Snow Moon (Full Moon January 2008)

We kick off the year with a crazy occurrence that really highlights the absurdities that feed my obsession over this whole business figuring out the names of the full moons.

According to the Maine Rule, the full moon for January this year goes by the name of the Snow Moon. Normally, you would call January’s full moon the Wolf Moon. However, due to the fact that we had a full moon on Christmas Eve, immediately after Yule (the Winter Solstice) last month, this month’s moon takes the name of the Snow Moon (the second full moon after Yule), and we don’t have a Wolf Moon this year.

However, if you go by the Gregorian calendar rule then you call January’s moon the Wolf Moon, no matter what, and you only deviate if you happen to have two full moons in the same month. In that case, you call the second full moon of the month a blue moon.

That sounds about as clear as mud, right?

Since the purpose of this blog focuses on rewilding our lives — in this case, rewilding our sense of time and our place in the cycles of the earth — I tend to want to go with a system that I can track off a given point in time. After civilization falls and calendars fade away, the concept of January will either disappear or meld into some new idea. But solstices happen every year, and you can anticipate and mark them by where the sun rises and sets in the sky. So although I like the simplicity of saying “if the moon happens in this month, call it by this name,” I think I want a system that ties to a discernible event — like the longest night of the year.

What I do I really want in a system for naming the moons, though? I want a way to remind myself about that part of the year’s cycle. If I find it important to keep in mind that the snows will pile up deep, then I will probably call it the Snow Moon. If I share a relationship with the wolves, then I may call it the Wolf Moon. I may simply enjoy celebrating the solstice and call it the “moon after Yule.”

Take a look at this website to see how different peoples referred to the January moon. (Scroll down a bit to see the Moon Names section). You may notice some really poetic names among the different tribes that almost tell a tale in and of themselves like the Northern Arapaho name “When The Snow Blows Like Spirits In The Wind.” Some of them sound kind of plain like the Cherokee name “Cold Moon.” While others really get to the point like the Kalapuya name “Stay Inside.”

I found some nice videos at Farmer’s Almanac TV. Don’t expect these every month, as they only produced them for a few months out of the year. But I thought it would make a nice way to kick off our series.

Vodpod videos no longer available. posted with vodpod

By the way, The Farmer’s Almanac has this to say about the Wolf Moon and the Snow Moon. I’ll include both moons until we get to the Blue Moon in May when the Maine Rules and the Gregorian Rules catch up with each other.

Wolf Moon – January

Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for January’s full Moon. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon, or the Moon After Yule. Some called it the Full Snow Moon, but most tribes applied that name to the next Moon.

Snow Moon – February

Since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month, native tribes of the north and east most often called February’s full Moon the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this Moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kate on 01/22/2008 at 4:09 am

    I find the moon naming thing confusing too because if you go by the solstices etc (which I agree is the sensible thing to do) then the relationship between the moon and the sun date can vary almost by 30 days.

    eg Easter is always the sunday closest to the first full moon after the equinox (autumn where I live). If you look at easter dates by year they can vary from something like 23/3 to 20/4. So there’s a big variation between them in terms of what the natural world is doing eg weather, seasonal change, animal habits, food sources etc.

    So is it better to take the nearest full moon rather than the one after? But there’d still be the 30 day variation over the years, plus you’d have that problem of losing moons. See, confusing.

    I’m sure it’s much more straightforward in practice if you don’t have the gregorian monthly calendar to go by and are timing from the sun and moon, but I still find it hard to get out of that mindset that says January has some actual meaning in the real world.


  2. Posted by Vicky on 01/22/2008 at 5:42 am

    We don’t get snow or wolves here, but it does feel very cold.


  3. kate,

    i definitely think the gregorian calendar has affected our sense of the year. it compartmentalizes things into rigid blocks. and i would wager that the civilized mind things of things in the natural world more in terms of the names of the months (february is the coldest month; april is the cruelest month; august is the hottest month; etc. — at least here in the northern hemisphere) and that the indigenous mind just thinks of things more in terms of the natural world itself (the red-dead nettles have started flowering; the bucks shed their velvet soon; etc.)

    i have the hope that in thinking of the year in terms of the names of the moons that we can start thinking in terms of what takes place in the natural world, as well.

    also, keep in mind when thinking about the 29.5 day range of possible fullness of the moon, that the moon name refers to the entire moon from new to new. we celebrate easter on the full moon, but the moon it happens in (pink moon, if i recall correctly) starts as soon as the worm moon wanes into darkness.


    you bring up a good point about how bioregionality affects this system. if you don’t have wolves and don’t get snow, then neither one of the farmer’s almanac names helps you out.

    keep in mind that the system the farmer’s almanac pulls from started with algonquin moon names up in the north east of north america. in as much as you might not have the same plants or animals in your region that they had, you probably won’t want to use the same moon names either.


  4. […] names, folklore, full moon, Indian, lunar, moon, moon names, Native American After posting my first full moon post for 2008, I realized that I should probably devote a post to the whole concept naming the full moons and […]


  5. Posted by spark240 on 12/15/2008 at 1:26 am

    Nice to stumble on this page while working up a calendar for my region (Katuah, or Southern Appalachia). The system I’m using (unless I come up with something better) uses the autumnal equinox as the fixing point; the lunar month of the Harvest Moon is the cycle surrounding the full moon whose date is closest (either way) to the autumnal equinox. The next lunar month is the Hunter’s Moon, and so on through ten more. Then the next moon is either another Harvest OR a Corn Moon, if it occurs too early to be the closest to the equinox, in which case the Harvest follows the Corn. “Corn Moon” in this sense is I think an Algonquin usage, although I see that the Cherokee terminology uses more corn names and earlier in the year. Maybe I have to grow some corn to figure that out. Also, I think I’m going to have to write out a parallel calendar and see how the Blues work out.


  6. […] And, if you recall, December 2009 posed a problem because there were two full moons! That made it a blue moon month under the monthly system. Under the seasonal system, though, there was no blue moon in December 2009. There was just the last full moon of autumn (December 1) and the first full moon of winter (December 31). Blue moons can only occur in February, May, August, or November in this method, because it’s the third full moon in a season that has four the blue moon. (Remember? I wrote about this earlier. And if that post isn’t readable enough, you can try this one.) […]


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