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Who Named the Moons?

Updated: May 23

Many people will comment on the coming full moon with an adjective like, "it’s a pink moon or strawberry moon this month." Have you ever wondered where these names came from? Some moon names feel like they are part of some distant unknowable past like the August moon being named the Sturgeon moon. With a little digging I found that many of the moon names are a conglomeration of multiple resources. Many of these resources have been collated by the Old Farmer’s Almanac. In fact, they perpetuate this system every year by proclaiming it’s a "flower moon" or "ice moon."

Before the Gregorian calendar, people of the past would name a moon cycle to delineate a month. Then, the Western world adopted a system that erroneously names the months after numbers. For example, October is the tenth month of the year but named after the number eight. Odd, isn't it? I speculate that these moon names were more place-based before we became a global community. That is to say, the moon names were based on observations that people noticed in their surroundings. Consider, for example, that the Flower Moon was the month that the most abundant flowers bloomed.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that the Sturgeon Moon was when “Algonquin tribes converged on the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water to fish for sturgeon in August. These massive, prehistoric fish were an important part of the tribes' survival, so August's full Moon became known as the Full Sturgeon Moon.” However, what if you live in a land locked region where you have never even heard of sturgeons? Or what if you live in an arid region with few blooms to speak of throughout the year? With those questions in mind, I would like to propose that this system does not work in our modern society.

Our disconnection from our own local ecology has led to meaningless moon names. These names were helpful and based on one's environmental experience in a particular land. The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s collection of moon names are a mishmash of many different cultures, lands, and peoples. It can easily be said that some of these moon names were stolen from indigenous peoples, making it simple example cultural appropriation. The dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” I would add that cultural appropriation reduces a practice or understanding to a fraction of its original meaning. This seems to be the case with moon names. Not everyone in the northern hemisphere experiences a "Sturgeon Moon." Some of us may experience a Flowers Moon, a Pink Moon or a Snow Moon but not necessarily at the same time.

Today the moon names are reduced to cute memes and new age babble. I speculate that they were once helpful terms that connected people to the ecology of the land and helped deepen a personal connection with land and the cycles of the seasons. Ecopsychology is the study of our relationship to our environment and its impact on our psychology. As humans have distanced themselves from the essential relationship to earth they have lost this meaningful relationship.

My suggestions for working with non-Gregorian calendar month or moon names would be to adopt names that reflect the ecology of your region. Look around yourself and see what is happening at the spring moon. When do you see flowers appear? When does it typically snow in your region? Can you base moon month names on your surroundings or activity that typically happens during that time of year?

In this time of climate change, we might find that this is harder than it seems. What was once a constant, like the first flowers of spring, may be changing as our climate adapts. Using the framing of the wheel of the year - eight holidays paced six weeks apart in a calendar year - help me find grounding in my relationship with the seasons and the moons. This strategy will likely become more of a personal practice rather than a universal system. A personal relationship with the moon begins with you and the moon. It doesn’t matter what other people call the moon. And you can celebrate other peoples’ moon experiences without watering down the experience.

Dive into your region. Try these tips for a deeper connection to nature.

  1. Start by journaling your observations. Go for more walks. Learn the migration patterns of local birds and other wildlife.

  2. Get outside. Find yourself a sit-spot. A sit-spot is a place you return to day after day, witnessing the unfolding of nature around you.

  3. Make your own relationship with all of the creatures that surround you every day. You might be surprised to discover animal neighbors that you may have never met, that have been here long before you arrived. Get to know these animals, plants and elements of nature personally. It will enrich and enliven your relationship to the land around you and the moon above.

  4. Notice the weather trends, what animals are visible, and what plants are making their appearance at different points in the season.

Karin Olsen is a healer, a seer, and a teacher. She has been studying plants for more than 20 years and owned an herb shop and metaphysical store for 15 years. She has been a massage therapist/healer for almost 30 years.

Karin learned her psychic medium skills from her mother and sees clients via Zoom. She teaches classes and is a spiritual coach with a focus on earth-based spirituality through Moonhill Mystery School in the Salish Sea area. In 2021, she earned a Masters of Ecopsychology from Naropa University.


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