Thursday, September 8, 2011

Solilunar Phases

Note: This article was first published as "Solilunar Phases" in the online magazine, Mirror of Isis, volume 1, number 2, (Lughnassadh 2006). You can find the original at, although I've updated and edited this post.

In this essay, I will look at the phases that the Sun and Moon go through over the course of their cycles.  Yes, I said the Sun has phases; I’ll get to that.  First I’m going to look at the Moon because it’s more familiar, and its phases are obvious.  I’m going to look at why the phases arise, how the energies manifest, and then how they create the eight Solar festivals that are widely celebrated around the world.  And I’ll recommend some avenues for creating rituals to celebrate the energies of the Sun’s and Moon’s phases.  (There are more detailed rituals on-line on the COI email list, or you can contact me at

Moon Phases

Everyone is pretty much familiar with the fact that the Moon goes through phases; it’s one of the more obvious astronomical facts of our existence.  It’s marked on most of our calendars, we see the crescent Moon in the evening skies, and watch as it grows bigger and bigger towards Full Moon.  Some of us even watch as it begins to fade away afterwards, for a few nights, but few of us stay up to watch it die away in the wee hours of the morning in its last few nights before New Moon.

At the next level of awareness, we come to realize that there are eight distinct lunar phases: New, Crescent, First Quarter, Gibbous, Full, Disseminating, Last Quarter, and Balsamic.  Each of these eight phases has its own special qualities and energy flows that can be felt and experienced by anyone who wishes to know the exquisite light of the Moon.

The energies arise out of the astrological aspects that are occurring during the lunar month.  

At New Moon, the Sun and Moon are conjunct each other, or exactly at the same location in the same sign.  This means that each of them are expressing the same sign’s energy, although through different “lenses”, the Sun as a direct and essential force, and the Moon as a softer, indirect, and emotional force.  The energy of the signs varies a great deal:

  • Aries: The energy focuses on new, positive personality traits and self-expression.
  • Taurus: The energy focuses on abundance, sensuality, and stability.
  • Gemini: The energy focuses on better communications, learning, and relationships with siblings.
  • Cancer: The energy focuses on home life, food, sustenance, and emotions.
  • Leo: The energy focuses on creativity, self-image, and children.
  • Virgo: The energy focuses on health, service, and order.
  • Libra: The energy focuses on balance, harmony, and peace.
  • Scorpio: The energy focuses on transforming old habits, rebirth, sexuality, and deep emotional cleansing and healing.
  • Sagittarius: The energy focuses on ideals, philosophy, goals, travel, the outdoors, and movement.
  • Capricorn: The energy focuses on consolidation, empowerment, traditions, structure, and planning.
  • Aquarius: The energy focuses on society and social relationships, the future, change, and relationship to the Earth as a whole entity.
  • Pisces: The energy focuses on ideals, dreams, visions, and release of old issues. 

New Moon is a time to begin a new project, perhaps in line with the energy of the sign in which the New Moon occurs.  This is a way of maximizing the use of the energy of the Sun and Moon working together.  Typically, the energy of New Moon is considered active the day before the actual conjunction, the day of it, and the day after it, which can be determined from a good ephemeris, such as the one listed in the bibliography, or a good astrological calendar (also listed in the bibliography, although there are several on the market and on line).  

The second phase, Crescent, lasts about four days, and encompasses several smaller aspects, including the semi-square (45°) and the sextile (60°).  It is a very mutable, changeable, shifting time.  Here the Moon rises just after sunset.  These are considered to represent struggles and opportunities, leading people to overcome inertia and dependencies on past conditioning.  This is a time to start actualizing the project that was started at New Moon, and begin moving it into the future.

The third phase, First Quarter, lasts three days, like New Moon.  Here, the Moon rises at Noon, and is directly overhead at sunset.  It can often be seen in the afternoon sky.  This is the first square (90°) aspect, which provides a challenge to action, and a task to take stock of where you are on your project.  There may be a struggle to energize your meditations, but be prepared to let go of anything that is not working, or rework things until they do.

The fourth phase, Gibbous, also lasts about four days, and encompasses the trine (120°) and the quincunx (150°) aspects.  It rises in the afternoon, and sets after midnight.  The trine energy helps you perfect the project, lending a hand in refining and polishing the work, while the quincunx challenges you to learn its lessons, begin introspection, and analyze your self-expression.

The fifth phase, Full Moon, lasts three days, and encompasses the opposition aspect, when the Moon is in the sign directly opposite the Sun, and they are engaged in a tug of war for control of the available energies.  The Moon rises at sunset and sets at dawn.  This is the peak point of the Moon’s energy flow, when Her power is at Her greatest, because Her separation from the Sun is Her greatest and She is in the sky all night long.  This is the time to relish the perfection of your project, and share it with others, to perform magic, and to share in relationships with one another.

The sixth phase, Disseminating, lasts about four days, and encompasses the aspect sequences in reverse of quincunx and then trine.  The Moon rises later and later after sunset and sets well after dawn.  In this phase you are challenged to assimilate the lessons learned from the monthly project and begin passing them on to your fellow man.  It is time to give from abundance, and to create from synthesis.

The seventh phase, Last Quarter, lasts three days, and encompasses the last square aspect.  Here, the Moon rises at midnight, and sets around noon, shining its light into our sleep and dreams.  You won’t see it in the evening sky at all, so don’t look for it!  Old forms begin to break down, you are sick to death of the project and are ready to release it and prepare for new work.  This is a time of crisis of consciousness and reevaluation.

The last phase, Balsamic, lasts about four days until New Moon, and encompasses the waning Crescent aspects of sextile and semi-square.  The Moon rises later and later after midnight until it is rising just before dawn as a thin, tiny crescent in the dawn sky, very lovely in the blushy glow, if you are up that early.  Maybe Venus is nearby.  This is a time for distilling the wisdom that you have learned over the course of the Moon’s journey through this cycle, in your meditations, practices, projects, magic, and other activities.  It is a time for completing karma, and the release of dead and decaying energies, while you are preparing for transformation into the next cycle.

It is possible to take advantage of the energy at any particular phase to do work with that phase’s action, such as release and transformation with the Balsamic phase.  You simply have to use your calendar to time it correctly, which is greatly helped by one of the calendars that shows the Moon phase for each calendar day.

Or you can choose to work with an entire lunar month’s worth of phases, which is an excellent attunement ritual to truly understand Her energy flows.  If you make the effort to go outside and gaze at the Moon in the sky during each cycle, visually attuning with her light energy as well as simply meditating on Her, you will get a real feel for Her movements and Her rhythms.  That is part of why I included the timing of Her rising in the discussion above.  You can also use the Lunar bath ritual I describe in my book, Universal Alchemy.

Lastly, I have found that it is useful to know under which Moon phase you were born.  It has an affect on you, somewhat stronger for women, but it gets stronger as you attune to the Moon’s energy.  When your phase comes around, you can feel the energy flowing very strongly, like a sudden surge going through you.  And it has karmic implications, also.  Someone born on New Moon is starting a new cycle of karmic lessons, and is approaching the world with fresh, innocent eyes and ideals.  A person born on the Balsamic Moon, on the other hand, is ending a long, hard slog, and is letting go of their accumulated karmic wisdom, and is really tired of shepherding people around.  People at Full Moon are at their peak, blazing beacons of light, energy, and warmth to all around them, although they are also a tangle of opposites.  It gets interesting.

Sun Phases

The Sun goes through phases, just like the Moon, it’s just not as obvious because it doesn’t visibly show a crescent or a partially full face.  What it does show us, if we watch it carefully, is what astronomers call an analemma, which is a pattern of points showing where the Sun is located at the same time each day for your latitude. 

This is not, by any means, a new idea; our ancestors marked hundreds of such patterns, such as rising and setting points of the sun, with stone markers all over the world.  These coincide with horrific myths concerning disasters where the Sun “went crazy in the sky” and rose in the West and set in the East.  A very good book on the topic is Uriel’s Machine, by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas.  Another is Cataclysm, by D.S. Allan and J.B. Delair, which describes the geological and mythological evidence supporting a post-glacial catastrophe around 12,000 years ago.

Figure 1—Analemma
The analemma marks the declination of the sun’s path according to latitude; it’s different for each location.  But it always shows the Sun’s path back and forth between the Tropic of Cancer (at the top) and the Tropic of Capricorn (at the bottom), delimiting the seasons of the year.  When the catastrophe occurred, for some years conditions were so bad that gathering and what agriculture had existed were impossible, and people needed a way to remember how to reconstruct their seasonal knowledge after things began to normalize.

Uriel’s Machine tells the story of how the ancients taught people to construct, in stone or other materials, a local form of sunrise and set analemma that would let them recover their knowledge of the seasonal movements of the sun in the case of another seasonal disaster.  This was retold and recovered from the information contained in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, and reconstructed from the authors.  A detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this article, but anyone interested in recreating their own miniature “Stonehenge” and experiencing the Sun’s phases that way should definitely check out this book.
I’m going to start by describing the Sun’s phases for the Northern Hemisphere; later in the article I will reverse the phases for the Southern Hemisphere, as I believe that we need to keep our southern brethren in mind when we do these things.  I also want to speak to something before I get into the actual phases.

We have no real problems dating the Equinoxes and the Solstices, as they fall quite obviously on the Equal Nights ("Equi-noxes"), and Longest/Shortest Days (Solstices), and can be marked both astronomically and astrologically.  For those of you who are not astrologers, the Equinoxes and the Solstices are marked by specific solar actions from the point of view of the Earth, and enters into the cardinal Zodiac signs as follows:

Spring Equinox:  The Sun is at the crossing point of the Zodiac and the equatorial plane, which begins the sign of Aries.  (It is actually at the end of the sign of Pisces astronomically and about to go into the sign of Aquarius, hence the coming of the “Age of Aquarius”.  There are some funky things about the traditional practice of astrology, please bear with me.)  This is shown on the analemma where the equator crosses the figure midway.  The pinch point where it crosses over itself occurs later, in April.

Summer Solstice: The Sun is at its greatest northern extension above the equatorial plane along the Zodiac, and enters the astrological constellation of Cancer (hence the Tropic of Cancer marked on maps and the analemma).

Fall Equinox:       The Sun is again at the crossing point of the Zodiac and the equatorial plane, and begins the astrological sign of Libra.

Winter Solstice:   The Sun is at its greatest southern extension below the equatorial plane along the Zodiac, and enters the astrological sign of Capricorn (hence the Tropic of Capricorn marked on maps, and the bottom of the analemma).

However, the cross-quarter days when the so-called High Festivals are celebrated have drifted off their energetic "peak" dates onto forced calendrical dates--the eve of the given month, such as May Eve (Beltane).  Mostly due to pressure from the Christianization of Europe, I suspect, as by dislocating paganry from its traditional ways, the their energetic connections with the Sun and Earth were broken, which prevented people from backsliding into their natural ways and lapsing from their "newfound faith".

(I celebrate the Solar Festivals because I live in a temperate environment where the energy cycles resonate with them, even though I primarily work with the Egyptian Gods. We can limit ourselves too much when we restrict ourselves to "I only work a Khemetic Path, and I reject/ignore anything that does not fit with that worldview."  If you don't anchor yourself to where you live, it takes very little to blow you away, now doesn't it?  That’s why I’m a priest of Isis and a Druid.)

There is enough "head" of energy behind the "eve of" dates now that they are strong portals for the Solar energy--there is no reason not to celebrate them as the Solar festivals like many do--but I am also investigating the energies of celebrating them in synch with their proper astrological timing.  This corresponds to the center point of the fixed signs, which lies *exactly* half way between the equinox and the solstice; hence, the term "cross-quarter days."

These points can be gleaned from any basic astrological ephemeris.  For the next few years, they were/are:

3 Feb
3 Feb
3 Feb
3 Feb
5 May
4 May
4 May
5 May
7 Aug
6 Aug
6 Aug
7 Aug
8 Nov
6 Nov
6 Nov
7 Nov

Ok.  Phases.  In the Solar Phases, I find that it actually does better to start just before New Sun, rather than on New Sun, but try what you want.  You can start at Full Sun with no problem.  Or at any other phase that works for you.  The same associations given for the Lunar Phases should work for the Sun Phases.

 Balsamic Sun (Northern Hemisphere) is Sahmain on November Eve, equivalent to Last Crescent Moon, as the energy of the Sun is "dead" and fading away. This is why so many traditions feel that the period between Sahmain and New Sun at Yule is a dangerous time--the Sun's energy is draining away and taking us with it.  The Sun is almost at its farthest southern point on the horizon, it is moving south slower and slower each day, and is providing very little in the way of heat.

New Sun is at Yule, with the birth of the Sun and the spark of new energy.  This is why so many sun gods births are celebrated on the solstice or three days later, when the energy has another slight peak.  Everyone knows what this energy feels like, happy, bubbly, and fresh. Today, the Sun reaches its farthest southern point on the Tropic of Capricorn, and begins its turn back towards the north to bring light and warmth back to the Earth.  

First Crescent Sun is at Imbolc on February Eve, when the Sun's energy begins to shine forth into the New Year.  (Although some traditions give this festival any date ranging from January 29th to February 2nd.)  This is when we light the candles to summon the light in the depth of winter, to remind ourselves that the Sun is strengthening.  This is when life in the seeds is quickening.  Day by day, the Sun journeys northward, bringing warmth and growth with it, although it is hard to tell in these dark and cold days of winter.

First Quarter Sun is at Spring Equinox (Oestre), when the Sun's energy is growing warmer, and it is time for action.  In most temperate locations, it is time to prepare the soil, and perhaps to begin planting things in the garden, or at least to look at seed catalogs and dream.  We start seeing the birth of little critters this time of year, and it gives us hope.  Today, the Sun is balanced exactly halfway between North and South on the horizon, and night and day are equal in length.  

Gibbous Sun is at Beltane on May Eve, when the Sun's energy begins to "quicken" and perfect what was started at Oestre.  Warmth is growing stronger, seeds are sprouting, flowers are blooming, and winter is over for good.  The Sun is moving daily closer to his peak, and we are filled with joy.  The Sun is moving northward along the horizon, but slowing as it heads toward solstice.

Full Sun is at Summer Solstice (Litha).  At this time, you are subjected to the full-throated roar of the Sun's energy, Heru Khuti, when his rays are at their strongest.  This is the point of illumination of all the works that have been developed since New Sun at Yule, when the polishing and perfecting of what you have been creating all year may be assessed for finishing as the Sun declines.  Take in the Sun at this time, and prepare for the ripening towards harvest.  The Sun is at its northernmost point on the horizon, grazing the Tropic of Cancer, and begins its journey southward after today.

Disseminating Sun is at Lughnassadh, which is First Harvest on August Eve.  The Sun's energy is still strong, but it is beginning to fade away.  The first fruits are ripening, and we are gathered to distribute those fruits of the Sun's energy among ourselves in thanks for his glory.  You can still feel the warmth, but you can also feel the dying.  The sun daily heads further southward, fast, for now.

Last Quarter Sun is at Fall Equinox (Mabon), and is the deeper Harvest Festival, when the Sun is truly dying, and the harvest is fully underway.  This is when we gather for our great thanksgiving to celebrate the grains and fruits and vegetables that the Sun has given us through our efforts over the course of his cycle.  Drink deep of the sun at this time, for the Sun will shine deep into your heart and soul now.  This is the time that Persephone leaves Demeter for her yearly sojourn with her husband, Hades, and the world begins to shut down for another winter.  Today, night and day are of equal length, and the Sun is exactly halfway between North and South on the horizon.

 And we return to Sahmain, Balsamic Sun, and Last Crescent.

Each Solar Festival has its own quality, and there are innumerable ways of celebrating them, and traditions that have grown up around how to celebrate them.  Obviously I don’t have the time or the space to go into those here.  However, I can make a few suggestions. 

A wonderful, if lengthy, way to experience the Sun’s phases is similar to the Moon phase journey, and involves dedicating a year to the cycle.  Start on Sahmain, or Yule, or even on Midsummer (Litha), and experience the ebb and flow of the Sun’s energies as it moves through its course.  At each festival, you attune with the phase energy according to the discussion above, recognizing whether the energy is increasing, decreasing, or static at the equinoxes and solstices.  Feel the flows as it shifts around the analemma.

Although the Solar phases take a while to experience, the energy flows are ecstatic, and the connections they make between you, the Sun, and the land around you are something that you will never forget.  

At any phase, if you use the meditation I describe in my book, Universal Alchemy, on the Solar Bath to open up, absorb, and vibrate the Sun's energies at each Solar Phase to make a connection, you will very deeply and profoundly resonate with the energy of each phase.  Even if afterwards all you ever do from then on is simply gather with friends to celebrate the 8 solar festivals, you will always know *why* they are celebrated, and will always be able to teach everyone else why they are celebrated the way they are.

Oh, and for those who see the Sun as feminine.  Just change the pronouns, ok? The Sun is the Sun, male, female, or neuter.  The ritual works however you invoke Grainne. Or Ra.  Or Khepera, who has never revealed what sex it is, and I'm not about to ask it.

Solar Phases in the Southern Hemisphere

Your calendar is the reverse of that in the Northern Hemisphere, so the Balsamic Sun falls on May Eve, rather than October 31st.

Balsamic Sun: Sahmain, May Eve
New Sun: Yule, Winter Solstice, June 21st
First Crescent: Imbolc, August Eve
First Quarter: Oestre, Spring Equinox, Sept. 22nd
Gibbous: Beltane, November Eve
Full Sun: Litha, Summer Solstice, Dec. 21st
Disseminating: Lughnassadh, February Eve
Last Quarter:  Mabon, Fall Equinox, March 20th

I think I have that right relative to your calendar.  I'm pretty good at reading upside down and backwards.  <vbg> Just kidding.

So give this a try and see how it works for you.


Allan, D. S., and J. B. Delair, Cataclysm!: Compelling Evidence of a Cosmic Catastrophe in 9500 BC, Bear & Company, Santa Fe, NM, 1997.  Published as When the Earth Nearly Died in the UK in 1995.

The Astrolabe World Ephemeris: 2001-2050 at Midnight, Whitford Press, Atglen, PA, 1998.
Cunningham, Scott, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 2003.

Hickey, Isabel M. Astrology: A Cosmic Science, CRCS Publications, Sebastopol, CA, 1992.
Knight, Christopher, and Robert Lomas, Uriel’s Machine: Uncovering the Secrets of Stonehenge, Noah’s Flood, and the Dawn of Civilization, Fair Winds Press, Gloucester, MA, 1999, 2001. 

Lofthus, Myrna, A Spiritual Approach to Astrology, CRCS Publications, Sebastopol, CA, 1983.

Maynard, Jim, Celestial Guide 2006, Quicksilver Productions, Ashland, OR, 2006.

Rodriguez, Dr., Analemma diagram,

Starsheen, M. A. Universal Alchemy. Lulu Press, online, 2005;

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