the same path again and again.1 It’s a natural mode of learning well suited to ritual. Bates worries that we are losing our capacity for it. Our desires for freedom, novelty, entertainment, and speed make a stronger call. We hate being boxed in. Repeating traditional words and forms feels artificial. We worry that our ritualized spiritual experience lacks sincerity. We get bored. Especially if the ritual doesn’t bring instant results, we may feel like we’ve been conned.
Perhaps we could learn from children, who can watch, with remarkably little restlessness, the same video, play the same game, listen to the same story, again and again. Not only can they do it, they love to do it. To the observing parent what the child gets from such repetition is often a mystery. But it might draw from the same reassuring secret the Moon tells every month: “You’re back! Stay awhile. Let’s go deeper. Who are you now? What do you see?” With each New Moon return, the particulars of our lives may have altered, but there is both continuity and opportunity in reaching the same temporal crossroads again.
A child watching Land Before Time over and over can seem possessed, as though the video had captured her, not the other way around. But what if no ritual form ever captures us? Can we borrow a ritual from some foreign tradition? Without its heritage or training, will it have meaning for us? Or if we decide to invent our own, will it lack the secret substance and power of forms created by ones spiritually wiser? What if we regularly show up for the New Moon, but improvise our ceremony every time? Does that count?
I wish I knew the answers. We live in chaotic times. Our desire to build stable but meaningful tructures will increase. In the meantime I think of one of my favorite B movies, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” In the movie, a group of post-apocalyptic children are stranded after an airplane crash. They learn how to survive in the deserted landscape. But they also develop rituals honoring their presumed past world, based on objects they find in the airplane debris – a broken videocassette, a girlie photo, a post card of the New York skyline. Their assumptions about the past are wildly inaccurate, but their rituals are creative and inspired. Reciting their stories, returning to their ritual container, is what binds the spirit of these stranded innocents together.
We might profit from their intelligence, despite its fictional source. In the end, it may matter less which ritual we choose, but that we choose one at all. It may not matter when we do our rituals either. At the Full Moon. On the fifteenth of every month. When a favorite flower blooms. I happen to like the New Moon. A nature-inspired time of renewal, it returns us, again and again, to the energy of beginning. Truth is, we begin many times, astrologically and otherwise. Every progressed or transiting conjunction or every move and job change represents another new start, just like the New Moon. When you keep a New Moon practice, you get wiser and wiser about what beginning means.
A good way to enter into the feeling quality of the New Moon is to recall a childhood “first time.” Childhood beginnings are more pure, less burdened by experience’s drag of expectations. I remember the first time I fed ducks.
I was three and nobody had bothered to tell me what we were doing. We were in a car, then a parking lot, then somebody handed me a bag full of torn-up bread pieces. Uncomprehending, I started eating them. The adults laughed, the bag was pulled from my hands, I cried.
A not too auspicious beginning. And not unlike many a New Moon. We don’t yet know about the duck-filled lake beyond the parking lot. The sky is dark then, the Moon having dipped below the horizon with the setting Sun. The visual announcement of a new cycle’s start won’t show until a day or two later, when a slim Crescent appears in the west.
At first the subtlety of this eluded me. From my early studies I’d somehow gotten it into my head that the New Moon is like the cymbal crash at the beginning of a parade, a loud, frenetic time when everybody runs around, full of energy, enthusiastically starting new projects. During New Moons I watched the news and people around me, expecting to see major events and activity. Sometimes this happened, just as often it didn’t. I wondered, was astrology wrong?
The Sun and Moon are conjunct at the New Moon. This does signal a tremendous concentration of energy, but it occurs outside our view. This suggests energy but little awareness, a common feature of beginnings. We like to think we direct ourselves into desired new directions, but more typically, we start our new cycles like the New Moon, in the dark. It’s much like conception, another divine conjunction outside our view. We don’t really know what we’ve begun until well after it’s started.
Acting in darkness, we’re feeling our way, not sure where it will all lead. This fits the special energy of conjunctions – whether a New Moon, or a progressed or transiting planet comes into conjunction with a natal, even when there are conjunctions in the natal chart. There is a fusion of energy, a blurring of forces that brings a new opportunity, and some confusion. An urge is stirred, but toward what end? Which planet leads? Do the energies struggle against each other or blend to create something fresh?
Though the end isn’t certain at the New Moon, go we must. We’re headed for our first New Moon test. Stirred by energy without conscious intent, we can create anew or fall back on instinct. Most often we do what we already know, veering away from beckoning change. I ate the bread because, at three years of age, that’s what I did with bread. Who knew you were supposed to feed it to ducks? Who even knew there were ducks?
What I’ve learned from keeping a regular New Moon practice is that without a lunar calendar, this moment is easy to miss. One busy work-week after another, we’re rushed forward at the machine-like pace of modern life. Unwittingly we send our New Moon steps into old footprints. Despite twelve to thirteen New Moons every year, each one a celestial chance to build anew, people commonly land in the same situations month after month.
Astrology can help, but it can also make us cocky. We know when it’s a New Moon. What’s more, we have New Moon charts that can tell us what’s coming. We can energize new goals by coordinating them with the house in our chart where the New Moon falls. I used to especially favor the goal approach. Then one Aquarian cycle I got my come-uppance and my paradigm changed.
The degree of that Aquarius New Moon fell into my 6th house. I considered 6th house things, my work, my health, my daily routines, and made the bright resolution to get newly organized in all these areas. As the lunar month advanced, I was caught completely off guard. My astrology business suddenly doubled, capricious computers at the office constantly came down with problems, storms strangled the traffic and abruptly changed schedules. Instead of making progress on my goals, I was stressed out of my mind. Then, in an Aquarian flash, I got it. The point of the cycle was to learn something new – to develop more Aquarian ingenuity.
Aquarius has always been in my 6th house and I’ve approached it as any Virgo Rising would. I’m forever trying to organize my work, health, and daily routines. That’s what my goals were about, year after year at the Aquarius New Moon. I thought this was drawing down change! That cycle I finally tuned into the exquisite play of chaos and invention in my Aquarian 6th house. I learned to loosen up some of my Virgo rigidity, embrace the unexpected, and refine my astrological technique to include greater spontaneity and intuition. These gifts were not the result of conscious seed planting. They came from receptivity to the energy of the time.
It all made new sense to me. Because the New Moon is a Sun/Moon conjunction, we could be both solar (conscious) and lunar (receptive). We could set goals. We could strike out for some new adventure. But we should also remain alert for signs of a different adventure the gods might have planned. Some would say this is exactly what New Moon charts can reveal.
Yesterday I got an email from my friend Gloria who’s been studying prediction and New Moon charts. The text she’s been reading says when a 6th house New Moon squares a 3rd house natal planet, dire events can result. The Virgo New Moon was squaring Gloria’s 3rd house Venus from the 6th. She was submitting her second novel to her publisher that week. She was worried: “Is something awful going to happen with my book?”
Though it’s possible to see futures in New Moon charts, it runs so counter to the requirements of the time, I like it less and less. As an astrologer friend recently said, “Predictions rarely inspire us.” In this case, the prediction had contracted Gloria to a worried point, hardly the best frame of mind to submit her project, let alone launch a new cycle.
If she withdrew her book because the chart said it was the wrong time, she would curtail the dance of the book’s unfolding and whatever learning awaited her. She might also plant seed thoughts of insecurity for its next submission. Anyone working with predictions knows that a coming hard aspect holds many possibilities. It may be that the square wouldn’t touch Gloria’s book at all, but would bring yet another event.
Whatever a New Moon chart might promise, going at it with an open readiness appears more optimal. I read New Moon charts more lightly now, preferring to “discover” their manifestations as a cycle progresses. Even goal-setting has begun to feel too aggressive, too hard-pointed, too premature for the nature of the time. That activity feels better at the next phase, the Crescent Moon. At New Moons I now fill with a soft aspiration towards the energized house in my chart. I don’t paint the symbols in so much as open to them. The New Moon is a call to mindfulness in that part of my life.
This includes a readiness to raze what’s old as much as to build something new. There’s something slightly apocalyptic about each New Moon, that wants our old world, our old selves, to die. The deity most appropriate for this phase may be the Hindu god Shiva, dancing in an awesome fire that builds as it destroys. Shiva would say “Lose that tense and studied gaze. New Moons require an opening of body and soul. Raise your arms to the sky. Step your feet on the earth. Empty! Wonder! Dance!”
Each month the New Moon phase lasts from three to four days. It goes from the Sun/Moon conjunction, through their semi-sextile (30 degrees apart), to their semi-square, when the Moon is 45 degrees ahead of the Sun. Whenever I can, I like to take a brief “walkabout” during this period, heading out on foot or by car, with no other aim than to go somewhere and see what will happen. I go in the spirit of the princess in “The Frog King.”
The princess embodies the maiden Moon. She’s young and so beautiful that even the Sun, who’s seen so many things, fills with wonder when he shines on her face. The princess ventures out one day into the cool forest to play with her golden ball (symbolically, to find wholeness). By accident she drops the ball into a spring. Alas! Then a frog appears (he’s really an enchanted prince). He retrieves the ball for her, and after one thing and another, the princess marries him (wholeness achieved). Who would have predicted where that innocent walk would lead?
My New Moon walkabouts are rarely so dramatic. (Though I’ll admit there’s been three lunations where I’ve indeed found a prince!) Mostly I go out each New Moon just to break my routine. Sometimes new inspirations dawn. Sometimes, as with the princess, an irritation or seeming misfortune leads to something new. The point is, I don’t plan. As “The Frog King” suggests, during New Moon beginnings, even encounters with small common things, like forest frogs, can be auspicious.
The princess playing catch with her golden ball evokes the feel of a New Moon conjunction. Remember what it was like to play catch with just yourself? To soar with the ball as you thrust it and your spirit skyward? How you lost all sense of time and the outer world as you positioned yourself beneath the ball watching it fall towards you? We’re infused with energy and a natural self-absorption. We’re more into ourselves and less aware of the outer environment. Oppositions and squares remind us that the world is full of others, but at conjunctions, we aren’t so provoked. It’s as though all the world were self.
This strong subjectivity carries over to those born at the New Moon, gracing them with desires the rest of us wouldn’t dare pursue. Blissfully unaware of our points-of-view, they don’t know that what they’re reaching for is so unheard of or impossible. New Moon types are pioneers, the great initiators and mavericks of our culture. They’re here to say “yes” to their own special bundle of interests and abilities, taking that package as far as they can.
Find a few New Moon individuals and ask about their lives. These are interesting, eclectic people, like a successful businessman I know, who’s president of a multi-million dollar research corporation and writes poetry, often sharing with his secretaries and clients CD’s of the songs he’s composed and performed.
Sometimes this unique collection of talents is more curse than blessing. With so many possibilities to choose from, New Moon types can find themselves stalled at the beginning again and again. These are the founders who haven’t yet discovered what they’ll found. There are no ready-made role models — they’ve got to blaze their own trail. But declaring one and sticking to it is hard. True to the nature of this phase, these New Moon babies tend to act instinctively without a clear sense of where it will lead.
Astrology can help. Look to other planets in their chart to bring their potentials to fruition; in particular seek out placements in fixed signs. With a scattered chart or many mutable and cardinal planets or placements in the zero degree, focusing their aims may be especially hard. For these people Saturn or Pluto can help, by natal position or transit. Guide them towards transforming their Pluto obsession into a power to commit. Encourage them to reposition Saturn’s limitations and fears into an application of diligence.
I remember a reading with a bright and talented New Moon woman nearing her 40th birthday. A painful metaphor for her persistent New Moon confusion was that she’d had several miscarriages and abortions over the years, but no children. She also had nearly a dozen careers and half as many relationships. She’d worked on an oil rig, trained horses, had been a carpenter, groomed lamas, sold vitamins, was an accountant, worked in a law office, on a farm, and designed stained-glass windows. Ahead of her were transits most don’t look forward to: Pluto was squaring natal Pluto, Saturn was crossing her North Node. But for her they worked well. What happened was she got pregnant and finally carried the birth to full term. Now she’s a unique and happy mom.
We all become New Moon babies at one time or another. When our progressed Sun and Moon conjoin, an average two to three times in a lifetime, we enter a New Moon period that lasts from three to four years. Transiting outer planet conjunctions and inner planet returns can also have this character; understanding their “New-Moonness” may be an important way to read them. If we embrace new possibilities, we can certainly be forgiven our self absorption at these times. Our subjective self will be altered by coming events. Now it’s the petrie dish that starts growing our quest.
As with characters in our favorite books and movies, what we discover in the end is usually different from what we originally sought. The most important thing is to get moving. The next most important thing is to be alert for the moment when, like the princess, our golden ball drops in the pond. This is the semi-sextile, an aspect that’s half of a sextile, or half an opportunity. It’s one of those “castor oil” aspects. In the end it’s good for us, but at the time it makes us grimace.
Something occurs to interrupt our reverie. We don’t like it, even though it’s the uncomfortable moments that get us down to the business of change. We envy our friends’ successes. Our spouse is mean to us. Our house is too small. Whatever it is, we’re ready to deal with the frog, who says if we agree to his terms, we’ll feel better again. The frog says if he retrieves the princess’ ball, she must take him into her bed and share her meals with him forever after. Without any thought she says yes.
At some point during this phase, we make a New Moon promise. Perhaps we have such an unbearable encounter with our boss that we rise up with renewed determination: “That’s it, I’m getting a new career!” We feel good again, we get our wholeness back. We head back to the castle in our happy little dream, and, like the princess, suddenly discover this wart-filled frog hopping alongside. “But you promised!” he cries.
“What?! I didn’t really mean it.” We make a nasty face. The frog is pissed. It’s the semi-square. What happens now? That’s the teaching of the next phase, the Crescent Moon!
copyright 2012 by Dana Gerhardt
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“Why Bother with New Moons?” is available along with other Moon Phase essays in my MoonWatching e-book, available here.
1Mary Catherine Bateson, Peripheral Visions, (HarperCollins, 1994), p.113