Moons of many moons ago


THE waning moon that currently adorns the early evening sky is one of the few in western culture to have an individual name. The October full moon is Hunter's Moon, and it follows the full moon nearest to the autumn equinox, which is the Harvest Moon. Elsewhere in our calendar we have the full moon nearest to the summer solstice, Midsummer Moon, during which brief reign it is said that those with a tendency for eccentricity indulge their foibles even more than usual.

Other cultures, however, had a richer glossary of monthly moons than we do. The Sioux Indians, for example, had a name for every one of the 12 that made up their yearly cycle. They began with the period starting with the new moon after the vernal equinox, which they called the Moon of Worms; the April full moon was Moon of Plants and that of May the Moon of Flowers; June was Hot Moon, followed by Buck Moon, Sturgeon Moon and Corn Moon, until the period around that which we know as October brought the Travelling Moon.

November was Beaver Moon, December Hunting Moon, and the annual cycle drew to a close with Cold Moon and Snow Moon in our January and February.

The Indian year was normally 12 moons long, but every 50 often it was necessary for them to add an extra one to keep their calendar in phase with seasons. This they did after every 30 moons, calling the 13th in that particular year the Lost Moon. They had no sub division into weeks, but measured the passage of time within a moon in "sleeps", each sleep punctuated as necessary by sunrise, moon and sunset.

Of course there were local variations in the names of moons. Hiawatha, for example, preparing to woo his sweetheart Minnehaha, built a wigwam in the forest:

In the blithe and pleasant Springtime, In the Moon of Leaves he built it, And with dreams and visions many, Seven days and nigh is he fasted.

And Longfellow has another story in which he tells how the benign personification of the south wind, Shawondasee, brought the warm, hazy, Indian Summer to the Great Plains before the real onset of winter every year:

From his pipe the smoke ascending.

Filled the sky with haze and vapour.

Filled the air with dreamy softness.

Gave a twin Me to the water

Touched the rugged hills with smoothness,

Brought the tender Indian


To the melancholy; North land,

In the dreamy Moon of

Snow shoes.