If you see the moon in mid afternoon, how do you know if it’s waxing or waning?

I have long enjoyed the study of astrology and the visible astronomy that goes along with it. In our modern lives, we often read about the astrology of the day, but with our busy schedules and city lights, we can lose touch with the natural rhythms of the Sun, the Moon and planets. Astrology can be a cerebral or theoretical exercise when we lose connection to the power of these astronomical events playing out in the sky. The Moon in particular has a powerful rhythm that we can connect with through some simple observations, and from there we can start to enjoy the even more subtle rhythms of the planets. Then the answers to questions like the one above become a matter of experience.

My wife and I and our family are fortunate that we had a chance to acquire a cacão farm on the coast in Bahia Brazil about six years ago. It is an extraordinarily beautiful place, with frequent power outages and internet failures, and almost no light pollution. Our house sits up on a ridge overlooking the ocean as you can see in this picture, and we have spectacular views of the Moon and the stars and the planets. The monthly course of the Moon is so present with us when we are there in Bahia, and we return to Miami, it’s easy to lose this divine connection to the Moon.

The Moon repeats a beautiful journey on the stage of the sky every month on our farm. The best way to describe this monthly cycle of the Moon is to start with the waning crescent moon, which is rarely seen. We very rarely see a waning crescent Moon because it is visible in sky only briefly right before sunrise, and by the time the Sun wakes us in the morning, the waning crescent moon is already lost in the morning glare. So our story of the Moon will start with the dark moonless nights of the waning crescent.

Let me describe a little bit about the farm to set the stage for you. The coastline there runs basically north and south, and it lies to the east of our farm. So we have a perfect view of the eastern horizon, and we see the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars rising over the water to our east. To the west of us are some low hills, and there is a long field that used to be a one hole golf course. At the end of this field we can see the sun setting over the hills, and we often walk the dogs there and watch the colors unfold in the evening sky. This is where we saw the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn after sunset in December of 2020.

This evening walk brings us to the true beginning of the Moon’s journey, which is the appearance in the evening sky of the new Moon, which occurs suddenly every lunar month in the western sky in the twilight. The day before the New Moon, it’s not there to see, but the day after the new Moon, there she is, a crescent hanging in the sky for about an hour after sunset before she dips below the horizon. Over the next couple days, if we take the same walk, she appears a little higher and a little larger, still in the western sky and above the setting sun.

This continues until the first quarter one week after the new moon. Then she appears directly overhead at sunset as a half moon, and we tend to forget about it. The sunset draws our attention with it’s soft inland colors, but the Moon high over head and half full, does not make a strong demand on our senses. This reduced energy is manifested physically in very real ways. Consider the tides for example. The largest tides occur with the new Moon and the full Moon. The quarter Moons have what are called “nip” tides. And interestingly, nip tides occur when the Moon is square to the Sun, which means their energies cancel each other out a bit. We often read in Astrology about the Moon being square the Sun, and we read that the energies conflict. This physically is a very powerful phenomenon in the real world. Yes, the wisdom of astrology relates to very real physical forces we can measure in the world.

After the first quarter moon, the real show starts. About four days before the full Moon, we see a waxing gibbous Moon high above the eastern horizon at Sunset, and the waxing gibbous Moon stays bright in the sky all the way until the wee hours of the morning. Over the next days, we see the Moon a little larger and a little lower in the eastern sky every evening before sunset.

Then comes the big night of the Full Moon. Everyone knows it is coming, because we all see the waxing Gibbous growing every evening before she is full, and this fills our hearts with anticipation. The evening before the full Moon, she is just above the horizon when the Sun sets, and that is the most spectacular view. It is the view you see in the photograph above. We often have our spiritual works on these nights.

The next night, when the sun sets, there is no Moon in the sky at all, but she puts on quite a show as she rises above the ocean in the twilight, still almost full, within an hour of sunset. Everyone’s gaze is fixed on the eastern horizon waiting for the Moon to appear, and we see the glow and then she breaks above the horizon. The next night, the sky gets completely dark, and still no Moon, and then she rises still almost full, bright and white in the dark night sky. The next night, she rises a couple hours after sunset, and the phase of the waning gibbous Moon is with us, and she is now rising late at night around 10:30 or 11:00 pm.

When we have a waning gibbous Moon, we often wake up in the middle of the night because of the bright Moon shining in our window at 3:00 am. From about 4 to 7 days after the Full Moon, everyone seems to stir in these wee hours before the morning as this bright light comes from the east much like a sunrise. It was under a waning Moon that Mary Madeline woke up before dawn and visited the empty tomb of Christ. This waning Moon energy makes us stir and has since the ancient times.

Finally, after a full week or so, we get to the third quarter Moon, where she rises at midnight and is small enough not to wake us up. The nights are inky black until very late, and zillions of stars are visible. This is the best time to point a telescope at Jupiter to see the Moons of Jupiter. And then we get back to the waning crescent Moon again. Only the owls see her rise above the horizon. And then a few days later, she appears again after sunset in the western sky, and the entire cycle starts again.

These events have profound effects on our energy and our attention. Everyone looks with anticipation for the New Moon…will she appear tonight? When will this new cycle start? This is why in Astrology we say the New Moon is the start of our monthly cycle. It’s because for time immemorial humans have gazed to the west anticipating the appearance of the new Moon. Similarly, since the deep time past, all humans and animals have stirred late at night with the waning gibbous Moon. And everyone sees the powerful waxing Gibbous Moon and anticipates the splendor of the full Moon. We grasp at this memory for a few days as the full Moon wanes, until she rises so late that we are already in bed, but with fitful sleep.

And so, the answer to the question, if you see the Moon in the afternoon, it is always a waxing Moon. Usually you see it after the first quarter when it is more than 90 degrees from the Sun. So if you see a Moon after noon, you know it is waxing. If you see the Moon rise after sunset, you know that it is waning. If you see it high overhead at midnight, then it’s a waxing quarter Moon, and if you see a crescent after sunset, you know it is a new Moon.

If you feel you have lost touch with this, that’s ok, because it happens every night. You can go out and see for yourself! You can keep a Moon journal for a month and write your observations. If you have a window in the east in your bedroom, leave the shade up and see if the waning Gibbous wakes you up in the middle of the night. We do not see this show every month like we used to, because we get busy, and we are inside making our dinner with electric lights, and we don’t always have a good view. We may see the Moon from time to time, and be happy or surprised. We may even look on the internet to see the date of the next full Moon and joyfully observe it. But if you spend a month to observe the Moon, you will really feel the power.

When we sit on the ridge line in the evening and watch the full Moon rise, we are doing the same thing in the same spot that people have done for centuries, back to the dawn of time with the Indigenous people of the area. For thousands and thousands of years, humans have shared this common experience of watching this cycle of the Moon, and when we get in touch with it ourselves, we can really feel the power of it.

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