Moon Magic and the Lunar Year: Esbats

basicbases31THE MOON

From our earliest childhood we are mesmerized by the silvery beauty of the moon.  As large in the night sky as the sun is in the day, the moon has provided inspiration to artists, musicians and magic workers for thousands of years.

I remember the first time I pointed out the full moon to my little one.  She sat staring up at it through our frost covered window for a good ten minutes, chanting “Moon! Moon!” over and over.  Eventually she fell into silence, but would not let me close the curtain.  She wanted to watch the moon.

Now she is in love with the shapes of the moon and stars.  She is always the first to spot a crescent moon anywhere and on anything (including the cat’s claws).  She has a toy that projects stars on to the ceiling in the dark, and won’t go to sleep until she has picked out the moon amongst them.

Human beings have always been enchanted by the moon.  Many of our ancestors reckoned the passage of time by the phases of the moon.  The word month comes from the Proto-Germanic word for moon.

The Earth’s only natural satellite watches over us, influencing the tides of sea and of women.  Lunar deities can be found in many cultures.  In ancient Europe, the moon was most commonly associated goddesses; which could be part of the reason that the moon is seen as a feminine force in most modern Pagan religions.

(Photo credit: Nick. K.)

As the wheel of the year turns, we celebrate the Sabbats to mark the passing of the solar year.  Esbats are celebrations of the cycles of the moon.  They are time to reach out with our senses and experience the surging energy that accompanies each changing moon over the course of the year.

While an Esbat can be observed at any time during the moon phase, they are most commonly celebrated at the time of the full moon.  Each moon throughout the year will have a different energy about it, and will lend itself to specific kinds of magical workings.

A typical Esbat ritual will vary between traditions.  In a coven setting it is common to perform a Drawing Down the Moon ritual.  While this rite can be converted to fit a solitary ceremony, many prefer to use divination to connect to their god/desses when observing the Esbats alone.

The reason for this is that Drawing Down the Moon is a form of ritual divine possession.  To paraphrase Martin Short’s doctor in Innerspace:*

“[The Goddess] speak[s] through you, not to you.”

Traditionally, Esbats were also the time for magical workings.  As it often takes time to gather supplies and write a spell, it is an easy magical boost to align your intent with the proper phase of the moon.**


The waxing moon is a time of growing.  Thus, spells that focus on increasing, growing or bringing something to you will align with the waxing phase.  For example, spells to help you find a new job, bless a new project, or perhaps bring peace and love into your life will align with the waxing phase of the moon.  Magic of great importance (healing, for example) can be worked multiple times over the course of the waxing moon, culminating in a ritual on the night of the full moon.

The moon waxes for approximately 15 days (it works out to somewhere around 14.7 days).  The phase between the new moon and the first quarter (when the moon appears as though it were cut in half) is called the waxing crescent.  The time between the first quarter and the full moon is known as the waxing gibbous.


The waning moon is a time of banishing and decreasing.  It is the time when we work magic to remove things from our lives, or work to aid a peaceful ending.  Examples of spell work for the waning phase of the moon might include a spell to break bad habits, to break off an undesired or unhealthy relationship, or to bring a project to completion.  Spells worked to rebuff negativity or baneful magic can also be worked during a waning moon.

As with the waxing phase, the moon wanes for roughly a fortnight.  The time from full to last quarter is the waning gibbous, and the time between last quarter and the new moon is the waning crescent.

Aside from active magic, the waning moon is also a time to turn our attention inward.  Self-discovery, self-improvement, empowerment, cleansing, protection, and shielding are all goals that align with the waning moon.


The time when the moon is not visible in the night sky at all is traditionally known as the dark moon.  This phase, like the full moon, lasts for roughly 2 or 3 days depending on the orientation of the sun and the Earth.  While modern astronomers refer to this time as the new moon, historically the new moon was reckoned as the night when the first sliver of the moon’s face was again visible.

In some Witchcraft traditions, the waxing, full, and waning moons are associated with the Maiden, Mother, and Crone archetypes respectively, or with goddesses who bear the mantle of one or more of these aspects.  The dark moon, however, was said to be associated with the Hag, the frightening Witch of fairytale and legend, the destroyer.  The Hag is said to be the goddess who deals with the blackness of night and of the soul.  She is the teacher who demands sacrifice and hardship.  Like a wild-fire, she is the goddess who strips away all that is no longer useful so that new growth may begin.

Banishings, shadow work, and any work that strips away at aspects of ourselves that no longer serve us are best done during the dark moon.


The light of the full moon is believed to house an exceptionally strong energy, and thus can be used to purify and charge a Witch’s tools and spells.  It is a common practise to leave new divination tools in a place where they will be lit by the light of the full moon.  Once the moon has set, the tools are charged and ready for use.

This method of charging and cleansing can be used on anything from altar tools to amulets and talismans to devotional objects and jewelry.  You can even use the light of the full moon to cleanse and charge yourself through the practise of moon bathing.

Throughout 2013, I will be examining each of the 13 full moons.  I’ll be exploring their lore and the ways in which we might align our lives and our magic to their energy.  Stay tuned!


*He was talking about demons, but hey, possession is possession.  Awesome movie, btw.  One of my favourites from when I was a kid. 😉

**If you cannot wait to align your working to the most appropriate moon phase, there are other methods you might employ that will allow you to cast an effective spell.  Rewritten intention is one way, as is the use of stored energy.

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