Black Moon, what?
[Originally published on The Wild Hunt]
TWH – On Sept. 30 at 8:11 pm ET, the rare “black moon” appeared in the sky, only two days before the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah. In some communities, warnings went out about an apocalypse and a second coming. In other places, event facilities set up special viewings. “Don’t miss this amazing celestial event.”
Others were left wondering, “Black moon, what?
The question remains: who is this mysterious celestial interloper? What is the black moon?
Aside from being a 1975 Louis Malle film, the black moon is a term that has come be used for the second new moon that occurs in a calendar month. It is not unlike the term blue moon that is used for the second full moon in a month. However, the term blue moon has become a regular and accepted part of contemporary vernacular. While the meaning of blue moon has shifted from its original 19th century connotation of “never” to mean “once in awhile,” the language is hardly unknown....
The phrase's association with the second full moon of a calendar month is attributed to poor interpretations of old almanac definitions. According to Hayden Planetarium lecturer Joe Rao, "This moniker came about because a writer for Sky & Telescope Magazine misinterpreted an arcane definition given by a now-defunct New England Almanac for when a full moon is branded "blue," and instead incorrectly reasoned that in a month with two full moons, the second is called a blue moon."
This fact is corroborated by NASA, who notes, "The term blue moon is believed to have originated in 1883 after the eruption of Krakatoa. The volcano put so much dust in the atmosphere that the moon actually looked blue in color." However, it was in that 1943 Sky & Telescope "Star Quiz," which was "followed by an article in March 1946" that changed the term's meaning.
Based on his own research, Rao goes on to say that "the 'blue moon' brand quietly went unnoticed for some 40 years, until a syndicated radio show promoted the term in the 1980s and it then went viral."
But the new moon, which has been equally as giving with its double-month appearances, has not had as an effective publicity manager. Considering that the new moon doesn't quite offer as flashy a performance as the full moon, this is not at all surprising. However, even among seasoned magical practitioners who honor new moon rites regularly, the term is unfamiliar or unused.
Where and when did the name originate?
The term black moon, used in this way, is relatively new. In fact, it is so new that it is not mentioned at all on NASA's moon pages, like the blue moon. In an article on Universe Today, writer Fraser Cain writes,"You might not have heard the term before..." And he's right, many haven't. Cain's article, which is currently dated 2015, was originally published in 2008.
According to one older random astronomy website, the second new moon in a month actually has had multiple names, although sources are not provided. Along with black moon, the site also claims that the second new moon in a month has been called the secret moon, the finder's moon and the spinner moon. The website, which dates its materials with the year 1995, was published online in 1999.
In 1997, there was a second full moon on Halloween, which created some local media buzz. "Beware, this Halloween ... The black moon will reign," writes The Santa Cruz Sentinel "For astrologers, witches, goddesses, and others who place significance in the lunar month's timing, its a very hallowed time indeed." (27 Oct. 1997 pp.1) According to the Salina Journal in Kansas, the black moon is a good thing, because its unique effects leave zombies, witches, and the dead powerless until the following Halloween. (26 Oct 1997, pp 3.)
Prior to 1997, there appears to be little mainstream fanfare around the phenomenon. This explains why the sudden widespread usage has left some magical practitioners bewildered and betwixt.
Diotima Mantineia of Urania's Well told The Wild Hunt, "Both the so-called 'black moon' (second of two new moons in a calendar month) and 'blue moon' (second of two full moons in a calendar month) are determined by a human calendar, not the position of moon in its relationship to sun and earth. Therefore, they have no meaning from an astrological perspective, or from a magical perspective. It’s just an accident of the calendar."
Frustrated at the sweeping media hype, Mantineia went on to note, "In fact, this 'black moon' of September actually occurred in October in the UK and points east due to the time differential.The phases of our moon (new moon, full moon, etc.) are based on the relationship between moon and sun as viewed from Earth, and this relationship is what counts astronomically, astrologically, and magically." (Read Mantineia's full analysis here)
Like Mantineia, Pagan elder Ed Hubbard has also been frustrated with the hype surrounding this particular moon, but for an entirely different reason. He told The Wild Hunt, "It's a media creation It's branding of news ... Nothing ancient, no old practices."
Hubbard was invited to be a special guest on Friday's Pagans Tonight Radio Network show The Correllian Family Hour. In that show, he said, "This whole thing was created by me." According to the interview, Hubbard crafted a black moon ritual in 1993, and had been working with the idea of this special dark moon for years. Through Witch School press releases and other writings, the idea went viral, as it were. He told The Wild Hunt, "Dark moon is our own practices. Black moon is my ritual theater." He explained the story in detail on Friday's show.
While frustrated for different reasons, Mantineia and Hubbard are not alone in their reactions to the "branding" efforts and media hype. And what did that look like?
"There's a black moon on the horizon" - CNN "A rare 'black moon' will rise tonight" - WTAE Pittsburgh "Spooky: Rare 'black moon' to rise Friday night" - CTV News (Canada) "Check out the rare 'black moon' on Friday night" - CBS Norfolk, Virginia
Leaving alone the more sensationalized headlines and the articles encouraging people to "check out" the nearly invisible rare celestial occurrence, most media outlets did note that the phenomenon was not at all catastrophic."'Black moon' rising: No, it's not the apocalypse," informed The Washington Post. Denver's local CBS affiliate reported, "Keep Calm, Tonight's 'Black Moon' Is Harmless." But perhaps the award for the biggest buzz-kill goes to Stockton, California's ABC affiliate, who informed its viewers, "A black moon will rise Friday night, but you aren't going to see it."
At the same time, there were news sources, bloggers, and niche markets that enjoyed the fervor, even speculating on the meaning of the black moon for Pagans. For example, World Wide Religious News reported that the phenomenon was "creating excitement among Christians and followers of pagan religions alike." Timeanddate.com informs its visitors, "Black moons hold special significance to people who practice certain forms of Pagan religions and who believe certain actions become more potent when performed on the night of a black moon." And, the CBS Norfolk affiliate mentioned earlier told its readers that Pagans "believe the rare event provides extra spiritual power for rituals."
The blog Revelist.com went further and interviewed a Wiccan. In an article titled, "A witch explains why you can’t miss tonight’s black moon," with the subtitle "spooktacular," Milo, the interviewed witch, said, "In Wicca, the black moon is considered a time when there is extra power for spells and ritual. The idea of blue moons and black moons is only about two centuries old, so there are no ancient pagan traditions to draw on."
Outside of media hype, any Pagan references to black moons, ancient or modern, are very rare, occurring, if you will, only once in a blue moon. However, we did find one in a 2003 book titled Everyday Moon Magic. Author and Witch Dorothy Morrison writes, "When the repeated phase happens to be the dark or new moon, we call the second occurrence the black moon." She continued on to say that the repetition increases its power. "The black moon provides an excellent time for soul searching and inner journey work, divination, and the eradication of self-deception." (Morrison, pg. 43)
When asked where she found the term, Morrison said that she couldn't remember exactly, but speculated it was an almanac or journal. However, in the Correllian radio interview, Hubbard claimed that he had spoken at length with Morrison prior to her writing the book, and that he was indebted to her for helping to develop his black moon magic. He also praised her book for its accuracy.
Although the term black moon is used prior to 1993 in secular works of art (e.g., Hussain's painting Black Moon, 1960; Malle's film Black Moon, 1975; Carpenter's film Black Moon Rising, 1986), it does appear that Morrison's book includes the earliest written information about magical usage. And, Hubbard's ritual theater is the earliest reported Pagan usage of the term. In both cases, that timing corresponds roughly to the dates on secular websites, as noted earlier.
Does it any of it matter now? As Mantineia suggested, the new moon will rise and set on schedule regardless of our human calendar. Some Pagans have fully embraced the term in their regular new or dark moon practices, regardless of whether there are or aren't any magical differences. The most common associations apply, and for some that includes the new moon's relationship to Lilith, the dark goddess, and inner cleansing work.
Circle Sanctuary's Rev. Selena Fox said, "I celebrated this year's black moon with personal reflection and transformation, and by facilitating community observances face to face and in cyberspace. As with other lunar transition points, the black moon can be an opportunity to strengthen our awareness of and attunement with nature's rhythms." Rev. Fox incorporates the name without a problem.
Similarly, author and village Witch Byron Ballard said, "I always prefer the strength of the energies before new moon. That place of complete surrender before the cycling up begins again. As a teacher, I encourage people to test that energy and find what it's best for." She added, "This particular dark moon felt particular fizzy, energetically. But all of them are powerful tools to be used by those who can."
While the moniker black moon, or even blue moon, may not be centuries old, the terms have worked their way, to varying degrees, into contemporary language as markers of our modern celestial experience. Whether or not they have any extra significant spiritual or magical power, outside of their expected nature as full and new moons, is clearly up for grabs. Almanacs the world-over have been naming and renaming moons for centuries. Does the nomenclature alter their power or significance? Or is it all just media hype and moon branding, as suggested by Hubbard and Joe Rao at space.com.
On Monday, Slooh.com will be streaming a show focused on the black moon and will include a talk by the site's spiritual consultant Helen Avery. She will discuss "the various definitions for the black moon and the way it has been adopted by Pagan practitioners." The website adds that this moon has "deep spiritual meaning and can affect how and when they practice their craft. For others, the black moon means very little. She will discuss both sides."
While the magical significance is varied with regard to a moon phase doubling up in a month, there is one thing that is clear. The black moon is simply a dark moon or a new moon; no matter what name you call it, and how you honor it.
And finally there is one last important note that needs to be made. The 2016 media hype may not yet be over. While the Western Hemisphere saw this "somewhat rare" phenomenon that "won't happen again for years" on Sept. 30, the Eastern Hemisphere will see the same phenomenon on Oct 31.