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Intention setting and the moon cycle

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Why the Dark Moon deserves more shine than she's getting now.

There is a lot of focus on the full moon in contemporary Wicca— or at least, that is what I've been seeing.

It’s time to change that. (Jump to: Intention setting, correspondences)

Wix stock image.
Our ability to see the Moon's phase cycle depends on how much sun light it is reflecting from its current position in the night sky.

I've been researching folklore and religion for a really long time, but I was surprised to see a few articles on the "New Moon vs. Dark Moon" argument (this one by Jennifer Jorgenson on Exemplore puts it plainly.)

Why was I surprised? Because to be honest, I had missed the argument.

Jorgenson asks the question: why are so many new age movements abandoning the idea of the Dark Moon? And she answers with: to make new age spirituality movements like Wicca and neo Paganism more welcoming.

That statement had me a little shook. In modern-day Wicca, you may see the phrase Dark Moon and New Moon used interchangeably, but please be aware: the two are different phases. I had to reconcile with the idea that Jorgensen was right, and even I was guilty of it.

The New Moon's phases begin after the Dark Moon's fall. Therefore, the Dark Moon comes first, and represents a clean slate.

I know now that when I’m doing a “New Moon intention setting ritual”, I'm actually observing the Dark Moon.

The moon will go completely dark starting Tuesday Jan. 12, with the New Moon beginning Wednesday, Jan. 13.

In honor of this week's Dark Moon in the northern hemisphere, I figured I would delve into intention setting.

I've always felt that observing a Full Moon without acknowledging any other phase, would mess up my own practice. I don't really do a lot of magick, but I do set intentions on Dark Moon. It's the "fertile" window of Moon magick, and if you play your cards right, you'll be reaping what you sow by the Full Moon's light.

The Dark Moon has always been shrouded in mystery, but it hasn't always been something to fear.

Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
The Moon’s appearance changes throughout the month. Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Dark Moon in history

According to a paper published by the Oxford Research Encyclopedias, the word "month" is a cognate of "moon", derived from the Moon's ability to be a natural timekeeper that informed early calendars.

In the middle east— the Hebrews depended on the New Moon's appearance to accurately predict their monthly calendar, and celebrated the Rosh Ḥodesh (Also Rosh Chodesh), or "Head of the Month." Ancient Hebrews were not permitted to fast or mourn on the Rosh Ḥodesh. It is considered to be of special significance to women, as the Hebrews had also made the connection between Moon and menstruation cycles. The day continues as a minor monthly holiday for those of the Jewish faith.

Other cultures that follow a lunar calendar, such as those in Asia, also look to the New Moon as the start of the month.

In the Western world, there is a bit of a “dark cloud” over the Moon as a symbol.

The Catholic church did associate the Moon in general with women— namely a woman's monthly cycle and pregnancy. The Moon's cycle was also associated with the conception and death of Christ. The Moon is also a symbol present in many classical renderings of the last judgment.

The Dark Moon, of course, is just another function of the natural world and how we perceive it. Although the Moon does not produce its own light, its ability to reflect sunlight off its surface allows us to see the brilliance of the Moon's phases each month.

According to NASA, the Moon eventually reaches a point in its orbit when we cannot see any part of it illuminated. At that point, the far side of the Moon is facing the sun, and it is during this phase that astronomers say we can see a "New Moon." During the New Moon, the side facing the Earth is dark. You can see where the terms New Moon and Dark Moon become interchangeable.

The Moon cycle and intention setting

The Moon's cycle may be one of the most important parts of Wiccan spirituality. For me, it’s not about some magick we can't see, it’s about the magick we make ourselves.

So, I set intentions during the Dark Moon.

I don't do it every month, but rather, when I need to. That's one of my favorite parts of this process, it’s a tool you only use when you need it or want to use it. For the most part, doing this ritual helps me commit to the intention, and therefore set a goal for the month. Since I don’t do this regularly, I take it more seriously when I do.

If you want to get technical about what I type of Wicca I practice, then you could call it "eclectic;" meaning I borrow beliefs from religions I am drawn to in order to follow a custom-made path. Sometimes I don't even call myself Wiccan at all, but that's probably a story for another post. “Borrowing” beliefs is a slippery slope and involves a lot of careful consideration, research, and respect for the mother culture these beliefs come from. It is not just a “let’s wear black and use this crystal” kind of thing.

For Dark Moon intention setting, I typically start with a thorough clean of my house. I don’t sweep this way or that (although some will say to banish negativity you should sweep your broom towards this direction or out your door) but I sweep with intention. Just keeping the idea of cleaning away the old to make way for the new is enough for me to accomplish a thorough clean. It’s the thought that counts!

I typically sit down to do the ritual part of it during the afternoon or near sundown.

I will light a candle— usually a white one or one made of beeswax, but others may want to light a colorful or scented candle with appropriate correspondence — and more often than not, I’ll light sage or lavender. (See: Dark Moon correspondences.)

I’ll use the sage or lavender to cast a circle, for protection’s sake, and try to remind myself that I am in control of my destiny and that I am safe in my home.

The way I see it, the way you flourish your sage matters: if you go counterclockwise, you’ll banish energies out, if you go clockwise, you invite energies in. Its important to have a good mindset while doing this, you want to invite positivity and banish negativity, not vice versa.

I visualize my goal for the month ahead and may even write it down. If its something that I am trying to do less of, or if I need to get something negative out of my life, I’ll burn the piece of paper its written down on, if only for the symbolism of it all.

I’ll pray to the Great Spirit or perhaps a goddess or god for guidance, but other times I’ll ask my ancestors for help, especially if the issue or intention has to do with family.

I don’t follow up with a Full Moon esbat (ritual corresponding with a specific moon phase), but you’re free to do as you wish. I don’t really keep an obsessive eye on the calendar, either. I'm obnoxiously free-formed when it comes to ritual, as I feel like I have obtained more understanding or control over my own energy with practice and study. To each their own, you don't have to do it the same way I do.

Near the end of the month, typically around the time of the Full Moon, I will do a self “check-in” and take stock of how far I’ve come on the goal. Most of the time, I’ve accomplished what I needed to, even if that does mean that the endgame stretches into another month. For me, it’s all about progress.

Dark Moon correspondences

Deities associated with the Dark Moon are typically patrons of the life cycle, generosity, or power. Think of the Dark Moon as the start of a cycle or journey.

Deities: Hecate, Virgin Mary, Selene, Lillith, Kali. (These are just a few that I know of that have direct ties to Dark Moon or the cycle of life and death when it comes to mythology)

Colors: Colors of night: black, indigo, navy, purple, etc. Colors of abundance: Green, white

Stones: Use your favorites. A few stones associated with the moon include selenite, clear quartz, moon stone and pearls.

Herbs: Go-to’s for cleansing tend to be sage or lavender (light and flourish in clockwise motion to “open” a circle or invite energy, and counterclockwise to “close” a circle or banish energy. Use your favorite herbs or look to herbs that correspond with your intentions.

Remember, one of the main points of eclectic Wicca is to not adhere to any specific religious practice, even within new age spirituality. It does help to start somewhere though, so I recommend reading any classic book on the subject, such as Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.

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