Even though it will be more than 220,000 miles away, the stunning spectacle of the Super Blood Wolf Moon will soon capture the gaze of many millions of people. What do you have planned for this magical time?
With the snow piling up here in Michigan, it’s easy to forget that tomorrow the skies will clear, opening just in time for the Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse of 2019. Are you ready? Can you share this with a child? Like so much of our Universe, this is another opportunity celebrate our joy of life – with help from our world. (all the details and contact times are in this link.)
Super Blood Wolf Moon
Let’s unpack our adjectives.
“Super” refers to the moon’s position in it’s orbit around our Earth. Like any orbit, the Moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle (though it isn’t far from being a perfect circle), so it has a point where it is the farthest from the Earth (called the “apogee”), and a point where it is the nearest to the Earth (the “perigee”). The Moon can be in any phase when it is at either of these points, so sometimes, things line up so that when the full moon occurs, it is near perigee (so the Moon is near it’s closest point to us -within 90% of it’s closest approach), and it appears larger in the sky (though the Moon is of course the same actual size all the time). This difference, even from the farthest full moon (near apogee) compared to a supermoon, is only about 14% (and usually less) of the apparent diameter of the moon. An experienced moonwatcher can notice this, but isn’t something that will jump out at most people. In fact, the Moon Illusion is a much stronger effect. Nonetheless, it’s a cool thing to happen.
“Blood” refers to the red color of the Moon during the umbral phase of a lunar eclipse. I find the cause of this red color to be amazing! Imagine that you were at the North Pole, watching the Sun just peek over the horizon. You would, of course, see the sun as an orange disc. Right near the horizon, this would deepen to a reddish color, and father away from the horizon, it would be yellowish. Have you ever wondered why that is the case? It turns out that many of the most common types of light scattering (including those from dust as well as air) scatter the shorter wavelength colors (the bluer colors) to the sides, and allow the longer wavelenght (redder) colors to continue in a straight line. This means that when the Sun appears at the horizon, the Sun’s light is going through a long path of atmosphere, and hence being scattered more, so the overall brightness goes down, and with the blue colors scattered to the sides, the remaining colors are redder. This is also why we humans (incorrectly) often draw the Sun as yellow in drawings. The Sun’s light is white (otherwise white objects would look yellow in daylight), but we associate yellow with Sunlight because when the Sun is dim enough to look at, it usually is lower in the sky, and hence, yellow. In reality, because the Sun’s light is pure white, and no more yellow than it is, say, green, a yellow Sun high in the sky in child’s drawing makes as much literal sense as a green Sun does!
So, back to the North Pole. You can see now that the light from Sun which just misses your face to the right or the left would continue off into space, behind you. In fact, the light which “just misses” the Earth – which goes through the most atmosphere possible – will be bent (refracted) “down” from your position. When a lunar eclipse occurs, the the Earth fully blocks all straight paths from the Sun to the Moon – so the *only* light that can reach the Moon (and illuminate it, as the Moon makes no light on it’s own), is this light which is refracted into the Earth’s shadow. The surprising realization is that when one sees the blood moon, one is seeing only light from all of the sunsets and sunrises happening around the Earth at the very moment! (see the top image) Wow! This incredible realization has made me wonder – why we haven’t put a remote camera on the Moon, which could continually broadcast the image of the view of the Earth from the Moon? That image could be on a constantly updated webpage – and during a total lunar eclipse, the Earth would appear as a blazing ring of fire! This would be dirt cheap – especially compared to things like the massive 2018 giveaway to the 1%, or the Iraq war. Reminders, yet again, that we “don’t yet live in a scientific age”, as Dr. Feynman pointed out many decades ago.
“Wolf” Moon – this refers to the Native American practice of naming the full moons. This is a great tradition as it helps us keep the year in perspective and be aware of the turning year as the Wheel of the Year turns. In some tribal traditions, the first full moon after the Winter Solstice (Yule) is the wolf moon (because wolves could be heard howling around the village in this time of deep winter). Other tribes and traditions have other names, but this is the one which appears to be popular now.
Just like the 2017 Solar Eclipse, this eclipse is uniquely aligned for America. Take a look at the map yourself! It seems to me that it would be hard to position the eclipse better for the Americas than this one is positioned. Unless you are in the Aleutian island – which I can see from my house! ; ) – if you are in any of the Americas, you can see the whole eclipse.
One special feature of Lunar Eclipses, is that because these are on the Moon, everyone can see them at exactly the same time. This is a little hard to explain. By contrast, solar eclipses are visible in different places (say, Nebraska vs. Illinois) at different times. But because everyone sees the same Moon, everyone see the lunar eclipse simultaneously! This can be an important part of everyone’s rituals – to know that as you are conducting your ritual, many millions of people are watching this same moon – and many are conducting their rituals with you.
Links in Time
While total lunar eclipses are more common than total solar eclipses (especially when one remember that solar eclipses are regional, as mentioned above), they are still uncommon. The next lunar eclipse won’t be until 2021. Think about what life will be like in 2021. Who, in your life now, might not still be alive? What new lives may have entered your life? Who will be president? What else might be different? This eclipse, like all eclipses, is a moment we and look at time on a longer scale. Do you want to incorporate this into your ritual?
An eclipse is a powerful time that forever strengthens one’s bond to the rest of our Universe, and thus a sacred time for us Naturalistic Pagans – and a good time for a ritual. Rituals are often more powerful if we feel connected to them. To gain that connection, it helps to be involved in the writing and planning of the ritual – whether that’s from scratch or just making minor tweaks. So here are some ideas for rituals – and more can be found with some looking online. For instance, this site has several good rituals, and this closing:
With this eclipse, I am made new again.
I am untarnished, whole, and true.
There is nothing weighing me down,
I am free to fly and break through.
One nice thing about a lunar eclipse is that nothing happens horribly fast. There is plenty of room to go slowly. Holding the first part of the ritual in the long partial phase at the beginning of the eclipse (between first and second contacts),* and then holding the ending of the ritual in the long partial phase at the end of the eclipse (between third and fourth contacts)* encloses the maximum eclipse within your ritual, while also leaving you fully focused on the eclipse experience during the whatever the maximum of the eclipse will be for your location.
Set up your altar, with a red or black cloth, quarter cauldrons (typical cauldron contents include incense or a feather for East, a candle for South, a seashell or water for West, and a rock or earth for North, many of these on a bed of sand) , and items to be charged by the eclipse shadow. You may want to mark the wider ritual circle with a stone at each quarter (and perhaps each cross-quarter).
Like other eclipses, anything under the light of the eclipse can be considered to be charged with the power of the eclipse. In this case, all objects will be charged by the reflected light of all the sunsets and sunrises around the world! Wow!!
As I write this, That reminds me that a song or chant would be a nice addition to this ritual, too. Whether you celebrate in the path of totality, far from it, or at some other time, may your celebrations be blessed.
The Author: Jon Cleland Host
Starstuff, Contemplating: We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.