[Pagan in Place] “Creating a Local Lunar Calendar: Full Moon Names for Central Texas” by Anna Walther

Full moons are rich with psychological and mythical associations. Men change into werewolves or go mad on the full moon (hence the word ‘lunacy’). Full moons are associated with high tides, the menstrual cycle, fertility, and insomnia. And farmers have been planting according to moon cycles for hundreds of years, as evidenced by The Old Farmer’s Almanac, published continuously since 1792. Many have claimed that human behavior varies with lunar cycles: that more births, more violent crimes, and more hospital admissions for bleeding occur during full moons. Controlled experiments have generally failed to find significant associations between lunar cycles and human behavior, but the lunar connection lives on in our collective imagination.

Witches align their ritual work with moon cycles. We associate new moons with beginnings, introspection, gaining insight and setting intentions; full moons with manifesting intentions and completing projects; and waning moons with banishing work. Aligning our spiritual life with moon cycles keeps us in touch with the cyclical, rhythmic, repeating nature of time. Though no less ordered, it’s a way of relating to time that is radically different from and more satisfying than the linear, commodified relationship with time that we have in our larger culture.

Many Native American groups created lunar calendars to reflect weather, agricultural, and hunting cycles. Moon names varied by tribe and place. For example, Comanche tribes of the Southern Plains called the December full moon Evergreen Moon, while the Natchez of the lower Mississippi River called it Chestnut Moon, in association with the time of year when all other foods besides chestnuts had run out. Full moons were given names that applied to the whole month, and an extra moon was added every few years to realign the calendar with the seasons.

Native American lifeways are not my lifeways, and thus the moon calendars they created are not my calendars, but the custom of naming full moons to mark the passage of the seasons appeals to me. It is a practice available to anyone in deep relationship with the land beneath their feet, anyone who knows by direct observation when the days lengthen, when the berries ripen, and when the cold winds come where they live. Below are the moons I celebrate in Central Texas.

moon1

2015 supermoon eclipse as seen from Austin

  • January: Cold Moon. Austin’s coldest day on average falls in early January. Our winters are mostly dry, but once or twice each season we receive ice storms that produce sleet and freezing rain.
  • February: Green Rising. Spring here begins in February. Temperatures rise, grasses push up fresh chartreuse blades, and deciduous trees begin to leaf out.
  • March: Bat Moon. In March Mexican Free-tailed Bats begin returning from their winter homes in Mexico to nest under bridges and in the many limestone caves in the Austin area.
  • April: Bluebonnet Moon. Early April is the height of bluebonnet season in Central Texas. Bluebonnets blanket entire fields in blue. Bees tend the blooms, and I, like many other Austinites, take my children for an annual photo among the flowers.
  • May: Firewheel Moon, Flood Moon. Bluebonnets give way to red and gold Indian blanket, or firewheels, in May. May also boasts the highest monthly precipitation on average. Many of our region’s historical floods, such as the devastating Memorial Day Floods of 1981 and 2015, occurred in May.
  • June: Cicada Moon. In June cicadas begin emerging from their underground tunnels, molting, and singing from the treetops for mates. I begin finding their crispy husks all around, on tree trunks, door frames, and posts.
  • July: Dragonfly Moon. I could just as reasonably call July’s full moon Mosquito Moon, but I prefer to call it after their predators, the many jewel-toned dragonflies. This summer I saw Eastern Pondhawks, Stream Cruisers, and Blue Dashers.
  • August: Fire Moon. By late summer Central Texas’s searing summer heat has scorched the land dry. The risk of wildfires is highest at this time of year.
  • September: Migration Moon. Temperatures cool slightly and days noticeably shorten in September. Our summer resident birds, such as summer tanagers, begin leaving Central Texas. I occasionally sight formations of neotropical migrant birds, passing through on their path along the Central Flyway. September also marks the beginning of the Monarch butterfly migration.
  • October: Pecan Moon. Although the exact date varies with the variety of pecan tree, the harvest of pecans, an important Central Texas native crop, begins in general in October. The hulls, which were bright green throughout summer, begin turning brown and opening, dropping thin-shelled nuts to the ground.
  • November: Leaves Falling Moon. Although most of Texas’s fall color is found east of the Austin area, bigtooth maples of the Edwards Plateau turn scarlet and cottonwoods growing along creeks fade to yellow in November. Red oaks turn crimson, and golden cedar elm leaves fall in flurries in mid to late November.
  • December: Juniper Moon. The largest stands of Ashe junipers, called “mountain cedar” by locals, grow in Central Texas. December marks the height of Ashe juniper pollination, or cedar fever season for the many who suffer an allergy to the pollen. Other Austinites decorate the evergreen trees along Capital of Texas Highway for Christmas.

Above are my personal associations with each month’s full moon, based in my lived experience. However, since each relationship is unique, lunar calendars may vary not only by place but also by individual; I imagine that another Central Texan’s full moon seasonal associations would differ from mine in at least several months.

Regardless of where you live, and even if you’re not a witch, connecting seasonal changes with moon phases is a tool for relating to the living land. It’s a way of re-storying the change of seasons and awakening to our experience of their repeating mystery. Simply put: it’s another way of encouraging yourself to get outside and practice the art of wide open observation.


Sources:

Barnes, Michael. “Flash Floods Inundate Central Texas History.” Austin American Statesman 26 May 2015:

Harrison, David K. When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Snowder, Brad P. American Indian Moons. Skywise Unlimited.

Weber, Lynne and Jim Weber. Nature Watch Austin: Guide to the Seasons in an Urban Wildland. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011.


The Author: Anna Walther

Pagan in Place is a column devoted to place-bound paganism. My goals are active engagement with my environment via meditation, walking outside, ritual, journaling, storytelling, and acts of social and environmental justice. Being pagan in place is about getting out of the house, putting foot to ground, and doing my holy work directly, at the closest creek, at my neighborhood park, at the community garden, and in my own backyard.

anna waltherAnna Walther practices place-based paganism in Austin, Texas. Her practice is inspired by the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft and the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Anna’s interests include sacred spaces, ritual art, ecopsychology, biophilia, and environmental ethics. She attends First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin with her husband and children.

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4 Comments on “[Pagan in Place] “Creating a Local Lunar Calendar: Full Moon Names for Central Texas” by Anna Walther

  1. What a great way to personalize your practice! I love the idea of developing personal names for the full moons, and I may even have to try it myself. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Fantastic! My wife and I did that here in our Minnesota home, as well. The time we spent observing the changes and processes around us to find those names remains some of the most spiritually moving times in my life.

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