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The Thirteenth Moon: On Ritual

Full moon energy has been present over Dec. 28, 29, and 30…the thirteenth full moon of this year. A thirteenth moon is special, only occurring about every three years. Yet, the number 13 sparks polarized responses. In European traditions, the number 13 has many superstitions around it. Yet, in many Indigenous and Eastern traditions, the number 13 is especially powerful and/or lucky. Thirteen signifies coming into sacred balance, the balance point or unifier between dualities of light and dark, death and rebirth. Thus, it has been considered the number related to transformation, a reconciliation of opposites.

The thirteenth moon has long been associated with the Sacred Feminine, as the cycles of the moon have always guided and influenced the life of women, particularly their menstrual cycles. Some manifestations of the Divine Feminine, such as Venus, Freya, Sophia, and even Mary have been associated with the number 13. As it is a prime number only divisible by itself, it has also represented purity. Some spiritual traditions have considered it the highest level of spiritual evolution or self-actualization, through thirteen steps or cycles.

Scholars claim that when female knowledge and esoteric traditions were being suppressed in the European Middle Ages, peaking during the Inquisition, fear of the number of 13 was instigated. There was much knowledge lost among Europe’s peoples at this time, from healing knowledge, knowledge related to planetary and earth cycles, female knowledge related to birth, growth, death and regeneration shared in rites of passage, to indigenous myths and spiritual traditions related to the land.

Since the late 20th century, knowledge from pre-Christian traditions is now being reclaimed from small fragments, in unique ways that speak to our time. In helping to resuscitate this knowledge, we can be in touch with previous ways of thinking and being that had a sense of harmony with life-giving processes.

One aspect of this reclamation is understanding the importance of ritual which, in the past, permeated social life. Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell considers myth, ritual, and ceremony as integrated. Rituals often incorporate myth, and ceremonies may include multiple rituals and a retelling of myth. Macquire (2002), a sociologist of religion, helps us define myth, ritual, and ceremony.

Myths are considered the Big Stories by which a group understands the nature of reality, their position in the cosmos, their group’s history, and the individual and collective behaviour valued by that group. Ritual consists of repeated symbolic actions that represent spiritual meanings. They can be undertaken personally or collectively. Space and time are transformed into a locus of power and wonder, as symbols are activated, and a spiritual experience is catalyzed through ritual. Rituals can include postures, movement, bodily motions, sounds, focusing of attention, and levels of consciousness, perhaps using various aids from drums to bells.

Ceremony has a performative and participatory aspect. Ceremonies can be the re-enactment of history or cosmological stories, the conducting of important rites of passages, or the facilitating of a direct experience of the Sacred.

As philosopher of religion William James (1902) suggests, rituals put one into “contact with the mysterious power of which [one] feels the presence”. In short, the primary purpose of ritual is contact with the Sacred, a pondering of the ultimate meaning of life, which then guides moral action. While some rituals integrate us more meaningfully into society, they also have the potential to transform us into our personal path of becoming, not only finding our gifts but finding a path into wisdom.