This article has been written and contributed by Minigrrl and copy edited by Mathair
Basics for Beginners:
The term Esbat refers, in Wicca, to any gathering of witches or solitary ritual other than the Sabbats. While Sabbats are Solar Holidays celebrating the interaction of the Goddess and God as Earth and Sun, Esbats have a much wider range of potential. Lunar Esbats in particular are quite common amongst many traditions of Wicca, where rituals may focus on Goddess worship or spell casting.
In Lunar Esbats, the phase of the moon is usually taken into account and incorporated in whatever rituals or spells are performed. The full moon in particular is most commonly adored across the many traditions of Wicca. This is probably due in part to the widespread worship of the full moon across many cultures, but also because of the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess associated with this phase of the moon.
The Triple Goddess represented by the phases of the moon includes the Virgin, the Mother, and the Crone or Wise One. While the moon is not the only natural representation of these stages of feminine power and fertility, the moon is a prime example of such energies because of the relative speed of the cycles when compared to the seasonal changes. Another strong link between Goddess and Moon is the time it takes for the moon to complete a cycle and the human female’s menstrual cycle, each roughly 28-30 days.
Phases of the Moon:
A brief explanation of scientifically recognized lunar terms allows for a broader understanding of spiritual associations with the moon’s phases. It’s important to remember that there are some discrepancies between astronomical (scientific) and astrological (pre-scientific) terms, but I personally think it’s important to embrace what science offers us while still recognizing the cultural significance of ancient practices. So, here we go:
While it takes roughly 28-30 days for the moon to complete its cycle, this lunar month is broken down into 4 basic phases. Curiously, this is also the average time it takes for a woman to complete her menstrual cycle, and is thus a key link between the moon and Goddess worship. In science, the “new moon” refers to the apparently dark phase where none of the sun’s light reflects off the surface of the moon toward the earth and thus it cannot be seen with the naked eye. This marks the beginning of the moon’s cycle, hence “new” moon. In some spiritual traditions, this dark phase is considered the ending point of the cycle.
After the new moon, the next phase or quarter is called the “waxing crescent” and encompasses the time from when the first sliver of moon appears to the semi-circular “half moon” stage. This takes about a week to complete. It is referred to as “waxing” to describe the apparent growth of the moon; think of wax building up at the base of a candle as it burns. This phase is usually associated with the Virgin aspect of the Goddess because of the newness and beginning stages, and probably also because the curved shape of the moon is similar in shape to the empty womb prior to pregnancy. She represents both chastity and sexuality, innocence and curiosity. This phase of the moon is regarded as an auspicious time to cast spells of growth, new beginnings, hope, and all things associated with the building of energy as the moon grows in size.
The second quarter is the waxing gibbous. “Gibbous” refers to a heavenly body that is convex (curved outward) at both edges; thus, the gibbous phases are when the moon is larger than half full. The waxing gibbous phase leads up to the full moon. Usually the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess is considered to be the day of the astronomical full moon (when it is apparently at its largest) and one or two days before and after this time; roughly 3-5 days. That means that not all of the waxing gibbous phase is considered of the Mother aspect in most traditions, although a few books say otherwise, such as The Wiccan Year by Judy Ann Nock. In her book, Nock seems to suggest that whole second quarter is that of the Mother, whereas the third quarter (beginning just after the astronomical full moon) leads directly into the Crone; this view is not traditional but equally valid.
Either way, the Mother aspect of the full moon is considered one of the most powerful. It is the focus of Goddess worship and spells of all kinds because this phase encompasses pure power. The Mother herself represents fertility, childbirth, childbearing years, female power at its zenith, love, forgiveness, protection, and more. The associations are made due to the round shape of the moon suggesting a full and pregnant belly, but also because the lunar cycle reflects menstruation and thus the fertile time of a woman’s life. Traditionally, this is a common time for covens to gather. Some choose to worship specific lunar Goddesses at this time, while others focus on the archetypal Goddess, and still others simply perform spells that utilize the unbridled power of the moon.
After the full moon is the waning gibbous. To wane means to shrink or fall back, so obviously this is the opposite of waxing; rather than growing in size, the waning moon shrinks toward its dark phase once more. The waning gibbous is the opposite of the waxing gibbous: both its sides are convex but it’s shrinking rather than growing. After the time that the waning moon finds its semi-circular point the final quarter of the moon takes place: the waning crescent.
Both of these final quarters are mentioned together because all of the period of the moon’s waning is considered ruled by the Crone. She is also called the Wise One, Old One or Hag, and by many other names as well. She represents the time after the childbearing years when she finds her power not in fertility but in wisdom and the bonds she has created with family. She is the matriarch of her tribe, the grandmother of her people, the counselor and judge for those who seek her aid. The time of her moon is used in magic of depletion or banishing, such as an aid to weight loss or quitting bad habits. Usually these spells are cast in the waning crescent, for the disappearing sliver of moon evokes a stronger sense of disappearance.
As a final note, some traditions recognize a fourth face of the Moon Goddess, who is called the Dark Lady by some. This is not as widespread as the other recognized aspects of the Goddess, probably because of taboos associated with spell casting on the new (dark) moon, so the Moon Goddess is usually viewed as a Trinity and leaves the final quarter of the moon to the Crone. For those who recognize the Dark Lady, she might not be contacted as readily or intimately as the Mother but is at least honored as a representing the part of our own psyches that we tend to resist but must face in order to grow strong. Many witches still discourage practicing magic on the new (dark) moon, claiming that it can be unpredictable, overpowering, and even dangerous. Take care to do lots of research and seek much wisdom before endeavoring to worship or cast spells at this time.
Why We Celebrate the Moon:
Throughout human history, the moon has been associated with many wonderful, mysterious, magical, divine and miraculous events. Various cultures across the world have revered the moon, creating traditions that many Pagans and Neo-Pagans observe today. Even in non-Pagan culture, the moon’s influence on humanity can be witnessed in modern day living; for example in astrology, poetry, artwork, and commonly used words such as “lunatic” which was derived from the Latin word for moon, “luna”.
Wicca in particular links the moon with feminine power and thus to Goddess worship, which many ancient cultures have engaged in for centuries. Some lunar goddesses include Selene and Artemis (Greek), Luna and Diana (Roman), Morgan (Celtic), Bendis (Thracian), Coyolxuahqui (Aztec), Heng-O (Chinese), Ix Chel (Mayan), Mawa (African, Dahomey) and more. It is interesting to note that some cultures associate the moon with male divinity, but Wiccan traditions usually associate the moon with female power due to the menstrual cycle and the moon cycle taking the same time to complete.
Due to the psychological impact of such strong cultural figures, the archetypal Moon Goddess lends great depth to the Wiccan path. She offers an image of female virginity, fertility, life and wisdom; an explanation of strange behaviors in people, animals, and events; an aid to magic and psychic powers; and finally a reminder of our own dual natures as humans. We as Wiccans celebrate the full moons to honor the Goddess who rules over these things, but also to honor ourselves regardless of gender. Just as we celebrate the Sabbats in gratitude of the earth and sun that support our lives, we celebrate the Lunar Esbats to better understand the depths of our own subconscious that makes us a unique species on the planet. In this way we deepen our relationship with our Goddess and also with ourselves.
Symbols and Colors:
Each phase of the full moon represents a different aspect of the Triple Goddess and therefore has its own color associations. However, the moon in general has some basic symbols and colors shared by all phases. These include the color silver, silver metals, the Triple Goddess )O( sign, any statues or pictures of lunar goddesses and any additional associations thereof. Following are phase specific symbols, although many of them may overlap. Usually anything found in the “full moon” phase can be used for the waxing and waning phases as well.
Waxing Crescent (Virgin):
• Colors: white, silver
• Virgin symbols
• White flowers
• Concave shapes (bowls, cups, etc)
• Virgin lunar goddesses: Diana, Artemis
• Silver arrows
• The Hunt
• Crescent shaped foods: croissants, cookies
• Sweet foods
• Astrology and Tarot: Virgo, the Hermit
• Waxing crescent ) symbol (points facing left or west)
Full Moon (Mother):
• Colors: silver, red, white
• Menstrual blood
• Pregnancy and childbirth symbols
• White flowers, mild yellow flowers, night flowers
• White or yellow foods: lemons, milk, lemonade, cookies, white wine, cheese, butter
• Salted or sweet foods
• Round objects: coins, disks, platters, crystal balls (especially any of silver metal)
• Bowls, cups, chalices, cauldrons (especially any of silver metal)
• Ocean or tide associations: shells, sea water, sand dollars, white sand
• Astrology and Tarot: Cancer, crab, the High Priestess (Moon), the Moon (Pisces), the Chariot (Cancer)
• Lunar Goddesses: Artemis, Diana, Selene, Luna
• Mother Goddesses: Hera, Rhea, Juno
• Love Goddesses: Aphrodite, Venus
• Wolves, owls, goddess animals flowers and foods, silver arrows, etc
• Moonstone, white stones
• Psychic symbols: eye, third eye chakra, tarot cards, crystal balls, scrying mirrors
Waning Crescent Moon (Crone) or New Moon (Dark Lady):
• Colors: silver, black
• Crone or Witch Goddesses: Cerridwen, Hecate
• Underworld or “Dark” Goddesses: Persephone, Fates, Morae, Erinyes, Furiae, Eris, Discordia, the Morrigan (be careful with these goddesses)
• Dark stones
• Dark flowers or night flowers
• Waning Crescent ( symbols (points facing right or east)
• Justice references: weighing/measuring tools (scales), law books, bevels
• Astrology and Tarot: Scorpio, Libra, Pisces, Death (Scorpio), Justice (Libra), the Moon (Pisces)
• Sows, owls, wolves, carrion birds, carnivorous or scavenging animals
• Bitter or dark foods and drinks: black coffee, black tea, dark wines, nuts and seeds, bitter herbs, red meats; earthy vegetables like roots and mushrooms
Note: Be careful to distinguish between the Crone, who is known to be safe and just, with the Dark Lady; many experienced Wiccans, witches, shamans and wise ones of the Craft discourage contact with anything potentially dangerous. Do lots of research, get lots of advice.