Moon Shadows and Firelight

Remarkably, the fire basket was free of snow, and the paper and kindling caught quickly and brightly, flickering sudden orange shadows leaping across the snowy drifts piled up around the hedge and pampas grass. Slowly the logs caught, smouldering and glowing through. It seemed like an archetypal image, the small vigorous fire flickering burnished light across the frozen swathes of firm ice-crusted snow. The hard granular surface of the snow, the result of a single sudden snowfall followed by daytime thawing and clear night time freezing, had the appearance of white tropical sand, and for a moment I fancied myself at some 1960s Californian beach party. I expected a boyband in Hawaiian shirts to step out of the shadows and sing about how good the surf is. Instead I return to our freezing back garden in East-Anglian February. The gloves were a dead giveaway. As the evening progresses we feed the fire with dry logs, which begins to melt the snow beneath the fire basket in a blackened oval-shape. The full moon rises above the rooftops and the snow drifts beyond the fire’s orange-light circle are cast in aquamarine moonlight reflections, catching crystalline ice sparkles in sharp blueness. The full moon night is twinkling clear, cold, colder than it’s been all winter and brighter than it’s been all month.


This was the 5th full moon bonfire at the bottom of our garden, and although we’d alerted folks about its imminent approach, when it came to it only Toby and I were prepared to face the icy weather.  Our garden is divided in two by a ramshackle potting shed half way down that marks the end of the cultivated lawn and flowerbeds and the beginning of the wildlife garden, a patch of overgrown fruit bushes and trees. We’d put the fire basket beyond the canopied bower around the shed, amongst the overgrown long grass. Our first full moon bonfire had been on 12th October 2011, and we’d set ourselves to sit out at the fire basket for the thirteen full moons of the year. We’d had very few preconceptions for these vigils and intended to be open and receptive, allowing the cycle of the garden to reveal its own rhythms to us. We’d recently moved in here and were keen to find a connection with the spirits of the place. I remember feeling the October weather was particularly warm for the time of year as we chatted and exchanged news with the handful of friends who’d turned up to this first full moon bonfire. Somebody had brought an acoustic guitar and sang gently, there was food and drink to share and a huge bowl of tart grapes that we’d just harvested from the feral vine that draped over the potting shed. The grapes proved pretty inedible and a couple of days later were made into a wine that is still just about bubbling in the airing cupboard. Subsequent full moon bonfires have been less like social occasions, with visitors turning up singly or in pairs, more an peaceful opportunity to catch up, discuss deeply and openly with old trusted friends, a chance to watch the moon and become familiar with the shapes and shadows she casts. Over the months the full moon bonfires have developed into informal talking-stick sessions, free-flowing and simple. And its an interesting observation that no matter how overcast or wet the evening starts out, there is always a point when the clouds part and the full moon stands vibrant and striking in the height of the sky, if only momentarily, if only late into the night. We’ve yet to have a bonfire where the full moon doesn’t make an appearance at all.



For me personally these full moon bonfires are becoming an essential element integral to the shaping of my month, a regular space in which to get my bearings on the progression of time. For most of my adult life, and certainly for the past decade I have been blessed with a remarkably regular menstrual cycle, and in this way I had a constant and consistent monthly point to pause, reflect and assess the cyclic passage of time, the phases of the moon ran alongside that cycle. These days I am passing through my menopause, I haven’t had a full period for two years, and I felt I had been stumbling through endless undifferentiated days and weeks, moved unexpectedly by feelings that seemed hang, suspended, subtly out of step with the larger annual pattern. The bonfires are providing a marking of the hot, busy time, while the dark moons are naturally falling into quieter, cooler, introspective periods. So the full moon bonfires are taking the role of my menstrual cycle, giving me a regular rhythm with time for contemplation, still points from which to align myself with the natural wax and wane of energies, accentuating the peak and trough of my creativity, inward and outward fertility, shifting through the month, the months circling around the wheel of the year. I realise now I had been taking my blood moons for granted, assuming their flux and flow would continue indefinitely.


Slowly, monthly we are finding our way, connecting with the full moon, researching and collecting information. I’m looking forward to our next six months of bonfires, to the completion of a year of moon shadows and firelight.


As an aside, the full lunar year consists of thirteen moons, which is not entirely congruent with the solar-based Gregorian calendar. Many traditional calendars (Hindu, Islamic, Chinese, Mayan for examples) retain a lunar system and are seen as ‘ritual’ calendars, used to determine holy-days which are translated onto the solar ‘business’ calendar: the moveable feast of Christian Easter is calculated from the full moon after the Vernal Equinox. One interesting calendrical anomaly to come out of the lunar/solar calendar interaction this year is the ‘blue moon’ on 31st August, a second full moon within a single calendar month. So although we’ll be celebrating full moon on 2nd August in our garden, it is a blue moon that’s full at the Mercian Gathering, a rare and special full moon indeed.


Jean Dark March 2012

Printed in Silver Wheel Journal 4