“See yonder fire! It is the moon
Slow rising o’er the eastern hill.
It glimmers on the forest tips,
And through the dewy foliage drips
In little rivulets of light,
And makes the heart in love with night.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Christus, The Golden Legend (1872)It may seem strange to some, but a full moon can take my breath away. I stop and stare. It seems to draw me in every time with a mysterious magnetism. And, it’s just so big and bright and beautiful! I always find myself wanting to share the experience with whoever may be nearby— ‘Look at that amazing moon!’ I also typically snap half a dozen photos trying to capture the moment (never does look quite as beautiful as I’d actually seen it, but I keep trying).
Over the years, the response to my moon gazing has been somewhat mixed. Although friends will kindly indulge me with a look up, and everyone is interested in special events like the January 2018 Super Blue Blood Moon, many don’t quite get my fascination with the Moon. A full moon seems very ordinary to some as it happens every month (well, almost every month– February 2018 was a month without a full moon), or there’s sometimes a tendency for people to believe nothing good happens during a full moon (or worse– something really bad happens). I, of course, feel nothing negative or ordinary at all when gazing at the Moon, and decided long ago this moon thing might have something to do with my zodiac sign, Cancer the crab. According to astrologers, Cancer is ruled by the Moon – making me a ‘moonchild’. However, astrology can’t explain everything because there are plenty of non-Cancer moon gazers out there, and it’s been going on for thousands of years.
The Moon was revered throughout ancient societies as humans began to recognize the Moon’s influence on life cycles– crops, tides, fertility, and some form of moon worship can be found in most ancient religions, from the ancient Celts to the Egyptians. Probably the most enduring and enthusiastic moon gazers are the Japanese.
Tsukimi (or ‘Otsukimi’, literally ‘moon-viewing’, also known as ‘Jugoya’) refers to the Japanese tradition of holding parties to view the Harvest Moon (typically September/October in today’s calendar). Still popular today, this celebratory moon-viewing in Japan is an aesthetic custom with a spiritual component that can be traced back as far as the Heian period (794 to 1185) when Japanese aristocrats held events aboard boats to view the Moon’s reflection on the water’s surface. Modern Tsukimi festivities continue with the traditions as people gather on the evening of the full harvest moon at a place the Moon can be clearly seen, decorate with pampas grass, and serve white rice dumplings and other seasonal foods known collectively as Tsukimi dishes, and sake as offerings to the Moon. In Buddhism, a full moon is a symbol of enlightenment, and the phases of the Moon represent the changes of life. In Shinto, the Moon is a symbol of the wonder, beauty and awe of natural phenomenon. There’s also a long-established obsession in Japan with the Moon and its affect on poetic inspiration.
When you’re a moon gazer (like me), it helps to have an idea where and when to look for the Moon as it changes with the seasons as well as moon phases. Below are Moonrise/Moonset time/position tables (along with explanatory notes) provided by Karen Masters, Ask an Astronomer – Cornell University.
The time of day the Moon rises or sets depends on its phase. The table below summarizes moonrise and moonset times. [Note: “Local noon” and “local midnight” as used in the table are the points in time when the Sun crosses the meridian, and exactly 12 hours later. This can be different from the time on your watch because that time reflects time zones used to determine local time. Zola uses Willy Weather website and free app to find the times for moonrise and moonset, but you can search any local or online weather related resource for that information.]
When the Moon is new, it rises and sets with the Sun, and the position of Moonrise and Moonset varies just like that of Sunrise and Sunset. When the Moon is full, however, the pattern is inverted. The chart below sets it all out. [Note: The chart is for the Northern Hemisphere. For Southern Hemisphere moon gazers, exchange North for South in the chart. A certain amount of variation in the direction depends on your latitude.]
FULL MOON CALENDAR
I must admit my moon gazing avocation is haphazard. I tend to just look up at the night sky and see what’s up there as there’s pleasure in every moon phase, and a dark, clear night with no moon is the perfect time for stargazing. But, there are those that prefer to make a moon watching plan to avoid missing something special, prepare telescopes and camera equipment, or schedule a visit to an observatory, park area with good moon viewing, or moon festival to add more to the experience. It’s a great night for a party, field trip or peaceful meditation — your choice. Below are 2018 & 2019 Full Moon Calendars for US and Canada (times indicated on tables are Eastern Time Zone) courtesy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac). [Note: A full moon occurs around the globe at the same moment regardless of location, but there’s a difference in date and time because of time zones. To find the exact date/time of the full moon anywhere on Earth, go to the moon phases – lunar calendar ⇒ here and search by location and year.]
How Does the Position of Moonrise and Moonset Change? Cornell University – Ask an Astronomer
April 2018 is Global Astronomy Month, and the Moon will celebrated this year with a series of special programs for rediscovering this bright, beautiful orb in Earth’s night sky (Astronomers Without Borders)
A Planet’s Domicile in Astrology (Wikipedia) – In astrology, a planet’s domicile is the zodiac sign over which it has rulership, and the assignments of the ruling planets appear to be based upon the Northern Hemisphere seasons. The Sun was awarded to Leo and Cancer the Moon as the months the Sun passed through these two zodiac signs were the warmest and had the longest days in ancient times.
Photography: John William Draper (1811-1882) was the first to successfully take an ‘astrophotograph’ in 1840, a quite amazing detailed photo of a full moon.
Tsukimi history, Wikipedia
Feature photo of moon gazing at Mount Tamalpais State Park, California, USA is courtesy of Todd Diemer/Unspash CC0
Moon gazing photo is courtesy of Flickr user, Hank Conner, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Zola’s moon gazing photo album, © 2018 Zeester Media LLC