According to Wikipedia,
The lunar phase or phase of the moon is the shape of the illuminated (sunlit) portion of the Moon as seen by an observer on Earth.
However, I disagree with this definition. The change in the visual appearance of the Moon is of course the result of the change in the Moon’s phase, but it is not the phase itself. A phase, in general sense, is an angular relationship between some two factors, and in the case of the Moon, its phase is also an angle. The phase of the Moon is the angle between the Moon and the Sun, as seen from the Earth.
As it is seen from the Earth, both the Sun and the Moon travel around the starry sky. The Sun completes the full circle in about 365 days while the Moon moves much faster; it only needs about 27.5 days (so called sidereal lunar month) to complete its circle around the sky. Therefore the angle between the positions of the Sun and the Moon against the stars keeps changing all the time.
At some point, the Sun and the Moon could be seen in exactly the same direction from the Earth, so the angle between them is 0°. That particular phase has a special name, New Moon. The Moon isn’t visible when in this phase, as the whole of its illuminated half is turned to the Sun, not to the Earth. Here is an image sourced from the website of Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology:
New Moon is shown in position A in this diagram.
After the New Moon, the Moon keeps moving ahead, overtaking the Sun, and in about a week the angle between the Moon and the Sun reaches 90°. That is the First Quarter, when exactly one half of the Moon’s disk is illuminated. In the Northern Hemisphere, the right side of the disc is illuminated, so the Moon looks like the upper part of letter P, but in the Southern Hemisphere it is the left side that is illuminated, so the Moon is similar to letter C (interestingly, it is exactly in position C in the above diagram).
After another week, the angle between the Sun and the Moon reaches 180°. That’s the Full Moon, when the illuminated side of the Moon is fully visible from the Earth (position E in the diagram).
Another week after the Full Moon, and the angle between the luminaries becomes 270°, or we could say the Moon is 90° behind the Sun. The name for this phase is the Last Quarter. Similar to the First Quarter, a half of the lunar disc is illuminated while the other half is dark, but, compared to the First Quarter, the opposite side of the disc is illuminated. In the Northern Hemisphere the Moon looks like letter C, but in the Southern hemisphere it is more like the upper part of letter P (position G in the diagram).
After yet another week, the Moon catches up with the Sun to form another New Moon, and so on, the lunar cycle goes on and on.
There is more than one way to name the phases of the Moon. I already mentioned the four “special” phases: the New Moon, the First Quarter, the Full Moon, and the Last Quarter. One thing you should know about these is that they are associated with a particular, precise moment in time. For example, at the moment when I am writing these lines, the next New Moon is going to be on the 6th of May 2016 at 19:29 (7:29 PM) UT. This means it’s going to happen at 8:29 PM in London (British Summer Time) but at 3:29 PM in New York (Eastern Daylight Time). That’s the exact moment when the angle between the Moon and the Sun will be 0°.
There is a number of sources of information where you can find out the precise moments of the lunar phases. One such source is my Astrological Moon Calendar, which is available for many years, and for practically any location on the earth, with time zones already taken into account. Or you might like the services of TimeAndDate.com.
However, these special labeled phases aren’t very convenient in daily use. You might ask: which is the current phase of the Moon? And I could say: well, the degree between the luminaries is currently around 345°, but you probably won’t like such an answer. Then I might try to say that the next New Moon will be in two days, and the Last Quarter was five days ago, but again that won’t be convenient. So there are a few other ways to describe the phase of the Moon.
First of all, it can be said that the Moon is either waxing (increasing in light) or waning (decreasing in light). It is waxing from the moment of the New Moon to the moment of the Full Moon, and it is waning from the moment of the Full Moon to the moment of the next New Moon.
Also, the Moon can be crescent or gibbous. It is called crescent when less than a half of its disc is illuminated, and it is called gibbous when more than a half of its disc is illuminated. The Moon is crescent between the Last Quarter and the First Quarter (positions H and B in the diagram), and it is gibbous between the First Quarter and the next Last Quarter (positions D and F).
So now we have a convenient way of telling other people where the Moon is approximately in its cycle. If it is somewhere between the New Moon and the First Quarter, we’d say that the Moon is waxing crescent (position B). If between the First Quarter and the Full Moon, it is waxing gibbous (position D). Between the Full Moon and the Last Quarter, the Moon is waning gibbous (position F), and between the Last Quarter and the New Moon it is waning crescent (position H).
*Note*: The Moon remains invisible for some time before and after the moment of the New Moon. People who live with the Moon’s rhythms do not start anything until they can see the thin crescent of the Moon. As for the question how soon the Moon can become visible after being new, there is an interesting information available at Earthsky.org. The recent record seems to be set in 1990 when the young crescent was seen with the unaided eye 15 hours and 32 minutes after the moment of the New Moon.
There is yet another, informal and somewhat vague way to name the Moon’s phases. You’ve already noticed that the synodic lunar month (the interval of time from one New Moon to the next, approximately 30 days) is split by the “labeled” phases into four distinct periods, about a week each. So some people might say that the Moon is in its “third phase”, or “third quarter”. For me, however, this sounds ambiguous. What do they mean by the “third” phase: the third of the “labeled” phases, the Full Moon, or the third week of the lunar month, when the Moon is waning gibbous?
When I learned at school that at the New Moon the angle between the Moon and the Sun is 0°, I was puzzled: why the Moon doesn’t eclipse the Sun then? Well, it does, but not every time.
The path along which the Moon travels around the sky isn’t exactly the same as the path of the Sun (aka the ecliptic). There is a certain angle between the two (about 5°), as the following picture from Wikipedia demonstrates:
Indeed, at the time of a New Moon the angle between the Moon and the Sun is exactly 0°, by definition, when measured along the ecliptic. However, because of the angle between the ecliptic and the path of the Moon, the body of the Moon is usually somewhat above or below the visible disc of the Sun; it doesn’t cover it, and so there is no eclipse.
The path of the Moon and the ecliptic do intersect, however, in two points called the lunar nodes (one of them is ascending, the other one is descending). As a result, if a New Moon happens when the Sun is close to one of the lunar nodes, then the Moon and the Sun happen to be on the same line, as viewed from the Earth, and so the disc of the Moon covers the disc of the Sun, and the solar eclipse takes place. This usually occurs twice a year.
So the solar eclipse is a special case of the New Moon. It’s basically a New Moon that takes place near a lunar node. Similarly, a lunar eclipse is a special case of the Full Moon. If a Full Moon takes place when the Sun and the Moon are close to the lunar nodes, they occur on one line with the Earth, and so the shadow of the Earth covers the Moon.
This is a very brief overview; the topic of eclipses is huge, it deserves a separate article.
The Moon is very important in astrology, and it is symbolically associated with many different things. For example, the Moon has a strong influence on water and liquids in general, which can be exemplified by the tides in the oceans. Considering the fact that about 60% of human body is water, the Moon has a substantial control over the bodily functions.
The Moon is also associated with subconsciousness, including the ocean of the collective unconscious and, through it, with both individual emotional life and emotional atmosphere in large amounts of people, in the crowd.
More specifically, the Moon rules all functions of the body that run automatically, without control from consciousness — and there is quite a lot of them. This is why the Moon is closely connected with the state of health, general wellbeing, and changes in them.
The Moon is also associated with small children and with women in general, and it has a host of various other connections, but what was already mentioned is sufficient for our discussion, so let’s go on.
As the light of the Moon increases from the New Moon to the Full Moon and then decreases from the Full Moon to the next New Moon, the intensity of the lunar energy and the strength of its influence goes up and down, with the four main phases forming critical points of lunar cycle.
The Moon is turned to the Earth with its unilluminated side, and so it is invisible to us. Astrologically, we can say that the energy of the Moon is at its lowest point.
This is the starting point of the lunar cycle, and it is believed that new things should be started soon after the New Moon — as soon as the thin crescent becomes visible in the sky. If you’ll manage to start an activity at this time, it will be supported by the increasing energy of the Moon; you will be as if surfing the lunar cycle.
The day of the New Moon itself is a quiet time, a pause, a time of rest in nature. As it is good to finish off the old stuff before starting something new, the last few days before the New Moon are good for getting rid of everything you don’t want to have anymore in your life, like bad habits. It is also a good time for fasting as the activity of digestion is at a lower point of its cycle.
In fact, all the automatic functions of the body are at the lowest point in their cycles at New Moon, and this can be a critical time for those who suffer from abnormal blood pressure, who have digestive problems or disturbances of sleep. It would be a good idea to avoid overeating on the day of the New Moon or close to it.
Also, the recuperative powers of the body aren’t as active as they can be around the New Moon, and this should be taken into account when planning a surgery.
Similarly, the New Moon can mark a low point in the emotional life, so people who are prone to depression should be careful about the surrounding emotional atmosphere on these days.
As an example, DeVoge and Mikawa published an article titled Moon phases and crisis calls: a spurious relationship. They analysed 7,844 emergency calls to a suicide prevention/crisis call centre over a two-year period and found that the highest number of total calls was during the New Moon.
This is the time when exactly a half of the lunar disc is illuminated and the other half is dark. Symbolically, we can say that light and darkness, yang and yin, the positive and the negative are equally strong at this time, and there is a struggle between them. The First Quarter is therefore a highly energised time of the lunar month, and this is a moving, dynamic energy that urges to be spent.
In individual lives, this excess of energy is typically manifested as an itching desire to do something, to get things moving. This isn’t bad per se, but the problem is: in a few days the level of energy will go down, and something that was started at the peak has a high probability of being abandoned. This is why my teacher of astrology used to say: if you got an idea to do something close to the time of the First Quarter, do not rush ahead with it, wait for a while. If you still have the same idea after a few days then it might be worth the effort.
On the other hand, if you have an ongoing business which is lagging behind and needs a bit of a kick, the First Quarter of the Moon can be a perfect time to invest in it some time and effort.
The First Quarter is naturally the time of the lunar month when we are most stressed out, so an ability to let it all go, to relax and unwind, even if for half an hour, can be a valuable asset then.
This is the peak of the lunar cycle as the illuminated half of the Moon is fully visible to the creatures of the Earth.
This is again the high point in terms of energy, but the energy of the Full Moon is very different from that of the First Quarter. The energy of the First quarter is like the energy of water running fervently through the pipes in order to get to some reservoir. On the other hand, the energy of the Full Moon is the energy of that reservoir, brimming full or overfilled. It is not that dynamic; there is a feeling of saturation with energy, of having too much of it.
The subconscious is at the highest point in its activity during the Full Moon, and so this is a great time for artists, composers, and other creative people. They are full of images and ideas, and they are usually very busy at this time.
On the other hand, people with an unstable psyche can experience a breakdown during the Full Moon, and there is a substantial body of research showing that the so-called Full Moon Madness is the reality of life.
Arnold L. Lieber and Carolyn R. Sherin published in The American Journal of Psychiatry and article titled Homicides and the Lunar Cycle: Toward a Theory of Lunar Influence on Human Emotional Disturbance. They found that “a statistically significant lunar periodicity was demonstrated for homicides committed in Dade County, Fla., over a 15-year period”.
Pat Thomas wrote in her book Under the Weather, How Weather and Climate Affect Our Health about a UK researcher who monitored 1,200 inmates in a maximum-security wing at Armley Jail in Leeds for three months and asked them to keep a diary of their mood swings, violent behaviour and aggressive outbursts. There was a marked increase in violent incidents in the day either side of a Full Moon.
From time immemorial surgeons were advised to avoid operations at the time of a Full Moon, or close to it, as the probability of bleeding and infection is higher than normal at such times.
Pat Thomas also wrote that in some parts of Scandinavia surgeons refuse to carry out operations during the Full Moon believing that blood pressure rises and hormone balance changes making operating more difficult and bleeding harder to stem. In addition, she referred to Dr. Edson J. Andrews who reported in 1960 that in a study of 1,000 tonsillectomies 82 per cent of postoperative bleeding crises occurred nearer the Full Moon than the New Moon, despite the fact that fewer operations were performed at that time.
Microflora of all kinds is overfilled with life during Full Moons, and this can be harmful for certain food preparations that rely on fermentation. For example, sauerkraut, if its preparation was started at the time of a Full Moon, will often prove to be too soft and too acid.
People who suffer from blood pressure or sleep disorders usually find the Full Moon a difficult time. There is too much energy in the body, and it’s a subconscious kind of energy, so it can’t be controlled directly. Something like meditation or a spa treatment can be helpful though.
Tradition says that Full Moon is not a good time to cut trees for timber, as they are full of sap and the timber will be of a lower quality. You should cut trees close to the new Moon, when the Moon is waning.
This phase is almost identical to the First Quarter, and so everything that was said for the First Quarter is also applicable here. The difference is that the energy of the First Quarter is mostly focused on personal and family life whereas the Last Quarter moves people to be active in their career and in the life of society. To understand why this is so, have a look at my articles about the Universal Cycle.
I used to think logically: at the New Moon, the level of energy in Nature is low, and so this is a critical time for people suffering from low blood pressure and from depression. In contrast, at the Full Moon, when the lunar cycle is at its highest point, this should be a critical time for people suffering from high blood pressure and sleeplessness.
However, my observations showed that this is not exactly so, that the New Moon and the Full Moon are quite similar in the way they influence vulnerable people. One way to explain this phenomenon is to look at the ocean tides: they are highest both during the New Moon and the Full Moon. Probably something similar to the tides happens also in the human body, and in the human soul.
As another confirmation for this viewpoint, in the homicide study I referred to above it was found that the murder rate rose sharply when both the Full and the New Moon approached.
When the Moon is increasing in light (waxing), everything in Nature is in the stage of expansion and growth. Therefore, this is a good time for a beginning and an active development of a business.
Cutting hair is advised when the Moon is waxing if you want the hair to grow stronger. However, I heard an opinion that if the hair is cut close to the Full Moon, it will grow faster but at the same time it will become thinner.
In lunar gardening, it is the time for planting anything that produces the desired result (leaves, fruits, or flowers) above the earth.
The time when the Moon is decreasing in light (waning) is appropriate for completing things, and for introducing structure and organisation into a business.
Cutting hair should be done at this time if you want the hair to grow slower (for example, an epilation).
In lunar gardening, it is advised to plant during the waning Moon those vegetables that give the desired result under the earth (like carrots, potatoes, or horseradish). The last few days before the New Moon are good for pruning and weeding, and otherwise getting rid of everything old or unneeded.
My teacher of astrology gave much significance to the days when the Moon makes an angle of 120° (an aspect of trine, in astrological terms) to the Sun. She used to say that such days are special: if you try to do something on one of them and the thing goes well, then it has good prospects, and chances are it will develop successfully without much effort.
On the other hand, if you try to do something on the day of a trine and you meet obstacles then you probably shouldn’t be investing your time and effort in that thing; chances are, it will not thrive.
Unfortunately, none of the calendars I am aware of tells when the trines happen. I should probably add them to my Astrological Moon Calendar. Approximately, the first trine takes place four to five days before the Full Moon, and the second trine — four to five days after the Full Moon.
In general terms, a person born during a certain phase of the Moon typically carries the energy of this phase. For example, those who were born close to the Full Moon possess a high degree of intensity and creativity, they are trying to express themselves in one or another way. They can also have physical or psychological problems associated with the Full Moon, such as high blood pressure or disturbed sleep, or inability to relax. Since the luminaries are associated in astrology with the eyes and vision, those born close to the Full Moon can often have a problem with their eyes. Also, the luminaries are associated with parents (the Sun is the father, the Moon is the mother), and since they are in opposition at the Full Moon, there is typically some discord between the parents of the person born then.
Those born close to the New Moon are more contemplative, less intense, but they might be prone to depression. I noticed that such people can be often met in an incomplete family — for example, if the mother is a single mother.
First and Last Quarter types are usually very active and dynamic; the former has an emphasis on the personal and family life while the latter is career-driven.
However, most people are born somewhere in-between the four official phases: like three days after the New Moon or four days before the Full Moon. In any case, when a person was born, there was a specific angular distance between the Moon and the Sun, it is more or less different for different people. If you are familiar with astrology, you can easily figure out this distance, perhaps even with a minute-of-arc precision.
What is interesting, the day when the Sun and the Moon repeat the exact angle they made at your birth seems to be quite important for you, in one or another way.
I remember reading an interview many years ago. It was with a prominent Soviet coach whose sportsmen were highly successful on the Olympic games. He stated that he uses the phases of the Moon in his coaching, and that a person is able to show the best results and to manage the highest workload on the day when the Moon and the Sun repeat the angle with which that person was born. On the contrary, on the day when the phase is opposite to the phase of birth, the person is the weakest, and an attempt to take part in a competition on such a day will almost certainly end in a failure or even a breakdown.
John Townley in his Dynamic Astrology book mentioned an Atomic Energy Commission-funded project at Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which came up with a report entitled “Intriguing Accident Patterns Plotted against a Background of Natural Environmental Features”. This report correlated on-the-job accidents of government employees over a period of 20 years with various natural cycles. One of the discoveries of this report is that people were more likely to have accidents during the phase of the Moon the same as or opposite to that under which they were born.
An additional confirmation of the importance of the birth phase repetition comes from Dr. Eugen Jonas of Slovakia. (I will say more about his discoveries in the next section.) Dr. Jonas found that men have an unusually high sperm count on the day of their phase repetition.
If you are interested to know when exactly is your day of phase repetition (or, using correct astrological terminology, of phase return), you can use my Lunar Conception Calculator. The main purpose of this calculator, as well as the main emphasis of the work of Dr. Jonas, will be discussed in the next section.
The main discovery of Dr. Jonas was that a woman has a high probability of conceiving a child at the moment of her phase return — even if that moment coincides with menstruation, and even if she is having difficulties with conceiving a child at the time deemed appropriate by medical theory. You will find more information about this discovery, as well as links to two excellent books on the subject, in my article Lunar Conception: a Discovery of Dr. Jonas.
A different viewpoint on the same topic was taken by Edmond Dewan. He conducted an experiment with women volunteers who had irregular periods. Here is a quote from Mrs Darley’s Moon Mysteries. A Celebration of Moon Lore and Magic by Carole Carlton:
He asked women to leave their bedroom light on all night for three consecutive nights, fourteen days after their last period, as this would emulate the full Moon. The experiment was an outstanding success as most women who took part began to experience a regular menstrual cycle.
The result is a US Patent titled Process for phase-locking human ovulation/menstrual cycles.
This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Blue Moon and the Black Moon. The best source of information on these I was able to find is the above mentioned Mrs Darley’s Moon Mysteries book by Carole Carlton. Quoting from the book:
The Blue Moon refers to a rare event when the second Full Moon occurs during the same calendar month. Hence the phrase ‘once in a blue Moon’ meaning ‘very occasionally’. It happens every 2.72 years, usually during July, August or October. So the number of Full Moons during a calendar year becomes 13 rather than 12. Once in 19 years there can be two Blue Moons in a year, in January and March. This is when there is no Full Moon in February.
An older, perhaps original meaning of the term, is given in the Maine Farmer’s Almanac. The four seasons, determined by the position of the Sun, should normally have three Full Moons each. However, due to slight change in equinoxes and solstices each year, some seasons have four Full Moons rather than three. In this case, it is the third Full Moon of the season which gets the title of Blue Moon.
The Blue Moon is associated with mystery and temptation. According to legend, some souls become bewitched beneath the Blue Moon. ‘The dance of the Blue Moon is so heady, so intoxicating that afterwards nothing ever quite compares to it’.
Black Moon also has several meanings. 1) A month without a New Moon (February). 2) a month with no Full Moon (also February). 3) when a season has four New Moons rather than three – in this case the third New Moon of the season is called the Black Moon (Maine Farmer’s Almanac).