A few weeks ago, our friend Bekki commented there will be a lunar eclipse on December 21st (thanks, Bekki!). You might be wondering about the significance of one or both of these events. This had me thinking about our blog. It occurs to me that we are writing about pagan “holidays,” without really explaining them. This is a brief (and of course, royal) tutorial for those interested in how many pagans recognize the passing of time and seasons.

Most of our holidays are based on natural phenomena, so let’s start with the science. An eclipse is possible when the moon, earth and sun are all aligned. So, in the diagram below*, an eclipse can happen at the full moon (when alignment is called opposition) or at the new or dark moon (when the alignment is called conjunction**). The moon takes just under 30 days to get from one new moon to another (stardate.org has a great explanation about this).

Bekki was referring to the total lunar eclipse that will occur next Tuesday. This means the moon will pass through Earth’s shadow and be completely blocked from the sun’s light. This will make the moon look red (mreclipse.com has a good primer on this bit). Be sure to step outside that night and check it out!

Next Tuesday, December 21st, is also significant to the princesses because it is Yule***. Yule is one of the eight pagan holidays on the Wheel of the Year. While this is the most common set of celebrations, some pagan traditions follow few, some or none of these holidays. Some pagan traditions have other, unrelated holidays that are based on historical events instead of the passing of seasons. The Wheel of the Year pulls holidays from several traditions to create a holiday schedule that never existed as such in antiquity. Let’s revisit the lunar cycles image from above so I can illustrate the wheel. This time, instead of the moon orbiting the earth, the earth will orbit the sun. I’ve also rotated the graphic to be a wee bit more representative of the earth’s actual orbital pattern.

Note: I am representing the earth’s orbit based on my place in the world, Austin, TX, USA. My ellipse isn’t perfect. And I’ve had to approximate the placement of the non-solstice, non-equinox days on the ellipse. If anyone knows an astronomer who can provide a more accurate graph, that’d be awesome!

In the northern hemisphere, we are just a week away from the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. It will be doubly special with the lunar eclipse! You might want to burn a Yule log to light the long, dark night.

Jax and I will post more next week on how we plan to celebrate Yule in our kingdom and what the Winter Solstice means to us. For today, I hope you have enjoyed this lesson!

Other Sources:

  1. Wikipedia entry on eclipses
  2. Wikipedia entry on lunar phases
  3. Lunar cycle image
  4. Wikipedia entry on December 2010 lunar eclipse
  5. The U.S. Naval Observatory is also another great site for getting information about lunar cycles.

*Objects do not appear in actual size.

**Don’t worry. The Mystics and the Skeksis are unlikely to merge during our conjuction. I *heart* the Dark Crystal!

***I’m using neopagan or Wiccan terms for the holidays in this tutorial. Not all pagans use the same names for holidays. Jax, what are the Heathen names?