Full Moons in Native American Folklore
The moon has always fascinated humans, first because from Earth, both the Sun and the Moon look about same size. And second because the Moon makes the Earth move, as well as the tides. Watching the cycle of the sun was key for the development of agriculture. Waxing and waning, the moon is a sign of constant change. It symbolizes nature, its blind and driven forces, the passing and return of its seasons. Full Moons in Native American Folklore are transposed into the human realm in the form of names and meanings.
The full moon is the lunar phase when the Moon appears fully illuminated from Earth’s perspective. This occurs when Earth is located between the Sun and the Moon. This means that the lunar hemisphere facing Earth—the near side—is completely sunlit and appears as an approximately circular disk.
Lunar Calendar: Full Moons
Many of the Moon’s nicknames have come to us from Native American culture because for their way of life, the cycles of the lunar phases were just as important a method of timekeeping as the longer solar cycle of the year (from which the modern Gregorian calendar is derived). Full Moons in Native American Folklore have names and symbols.
The number of Moon names differs slightly from tribe to tribe, but many assign either 12 or 13 full moons to the year.
January: Wolf Moon (Ice moon, old moon)
January’s full moon is named after the howling of hungry wolves lamenting the scarcity of food in midwinter. Other names for this month’s full moon include old moon and ice moon. Its origin comes from Native Americans who often heard wolves howling during cold winter nights at this time of year, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.
February: Snow Moon
February’s typically cold, snowy weather in North America earned its full moon the name snow moon. Storm moon and hunger moon are other common names. Another theme of this month’s Moon names is scarcity. The Cherokee names of Month of the Bony Moon and Hungry Moon give evidence to the fact that food was hard to come by at this time.
March: Worm Moon
Native Americans called this last full moon of winter the worm moon after the worm trails that would appear in the newly thawed ground. Other names include chaste moon, death moon, crust moon and sap moon, after the tapping of the maple trees.
April: Pink Moon
Northern Native Americans call April’s full moon the pink moon after a species of early blooming wildflower. In other cultures, this moon is called the sprouting grass moon, the egg moon, and the fish moon.
May: Flower Moon
Many cultures refer to May’s full moon as the flower moon thanks to the abundant blooming that occurs as spring gets going properly. Other names include the hare moon, the corn planting moon, and the milk moon.
June: Strawberry Moon
In North America, the harvesting of strawberries in June gives that month’s full moon its name. Europeans have dubbed it the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon for the beginning of the summer heat.
July: Buck Moon
Male deer, which shed their antlers every year, begin to regrow them in July, hence the Native American name for July’s full moon. Some refer to this moon as the thunder moon, due to the summer storms in this month. Other names include the hay moon, after the July hay harvest.
August: Sturgeon Moon
North American fishing tribes called August’s full moon the sturgeon moon since the species appeared in number during this month. It’s also been called the green corn moon, the grain moon, and the red moon for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze.
September: Full Corn Moon, Harvest moon
September’s full corn moon is so called because this is when crops are gathered at the end of the summer season. At this time, the Moon appears particularly bright and rises early, letting farmers continue harvesting into the night. This moon is also sometimes named the barley moon, and it is often the nearest full moon to the autumnal equinox, earning the title of ‘harvest moon’.
The harvest moon is one of the most familiar Moon names and refers to the nearest full moon to the autumnal equinox.The light of the Harvest Moon enables farmers to work late into the night, helping them to bring in the crops from the fields. This usually falls in September.
October: Hunter’s Moon
After the harvest moon comes the hunter’s moon, in the preferred month to hunt summer-fattened deer and fox unable to hide in bare fields. Like the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon is also particularly bright and long in the sky, giving hunters the opportunity to stalk prey at night. Other names include the travel moon and the dying grass moon.
November: Beaver Moon
There is disagreement over the origin of November’s beaver moon name. Some say it comes from Native Americans setting beaver traps during this month, while others say the name comes from the heavy activity of beavers building their winter dams. Another name is the frost moon.
December: Cold Moon
The coming of winter earned December’s full moon the name cold moon. Other names include the long night moon and the oak moon.
What is a blue moon?
The Moon completes 12 full cycles of its phases in about 354 days – which is 11 days short of a calendar year. Every two and a half years or so the difference adds up to an extra, 13th full moon occurring during the year and this relatively rare occurrence is sometimes referred to as a ‘blue moon’. However, the precise origins of the term are uncertain: it was originally the name given to the third full moon of a season containing four full moons, and today ‘blue moon’ is also sometimes applied to a second full moon occurring within a single calendar month. Find out more about blue moons here