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Moon Cycles and Names

Updated on August 17, 2015
relache profile image

Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

There's a moon in the sky... it's called the Moon...

Many people have heard of the harvest moon or talk about things happening “once in a blue moon,” but few know where these names come from. The majority of pre-Christian calendars were lunar-based, following the cycles of the moon as a way of keeping time. The changing of the moon was regular and easily recognizable, and thus became a basis for some of the earliest methods of time-keeping and tracking the seasons in cultures world-wide. These cultures also created many stories and myths about the moon and why it changed.

What science was able to tell us later is that this other body of rock is tied to us by gravity, and fluctuations in that pull are what makes our oceans have their tides. But what ancient man was able to see just as we can now, the moon appears to grow larger or smaller in the sky, and it cycles consistently. Those cycles were noted, named and formed the earliest calendar systems.

The Moon

I took this photo with a digital camera, shooting through a telescope aimed at a full moon.
I took this photo with a digital camera, shooting through a telescope aimed at a full moon. | Source
A new moon crescent in January
A new moon crescent in January | Source

Waxing and Waning

Based on it’s orbit around the Earth in relation to the Sun, the Moon sometimes appears full and round in the sky, sometimes as a thin sliver. These changes are purely visual, depending on how much of the Sun’s light is blocked by the Earth. The terms “waxing” and “waning” are used often with the Moon. Waxing is the phase where a larger and larger area of the Moon is illuminated, waning is when this area is reduced. The term “gibbous” is also used, meaning “more than half but less than fully illuminated” as a way of describing what is seen.

As it rotates around the Earth, the Moon goes through various phases which repeat endlessly: Full Moon, Waning Gibbous Moon, Last Quarter Moon, Waning Crescent Moon, New Moon, Waxing Crescent Moon, First Quarter Moon, Waxing Gibbous Moon and back to Full Moon again. In times before artificial light, the Full Moons were very important as they shed bright light later at night allowing for more work.

Understanding Moon Cycles

Names of the Full Moons

The tradition of naming the full moons in North America came from the indigenous Native American tribes, who used the moons as a way to mark certain times of hunting, planting or harvesting. This was especially true for the tribes of the Northeastern parts of the United States. European settlers adopted some of these customs and added some of their own traditions. As each lunar orbit is really about 29 days, the full moons shift in their positions within the months a bit from year to year, which is why some months have variable names.

Okay, so what the heck is it with a "blue moon?"

When it comes to "blue moons," there are a variety of definitions. Some sources say it is any second full moon in a month. However, there are those who claim that is inaccurate, and that blue moons are really when a fourth full moon occurs within a season (defined as a three-month time frame). This would mean that some 2nd full moons within a month could be called "blue" but only if they were the fourth one in that season, and sometimes the blue label would fall on a single full moon.

The moon is often visible during the day, especially when it's early in the morning or early evening.
The moon is often visible during the day, especially when it's early in the morning or early evening. | Source

Moon Messages

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    • profile image

      tiffany schaffer 6 years ago

      the moon is very big. i was outside one time andit looked like it exploded.awesome huh.

    • Nspeel profile image

      Nspeel 6 years ago from Myrtle Beach

      I love reading and learning things involving planets, moons, and even stars. You looked into planet X or nibruru?

    • deblipp profile image

      deblipp 6 years ago

      A lovely hub, I'm impressed. I would love to see more on moon lore and folk traditions involving different moons.

    • Fluffy77 profile image

      Fluffy77 6 years ago from Enterprise, OR

      Voted you up here, I have and always will just adore the moon. I just published an article on the moon too. You added a whole other great and unique viewpoint to this here.

    • relache profile image

      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I did! I had the chance to get outside and do some viewing of the moon with a telescope and the amount of detail that could be seen was just stunning and beautiful.

    • deblipp profile image

      deblipp 7 years ago

      Nice job. You must have loved the recent "Supermoon"

    • profile image

      sophs 8 years ago

      Loved this hub, love learning about the moon :-)

    • relache profile image

      Raye 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      The various moon names change somewhat depending on the culture, highvoltagewriter. You'll have to look up whatever on you are specifically interested in. (ie, read the links)

    • Highvoltagewriter profile image

      William Benner 8 years ago from Savannah GA.

      Great Hub! By way, when is "The Hunter's Moon?" Is that in September?

    • jaymz profile image

      jaymz 10 years ago from USA

      I've always been interest in the solar system. I found this very interesting.

    • Mark Knowles profile image

      Mark Knowles 10 years ago

      Well I came to this one by mistake, because I though I saw "Motor cycles and names" LOL

      But when I got here, I thoroughly enjoyed it and actually learned something I didn't know. Thank you for broadening my horizons.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Relache! As always a very informative hub.

      regards Zsuzsy