January’s Joyful Wolf Holiday Full Moon

Welcome to Issue 1 of Volume VI of Earth, Moon and Stars!

In this issue:

      • Joyful Wolf Holiday Moon
      • Seasonal Calendar
      • Starwatch ~ The  Astronomy and Lore of the Zodiac
      • Celebrations ~ Tu Bishvat, Chinese New Year
      • Tu Bishvat Poetry || Moon Art by Robin Samiljan
      • Astrology ~ Digging in.  || Home and family. 


Joyful Wolf Holiday Full Moon

     As we’ve noted in past issues, many cultures in both hemispheres kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon, appropriate for the month in which it occurred and keyed – naturally enough – to the goings-on in their natural environment . . . the weather, the plants, the animals.

    January’s full moon has many names. Medieval English named it the Wolf Moon. The indigenous Hopi called this the Joyful Moon. The San Juan peoples called it the Ice Moon, which is also the Neo-Pagan name. The Inuits named it the Avunniviayuk Moon, while the Choctaw called it the Cooking Moon. In China this is the Holiday Moon (for reasons explained below in the section on the Chinese New Year).

Wolf Moon

Wolf Moon


January’s full moon:           Thursday January 16  04:53 UT
.                                               Wednesday January 15 (11:53 pm ET, 8:53 pm PT)
Tu Bishvat:                           Wednesday January 15 – Thursday January 16
January’s new moon:         Thursday January 30 21:39 UT (4:39 pm ET, 1:39 pm PT)
Chinese New Year:             Friday January 31
February’s full moon:        Friday February 14 23:53 UT (6:53 pm ET, 3:53 pm PT)
                                                                                                                 [Ref: Moon Phases]

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The Astronomy and Lore of the Zodiac

  Most people have heard the term zodiac, and many have the impression it is just something astrologers made up. The facts are more complicated than this. We will introduce the concept here, and expand on it in future issues throughout the year.

  Before the Western 17th century “Age of Reason”, most cultures did not make a clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, combining them as a single discipline. In ancient Babylonia, famed for its astrology, astronomy and astrology were performed by the same person. (See Wikipedia “Astrology and astronomy”.)

  Since the 18th century astronomy and astrology have come to be regarded as completely separate disciplines: astronomy as the science of objects and phenomena originating beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, and astrology, a discipline that uses the apparent positions of celestial objects as the basis for interpreting/predicting future events and other esoteric knowledge, but is not regarded as a science.

  The zodiac thus has both astronomical and astrological origins and interpretations. Briefly speaking, the astronomical zodiac consists of thirteen constellations that lie along the ecliptic. You may recall from discussion on this blog in previous months that the ecliptic is the annual path that the sun seems to travel across the backdrop of the fixed stars.

Zodiac diagram

Zodiac diagram

  Early astrologers idealized the ecliptic as a circle, divided it into twelve equal segments or “signs”, and gave each sign the name of the constellation it was near on the ecliptic.

   Today the signs and the constellations, while still having the same (or similar) names, do not correspond with each other in the sky. This is due to a number of unrelated phenomena. One is that the actual constellations do not conveniently divide into twelve equal segments in the sky. Another is a wobbling of the Earth’s axis of rotation, referred to as the “precession of the equinoxes”, that causes the positions of the constellations to “slide” with respect to the seasons.

   And then there is that bothersome thirteenth constellation in December (Ophiuchus) that no one wants to talk about. (We will take a closer look at all these issues in future posts.)

  To make things even more interesting, there is not just one zodiac. Other systems of astrology have their own zodiacs, such as the Chinese, with which most people are familiar. We will take a look at these at later dates, too.

Constellation of the Month: Capricornus

  The astrological year begins at the vernal equinox; the ancient Babylonians and many cultures even today begin their year on this equinox. But since I’m beginning this series on the first month of the Western calendar year, we will first take a look at the constellation Capricornus that is associated with the astrological sign Capricorn.

  Capricornus was one of the original 48 Ptolemaic constellations, and is one of the 88 modern constellations. It is the smallest and second faintest constellation in the zodiac.


Capricornus (photo credit space.com)

  As you can see in the diagram above, the constellation consists of nine star-like objects visible to the naked eye that, when you connect the dots, form an approximate upside-down triangle. In truth there are 15 or 16 objects along the lines of the triangle (depending on how dim you want to go), and about an equal number more not on the triangle itself but within the polygon area of the sky dedicated to this constellation. Also note that a number of what appear to be stars are actually galaxies or star clusters, making it interesting viewing with binoculars or telescope.

   Because of the precession referred to above, the sun won’t actually enter Capricornus until January 19. Obviously, this makes it impossible to observe at this time of year, as the sun is in the way. The best time to observe this constellation will be around 9 pm during the month of September. Then you will find it just above the horizon looking SSW in a large region of the sky known as “the Water”, “the Sea”, or “the Sky Sea”, which contains other “watery” constellations such as Aquarius, Eridanus, and two fish constellations, Pisces and Piscis Austrinus. You can find details on how to locate this constellation in the September night sky at this EarthSky article on Capricornus(ref: Space.com).

Astrological Sign of the Month: Capricorn

Capricorn symbol

Capricorn symbol

   Capricorn, the astrological sign associated with Capricornus, is the tenth sign in the tropical zodiac, occupying the span from 270 to 300 degrees. According to this zodiac, the sun transits Capricorn from December 25 to January 20. Capricorn in Latin translates to English as “Goat-horned”, and is popularly referred to in astrology as the Sea-Goat. The figure of Capricorn derives from the half-goat, half-fish representation of the Sumerian god Enki, also known as Ea or Oannes, who brought culture and science to mankind from the sea. (You can see it took a bit of imagination to derive this from the rough triangle of observable stars.)

   The curious zodiacal symbol you see above has two explanations. One is that it simply represents the curved tail of the fish. Another is that it is a combination of the Greek letters tau (τ) and rho (ρ), the first two letters in the Greek word tragos (τράγος), which means “goat”. (ibid; Encyclopedia Britannica).

The Tropic of Capricorn

Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn

Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn (Ms. Kaiter’s Science Class)

   The Tropic of Capricorn (or Southern tropic) is the circle of latitude where the sun is directly overhead on the December solstice. It is thus the southernmost latitude (and thus in the southern hemisphere) where the sun can be directly overhead. Its latitude is currently 23° 26′ 14.440″ south of the Equator, but it is very gradually moving northward, currently at the rate of about 15 meters (50 feet) per year. It is named such because back in 130 BCE the sun actually did appear to be in the constellation Capricornus on the solstice. It retains this historical name, even though precession has moved things since then, as described above.

Zodiac Constellation to View this Month: Taurus

Orion Taurus Pleiades

Orion Taurus Pleiades on Jan 11 (EarthSky)

   The zodiac constellation easiest to see right now is Taurus the Bull. (We’ll highlight this constellation and sign in our May issue.) “Like any constellation, Taurus is much easier to make out on a dark, moonless night. Although the Moon is washing out Taurus the Bull this week, you can always find it with Orion’s Belt, once the Moon has moved away. Starting the last week of January, you’ll have a couple weeks of moon-free evenings for viewing the Bull.”(ref EarthSky)  If you’re interested in more information on observing the night sky this month, Space.com has an informative video. (ref Space.com)

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Taste and See
(a poem for Tu Bishvat)

We make our way into the woods
at the edge of our land, trees webbed
with plastic tubing, clear
and pale green against the snow.

Down to the beaver dam, pond
punctuated with cattails,
galvanized tin bright
against grizzled trunks.

Dip a finger beneath the living spigot.
At every sugar shack across the hills
clouds of fragrant steam billow.
And after long boiling, this amber…

Where I grew up, the air is soft
already, begonias thinking
about blooming. Here, this
is what rises, hidden and sweet.

~the Velveteen Rabbi

Full Wolf Moon by Robin Samiljan

Full Wolf Moon by Robin Samiljan

     This beautiful watercolor is by Chicago artist Robin Samiljan from her collection
A Year of Moons“. Prints are available for purchase at Fine Art America

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Tu Bishvat

   Tu Bishvat is a minor Jewish holiday, also called “Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot” – literally “New Year of the Trees”, which was historically related to the cycles of the fruit trees.  The modern name Tu Bishvat is derived from the date on which it occurs: the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. (This places it on or a day after the full moon, as the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, with each month beginning at a new moon.) This year Tu Bishvat will begin tonight at sunset (15 January), the night of the full moon, and finish at nightfall on 16 January. (Ref: Wikipedia~Tu Bishvat)

Almond tree in blossom

Almond tree in blossom

Dried fruit and almonds

European Jews traditionally celebrate Tu Bishvat by eating dried fruit and almonds.  Modern Israelis celebrate by planting trees in ecological awareness.

Chinese New Year

   The Chinese New Year, officially known as the ‘Spring Festival‘, is the most important (and, at 15 days, the longest) of the traditional Chinese holidays. It marks the end of the winter season, analogous to the Western Carnival. The festival begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. This is always on a new moon – usually the second new moon after the Winter Solstice, but sometimes the third new moon. (This variability is because the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which type is basically a lunar calendar, but with adjustments inserted as needed in order to not get too far out of sync with the seasons.)

   This year the Chinese New Year (and new moon) will fall on January 31 on the Gregorian calendar. It will be the Year of the Green Wooden Horse. (Note that the astrological reckoning for determining the animal year uses a traditional counting system, and is not determined by the lunar calendar. Thus the Chinese astrological new year, considered by Chinese astrologers as the Start of Spring, begins on February 4 in China, when it will still be February 3 most places east of the International Date Line.)

The two-week Spring Festival ends with the Lantern Festival, which occurs on the night of the first full moon of the lunisolar New Year, the 15th day of the lunar month.

   The Lantern Festival will be celebrated in many countries this year on February 14. This day also happens to be celebrated as St. Valentine’s day in many Western cultures . (Refs: About.com, Wikipedia~Chinese New Year, Wikipedia~Chinese zodiac, Chinese Fortune Calendar)

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Molly Hall ~  

A Stirring Cancer Full Moon


   Here is a brief excerpt from Molly Hall’s A Stirring Cancer Full Moon article this month at about.com:

     This can be a good time, despite it all, to dig in and make a dream real. With all the pressure now, I find myself reacting, and beginning to throw a tantrum, Moonchild-style, and stopping myself….deciding in that moment to turn the ship around. The miracle happens for me, when I change my mind and ask, “What else can I do with this intensity?”

Full Moon over peaceful water

(For the complete read, see Molly’s article A Stirring Cancer Full Moon and also visit her front page for more astrology.)

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Japa Kaur ~ Kundalini Yoga Horoscope: January 13-19

   Japa Kaur from Spirit Voyage is our latest astrologer. Note that since the moon makes a complete transit through the zodiac each month (as opposed to the year that the sun takes), it moves to a new “house” every 2 1/2 days. This article covers the week of January 13-19, 2014 (despite a typo in the article title saying 2013).

     Tonight’s Full Moon is in Cancer, stressing the emphasis on home and family versus the Capricorn Sun who is suggesting the need for ambitious goals and hard work. The polarity between these two aspects may be highlighting an imbalance in your own life. Where has work taken over to the point where you feel absent from your home and vice versa?

(For Japa Kaur’s complete article, see Kundalini Yoga Horoscope: January 13-19)

Full moon in Cancer

Full moon in Cancer

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If you especially like (or dislike) something you see here, or would like to see something in particular covered in a future issue, or you have something interesting about the Earth, Moon, or Stars you would like to share, please leave a comment. I’m always interested in how folks who stop by here are moved/influenced/affected.

Until the full moon in February, here’s wishing you and yours a month of celebrating and making dreams real!

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The Earth, Moon and Stars blog is published once each Full Moon with (hopefully interesting) facts and lore about our moon and other sky phenomena. My wish is that you will have fun learning a bit more about our one and only natural satellite and how all of us — people, animals, plants, water, even rocks — are affected and connected by her.

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Unless otherwise noted, this blog claims no credit for any images appearing on it. Copyrighted images remain the property of their respective owners; attribution and/or links are provided when known. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and you do not wish for it to appear here, please leave a comment with your email address and a link to the image in question and it will be promptly removed. Your comment will not be published.


About aquarianman

Aquarian interested in anything to do with the Earth, our Moon, and anything flying around out there in space.
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