Ephemera: January’s Full Moon


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I love full moons. Not just as a way of marking the months, though that’s great; not that I actually might have a moon-shadow even in the City though I like that, but that it lifts my gaze and thoughts upward – metaphorically and literally. The full moon, on the evening of 24 January 2016 will be in the constellation of Cancer, the Crab, and it will located near the star Acubens.

Acubens, a double star and only just visible to the naked eye so it might be ‘dazzled out’ by the Moon, gets its name from the Arabic ,’Al Zubanah’, which means ‘the claws’ (of the crab). Pliny called it ‘Acetabula’, which is latin for ‘arm sockets’. Very similar.

The moon will also be south of the star Asellus Australis. This star is visible to the naked eye, and means ‘southern donkey’ in Latin. It is the longest of all known star names, originally called ‘Arkushanangarushashutu’, from ancient Babylonian meaning ‘the south-east star in the Crab’

Overall, Cancer the constellation represents the crab that bit the heel of Hercules during his fight with the Hydra. It was placed amongst the the other constellations by Juno, the enemy of Hercules, out of gratitude.

This constellation also includes the Beehive Cluster, and open star cluster, known as M44. Interestingly, in ancient times this star cluster was used as a weather gauge according to Aratos’ ‘Prognostica’, as:

A murky manger with both stars
Shining unaltered is a sign of rain.
While if the northern Ass is dimmed
By vaporous shroud, he of the south gleam radiant,
Expect a south wind: the vaporous shroud and radiance
Exchanging stars harbinger Boreas.

This full moon, then, is called the Quiet Moon to ancient (and latter-day) Celts and Druids, or the Wolf moon to those of medieval England.

As an aside: It was this month, also, that I discovered that several Church denominations are making a concerted effort to standardise the Easter date so that it falls of the same day each year. I accept my evangelical friends arguments that the date doesn’t matter, just that the significant event occurred, but I’m discovering something more about myself. With all the ‘standardisation’ going on to maximise output and profits – and I’m sure it will help schools and factories and many others – it just feels ‘right’, and ‘comforting’, and natural that I can gaze up and look at the moon as I walk though the wilderness areas of North Wales, or even in the City, and think Easter’s coming.

It’s not necessary to link Easter to the full moon (after the Spring equinox), I know that, but I just like the idea, that nature dictates one event, still, and that however clever we are, a reflective ‘ball’ in the sky, that circles the Earth with a cheery face etched on it and which continually faces our way, has some significance, speaks of a different time and slows me down to ponder life’s imponderables.

Everyone wants to be the sun to lighten up someone’s life –
but why not be the moon, to brighten in the darkest hour?

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