Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of November 2nd, - November 8th, 2007

Cheshire Cat Moon

Columns Archive

  Month after month, year after year the Sun and Moon dance together through the heavens, swinging around and around each other, heal to toe and hand in hand.
Cheshire Cat

Cheshire Cat

During the late spring and early summer, the Sun swings high in the sky through the northern hemisphere. The days are long and Earth is warmed by the golden caress. But during this same season the Moon's silvery light is doubly limited. Not only are the nocturnal hours shorter through the hot summer nights (minimizing the amount of time during which the Moon can shine against the darkened sky), but neither does the Moon rise as high through the sky.

  In winter the situation is reversed. Now it is daylight that is more limited, with the time that the Sun lifts above the horizon crowded into a few short hours. The winter Solstice is when the Sun reaches its lowest ebb in northern latitudes, but the lunar realm is expanded. Not only are the nights long, but the Moon climbs high in the sky, and even overtakes the Sun's summit of the summer. The Moon appears higher overhead, shining down on us, dominating the night sky. This is especially true at the Full Moon, when the lunar light is greatest. This is the reason the Moon is said to rule over the sign Cancer, when the Moon is at its greatest power. If the Full Moon is in Cancer, the Sun must be in Capricorn, which always commences with the Winter Solstice within a day or so of the 21st of December.

  To some, this could seem counter-intuitive. The Moon in Cancer represents our food, home and gardens. It might seem that summertime would be a more logical season for these themes. But this is when the Sun is in Cancer, not the Moon. Conversely, the holidays following the solstice are when winter has set in, and all that has been grown and cultivated through the year has been gathered and stored. The cold, winter winds warm family members who draw together in their annual pilgrimage to share in personal memories and a cornucopic feast.

Cheshire Cat smile

Crescent Smile

  This dance between the Sun and Moon, with the seasons keeping cadence while the Sun swings high and the Moon low during the summer, the Moon high and the Sun low through the winter in a cosmic do-se-do is most striking if we think of the Full Moon, when these two luminous orbs stand in opposition to each other. But there is another lunar phase also impacted by the seasonal change as well.

  In the days following the New Moon, when the first crescent begins to appear, the Moon can appear to shoot almost straight down into the horizon during the autumn months shortly after sunset, plunging straight into the sea. As the skies darken after the Sun goes down, this crescent Moon slowly emerges just above the western horizon, growing more luminous as the Sun goes down. The months hugging the winter solstice will be when these observations become most pronounced, when the lunar path descends at its steepest trajectory.

  As the shadows begin to lengthen in the growing twilight, like the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's childhood tale Alice in Wonderland, the crescent smile is all that is left after the rest of the body has melted away, grinning at the Earth below, until it too disappears, following the Sun into darkness, leaving us to wonder about that curious creature, and what was hidden behind that mad, knowing smile.


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