| Credit: Giuseppe Donatiello

Every culture on Earth has been fascinated with the moon since the dawn of humanity. Its seemingly mystical powers have influenced everything from Greek mythology to Egyptian hieroglyphs to Native American folklore. The moon is our revered celestial reminder of what is constant, yet ever-changing.

Its approximate 30-day cycle is our calendar basis for noting the passing of time. Full moons have specific names in many cultures that coincide with the behaviors of flora and fauna at that time. For example, the “harvest moon” across many cultures denotes the end of the growing season, and “Kagali” is the name for February’s full moon in Cherokee. It means “bone moon,” a time when there is little to eat except bone marrow soup.

Even with all this lunar fascination, most people don’t understand what moon phases are and what causes them. This is the case with many basic scientific concepts. In 1989, a filmmaker interested in long-held misconceptions in science interviewed Harvard University faculty and recent graduates following a commencement. The filmmaker asked a simple question, “What causes the seasons?” Surprisingly, many incorrectly explained (even elaborately and convincingly) that seasonality is caused by changes in the distance between the Earth and the sun. This incorrect notion was likely a misconception learned in early grade school and carried throughout their academic life.

The 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth on its axis is what actually causes the seasons. When the Earth’s axis is tilted toward the sun, it is summer in that hemisphere, and when it is pointed away from the sun, it is winter in that hemisphere. To unlearn any misconceptions you may have about seasonality and astronomy, I recommend visiting NASA’s Space Place website.

I have loved seeing the number of customers who come into Roadside Blooms seeking crystals and other items for their lunar rituals, a time when they set intentions and get closer to the Earth and themselves. This growing movement has been a call back to nature, to our true essence and to our collective consciousness.

Clarifying some myths, misconceptions

Before your next new moon or full moon ritual, take the time to understand a bit more about lunar science and clear up some misconceptions.

  • The moon does not emit its own light. The light of the moon is a product of the sun’s light reflecting off the lunar surface.
  • There is no dark side of the moon. I love Pink Floyd as much as the next person, but there is no dark side of the moon (the band was speaking metaphorically, of course). We witness from Earth the same side of the moon, because just like the Earth, the moon rotates in an orbit (every 29.5 days) and rotates on its own axis (every 27 days). Since these rotations/orbits are nearly the same, the same side of the moon is always facing us. If the moon rotated faster or slower, we would see other sides of it from Earth. Just because we can’t see that far side of the moon doesn’t mean it doesn’t see the sun. It’s our perspective that has created this misconception.
  • The Earth’s shadow does not cause moon phases. The phases of the moon that we witness from Earth are due to the relative positions of the moon, Earth and sun to one another.
  • We witness a full moon when the Earth, sun and moon are in a line with the moon being on the opposite side of the Earth to the sun and the lunar surface facing us is completely illuminated.
  • We witness a new moon when the Earth, sun and moon are in a line with the sun being behind the moon so that the side facing Earth is dark.
  • From new moon to full moon it appears as if the moon is growing (of course it doesn’t change shape) or getting more illuminated, and we call that waxing. Following a full moon, the moon appears to get smaller or darker toward a new moon, and we call that waning.
  • Lunar eclipses are not bad omens as folklore may have you believe. Rather they are a natural occurrence when every six months or so the moon’s orbital plane is the closest to the Earth’s orbital plane and the moon moves through the umbra, or earth’s shadow. The moon moves through the umbra in a matter of minutes, temporarily blocking most of the sun’s rays from reaching the face of the moon. As light rays bend around the Earth from the sun, only the longest-wave light rays move through our atmosphere and hit the moon causing a reddish-orange color that we call the Blood Moon.

The more science you know, the closer you can be to nature and are able to dive deeper into its remarkable depths. If you are interested in the cycles of the moon and other celestial bodies, just take a peek outside and take note of the moon. You can follow online guides or even download apps that can tie in the science and the alchemy of lunar cycles.

Toni Reale is the owner of Roadside Blooms, a unique flower, plant, crystal, rock and fossil shop in Park Circle in North Charleston. Formerly a geology Instructor at the College of Charleston for over a decade, she remains passionate about environmental issues and interesting topics in science. The shop is offering a new moon ritual workshop in September. roadsidebloomsshop.com

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