As I outlined in last month’s post, the LUNARCHY 2.0 Underworld pilgrimage has been well under way since first quarter moon of this month and we are only just emerging from a fortnight of submersion in periodical new-moon-induced darkness, writing as I am on the second quarter moon of October. Now we enter Scorpio season apprehending the gathering light that will soon tip the balance of chiaroscuro in its favour, with Samhain’s (blue! blood! Hunter’s!) full moon very much on the horizon.
LUNARCHY 2.0 | The Underworld Moon_Cycle_Series – design by Bea Xu
Full Moon, Dark Moon, Menstruation and Ritual
A lot can happen in two weeks, and in lunar time the duration represents an absolute shift from one side of a polarity to the other. From new, or dark, moon to full… and vice versa. So the cycle continues with the turning of Kronos’ wheel.
Indeed, Halloween’s full moon will be glorious – not least because of the confluence of so many planetary alignments on the night. But there is a common misconception that this is the stage of the lunar cycle when the spookiest of uncanny happenings occur; likely owing to werewolf lore and other supernatural tropes in literary history.
While it has certainly been suggested in studies and anecdotes that a full moon can have a lycanthropic effect on human aggression levels, I am nevertheless here to argue that it is rather during dark moon that the veil between this world and the next is at its most threadbare. From the perspective of witchcraft, with all other variables being equal, the potency of the dark moon for ritual work is diametrically opposed to the lack of intensity that a full moon holds.
Primordially, it was during dark moon that big, predatory cats would stalk the pitch black savannahs for prey – using their keenly attuned feline night vision. The nominated human hunters of a community would time their hunt accordingly, leaving the remainers (largely women and their kin) behind to guard the village in the heights of their menstrual rites, thunderous song to scare away potential predators and dream-state dialogues for community governance.
In the shadows of dark moon time, the women were united in ‘sex strike’ against their male sexual partners – withholding coitus until each hunter returned with enough bounty to go around – but possibly open to erotic engagement within their own circles of kinship that were much more fluid and amorphous. In other words, these women were ritualising for their lives, bleeding en mass and in an erotically-charged state of prolonged hunger and literal darkness. Not stuff for the faint of heart.
None of this would occur without full moons, of course. In fact, the photosensitivity of big cats’ eyes to light is such that they made themselves scarce during full moon phases of the lunar cycle. This is therefore when ancestral hunters would bring meat back for their community and the feasting on this abundance would take place – in a state of jovial commensality, relatively free from the threat of attack and out of the ritualistic space.
Heternormative sexual taboos were also relaxed at this time, the female picket line dissolved until the following new moon, provided the men had delivered on their end of the bargain. The overall sentiment of this time of the month could be categorised as a kind of amicable, celebratory ‘surrender’ of the female subject. A waning of rebellious energy in tandem with the waning of the gibbous moon.
For a much more detailed account, along with anthropological evidence, of what I’ve summarised in the general, I can refer you to Knight, Power & Watts’ paper on, amidst a much more expansive theory on the human symbolic evolution, a model they call “the time-resistant syntax of symbolic ritual and myth” (see diagrams I’ve extracted below).
Chris Knight, Camilla Power & Ian Watts, The Human Symbolic Revolution: A Darwinian Account. InCambridge Archaeological Journal 5:1 (1995), pp. 83-91
Their findings suggest that, “unchanging across all cultures and all historical periods” in human myth, the thematic attributes in the ‘ON’ column are consistent with menstrual and ritualistic potency and the attributes in the ‘OFF’ column are not. Crudely speaking, dark, waxing moon phase is a time for otherworldly stuff – whereas full, waning moon phase is far more pedestrian in its cadence. The researchers do stress that they don’t expect these behavioural aspects to survive in the present world (after all, how could they?), but in an archetypal sense at least, it’s a compelling indicator of ancient tendencies that could inform the way we practise and even live our lives today
So what does this all mean for modern witchcraft and progressive movements pushing for systemic change?
In my view, the symbolic role that the female subject played in primordial terms could now be allotted to any identity or demographic marginalised under white cis-hetero patriarchy.
The difficulty is in reestablishing that unified, ritualistic chorus of attunement under the auspices of a monthly dark moon. We’re living in a time where “menstrual synchrony” (that’s simultaneous menstruation) is considered an urban legend at best amongst the scientific community, even if many of us can anecdotally attest to experiencing otherwise. In any case, a lot of people simply don’t menstruate at all, and out of those who are biologically able, stemming one’s menstrual flow is often preferable or feels like a necessity. Those who do menstruate won’t necessarily do so at dark or waxing moon or with any regularity. There’s no judgement to be made here, as long as we practitioners are making an informed decision about how we regulate our bodies. But what’s the symbolic alternative?
I see this modern lack of universal cohesion as emblematic of the infeasibility of coordinating any widespread ritualistic code across durational and sustainable time in a pluralistic society. Much of this will be down to having much less agency over how we spend our time than previous civilisations did. Granted, there are cases being made for a societal shift in shorter working weeks, with some initial success stories – not to mention the promise of productivity blackouts imposed by periodic Covid-19 lockdowns currently. But there is still much more organising to be done before this can form any semblance of a united front for better labour conditions with adequate social security amongst the global workers of the world.
What’s more, I’m not suggesting that we abandon any spellwork or movement-building on full moons, but rather fine-tune our intentions for them accordingly. Indeed, given how supercharged ritualistic potency can be during dark moon phase and its mythical association with ‘production’, my rule of thumb is to always focus on intention-setting during this time.
Any rituals that involve some kind of encoding, extracting, exploring, strategising or resistance involving members of a coven, for example, can benefit from this magnetic potency – whereas skin-shedding, chord-cutting or reflective ceremonies that are more public-facing are better placed when the lunar balance is skewed towards the light.
That’s why we planned LUNARCHY 2.0’s Underworld series the way we did. Following the model of lunar time I’ve described, our descent into the quantum field necessarily took place on Libra dark moon with the most stringent of ritualistic protocols being observed at this time. It’s Joseph Campbell’s quintessential hero’s journey that I’m describing here; the other-worldly yet immanent adventure bookended by the two quarter moons – let’s call them thresholds – where the proportion of dark becomes equal light in opposing directions every 29.5 day stretch.
The fact that I’m even writing about what happened during the Libra season dark period is testament to the anchoring I’m beginning to experience in ‘this world’ once more, in accordance with the fattening of the moon’s face at this time. In a similar vein, I would encourage everyone to challenge themselves during light moon phase: to emerge from the comfort of their chosen safe spaces and bridge the gulf of echo chamber vortices in order to connect with someone on an ‘other’ side – in the spirit of open-hearted, non-judgemental diplomacy and communication.
Other aspects of the syntax model I would really leave up to the individual, or coven, to interpret and adapt to fit their unique cultural and geographical context. Experiment with it at your leisure, over time. The invitation is to consider the inner extremes of your personality, practise, human behaviour and prioritise certain activities that seem more archetypally aligned with the corresponding timeframe in the model.
What are the unconscious habits you act out without realising from day to day? Notice them, and perhaps show greater leniency towards these foibles during full moon time, while deep diving into the collective unconscious that informs them during dark moon time. I have personally been trying to incorporate a regime of intermittent fasting that intensifies at dark moon in order to enhance my state of ‘hollow reed’ gnosis and sensitivity to spirit life, but I’m still learning more about my inner tensions and contradictions as I go along.
Finally, a fun story; in the spirit of the occasion.
I’m reminded of a witching hour ceremony I performed to commemorate Halloween 2018 with my twin flame. I was eyeballs deep in a citrinitas stage of psychological alchemy that autumn and on some limerent high in tenuous union with him. I organised a ‘dark wedding’ for us, with the spirits as our witnesses, on the drizzly banks of a reservoir near my old flat in north London. The moon that night was a waning gibbous with 52% light coverage. Weak signals and low potency vibes all around.
We each lit a fuel block and cast a momento into our respective flames – to symbolise the incineration of some quality that was no longer serving us. He, some discarded wet wipe, and I an old dreadlock from a bygone time, reciting:
I hereby consecrate to fire
Travails of the past – as a funeral pyre
Then as we pushed the two flames into a unified fire:
2 flames become 1 – it is done
After that sole flame was extinguished I whipped out my bottle of blood, full to the neck from months of accumulating. I then read from my little heart-shaped grimoire for the final time that evening:
2 mouths drink from 1 cup – we hereby consecrate this love to the Earth
Sample from my scrappy ‘grimoire’
We each took a sip. He gagged. We kissed. I poured the remainder over both of us and walked the streets home looking (and probably smelling) like Carrie.
The lesson I learnt was to never use up such a potent resource on someone who isn’t appreciative enough. Rest in peace, that high gothic romance version of me.
Happy Samhain, to the Wiccans, pagans and Druids especially! May your rites move you in the way you intend them this season.
Until next moon.