Monday, August 9, 2010

August 9: New Moon

No, I'm not referring to Stephenie Meyer's vampire book. Tonight the Current Moon Phase gadget on my Google home page tells me that the moon is 0% full: a new moon. Although I guess technically if the new moon is the thin slice of moon filling up again tomorrow night, tonight is really "no moon." The lack of moonlight would make this a wonderful evening to check out the stars if it weren't cloudy.

The new moon, when the moon is a big black zero in the sky, happens once a month when the moon is in direct conjunction with the sun, meaning that the earth, moon, and sun are aligned in such a way that we see no sunlight reflecting off the moon. We're reminded that the moon's phases are all a trick of light and mirrors, that the dry moon itself gives off no light of its own. Our faithful satellite floats invisibly in the dark void until the earth and sun shift enough for us to see that sliver of reflected light again. Day by day the area of light grows--the moon waxes--until the full moon. Then it wanes till there's no moonlight at all--the new moon again. A lovely cycle, setting up a perfect metaphor of the cycle of life, birth and death, beginnings and endings.

Perhaps this is why in so many religious calendars around the world--Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, and Jewish--a new month begin on either the day of the "no moon" or that of the brand-new moon, when that first crescent shines along the moon's rim. The Muslim month Ramadan, a deeply spiritual time of fasting each day from sunrise to sunset, begins with this new moon, for example. For Hindus, the new moon is Amavasya, an auspicious day, a time to pay respects to one's ancestors and make offerings. A new moon on Monday, the moon's day, like today, is particularly significant and various Hindu rituals are performed depending on where one lives. There's something I find particularly intriguing about celebrating the dark, a time when the moon disappears and we have only the stars left to guide us.

No light of its own,
new moon is no moon, blank disk
awaiting the sun.

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