Drawing Down the Moon

A witch's path to healing by following the lunar cycles




I don't remember exactly when I first learned that women's cycles will sync up when they are in close proximity to each other, but I do remember I thinking it was witchy and magical. It felt like this spooky unseen force was using our bodies like divining rods. We were carriers for a mysterious and more animal energy.


There is a section in the book Prodigal Summer, by local Kentucky author Barbara Kingsolver, that describes a time, long before the invention of electricity, when women's menstrual cycles would also sync up with the lunar cycles. Not only would women ovulate and menstruate in time with one another, but they would ovulate during the full moon. The book describes a sexy image of moonlight illuminating a forest full of love-making, the men driven wild by the women's hormones all coinciding together. I remember reading this, knowing deep in my heart that it was truth at the same time understanding that I was profoundly missing something. Living in this artificial environment of temperature-controlled air, electric light, and a steady food supply, I longed to connect back to my undomesticated roots.


The moon is a living being, and the sight of her reminds me that there is always change, we grow and shrink, we expand and contract. Our lives are in flux, and we can flow with that flux or fight against it. I look to the moon as a guide. Learning to flow with the seasons and the moon's cycles has helped me in my recovery journey.



An awakening


There is a place out west, called Harbin Hot Springs. It's a retreat of over 5000 acres, secluded in the hills outside of Napa Valley. It's a place where natural hot springs bubble out of the earth, captured in hand-poured pools and maintained by a cooperative of hippies - massage therapists, yoga instructors, builders, and craftspeople. Years ago, before a fire tore through and destroyed hundreds of acres, there was a massive hand-built temple, domes, and cabins. There was a restaurant and poolside cafe where you could get all kinds of nourishing food that felt more alive because it came from the land.


But the main draw is the pools. A scaldingly hot pool, freezing cold dip, and a warm "meditation pool" make up the main therapeutic spaces. Nestled under the shade of a massive fig tree, the pools wove through a little hillside, where wind chimes and running water were the only sounds - silence being the rule. A little way down the hill is a larger swimming pool, a heart-shaped warm pool, and another cold plunge, for users of the sauna. Throughout the entire poolside area, clothing is optional.


The magic of this place is pretty difficult to describe. It's the closest I've ever felt to being a wild animal. The lack of clothing made for a feeling of safety, strangely. Because no one wears clothes, everyone is equally exposed, allowing for a kind-of leveled playing field, and an understanding of respect. There's no staring, no one is trying to make anyone feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. There are a plethora of different body shapes, and they are all lovely.


There's no technology allowed anywhere on the grounds, which again provides safety and connection. People read, write, paint, craft, swim, eat, nap, and just relax. Deer, lizards, birds, just wander through, picking from the fruit trees around, as do the people. Quietly crossing paths with a deer who takes no mind of you, in the woods, while naked is an experience that feels so connected, so at one with nature, it sounds almost cheesy to describe. Still, my whole body relaxes with the memory of it.


One night at Harbin, there was a full moon ceremony in the meditation pool. All-day, my partner and I had been feeling funky, emotional, and tired. We didn't understand why, but I realized when I heard about the full moon. It was the first time that I had ever felt that genuine connection with the moon. I am sure that it had physically affected me before then. Still, something about being deep in the wilderness for days, with no electricity, waking with the sun and birds, my body had reconnected with the cycles of nature in a way it hadn't in years, maybe ever.


The ceremony began with about twenty naked bodies, standing in a circle in the water, under the full moon. An elder woman cast the sacred circle, speaking in a deep, confident voice. As she called in the spirits of the land and the power of the moon, I was harkened back to when I was thirteen and experimenting with witchcraft, lighting candles and pouring salt circles in my bedroom, drawing down the moon using my double-edged dagger. I had forgotten, and this woman suddenly sparked to life something in me, a remembering, not only of my solitary secret practice but also of an even deeper lineage of moon worshipers, midwives, fairy family, and herbalist healers, tarot readers, of my lineage of witches.


We sang and began moving the circle, linking arms and moving faster to create a whirlpool. Laughing into the dark night, high on the moon and our own ferocious energy, this group of naked, mostly strangers, remembered what it was like to be human, animal, and magic.


Eventually, everyone retired back to their tents, cabins, or sleeping bags under the naked sky. I'm sure there was all manner of feral love-making that night, cries, and calls echoing out into the woods.



Reconnecting to the cycles


After that trip to Harbin, I began attending regular moon circles at home. They were much milder. Usually, a small group of women sharing hopes, grief, and support, often ending with a ceremonial fire to burn off our secret desires of what to release. These groups helped me through graduate school, a time of intense "masculine" energy, otherwise known as ruthless, competition, and callousness. It was difficult for me emotionally, and those monthly gatherings brought me some small measure of community and support.


About two years ago, it seemed like the moon became more important to so many more people. Moon circles and ceremonies suddenly seemed to gain popularity. Now it seems like most people know when it's a full moon and enjoys noticing the phases.


Since that night at Harbin, I've now attended dozens of different moon ceremonies for both the full and new moons. Some have been uninhibited, co-ed, and festive with drums and fire. Others have been quieter circles of women, or profound meditations with tears shed planting seeds of intention. And some have been solitary, alone in my room with crystals and water, whispering desires and casting spells.



Deepening the connection


Traditionally, the full moon is the time to release what no longer serves you. It took me some time to fully understand what those words meant. I feel like phrase is used a lot, and it wasn't always clear what that meant. At first, I thought it just meant bad habits. For many full moons, I would ask to release the habit of drinking. But as I got deeper into the moon's medicine and following the cycles, I started to become more precise with my words and intentions. Each moon also corresponds with a particular season and a specific astrological sign. For example, the full moon we just experienced was in Aquarius and is also known as the sturgeon moon or the green corn moon.


So, not only is the full moon an excellent time to release things from your life. But you can deepen your work by aligning your intentions to the type of energy that the moon is bringing each month. After I started to align my intentions in this way, the outcomes became more palpable. I began to ask not to be rid of alcohol or the habit of drinking. Instead, I started setting intentions to release the beliefs that were leading me to drink. Beliefs that I wasn't good enough, or not deserving of love.


My two-year sober anniversary was last week, and I remembered that it was a full moon the night that I vowed to be done forever. Yesterday I looked up what sign the moon was in that night, July of 2018. It was, of course, an Aquarius moon.


This week, I pulled the Star card from my Tarot deck three different times. The Star is associated with Aquarius, which was a beautiful synchronicity. And the Star card invites us to focus on healing the nervous system. I decided to release hypervigilance for this moon, which is something I've been struggling with a lot lately.


I have found that the more I align myself with the natural energies around me, the more that these kinds of "coincidences" occur. Many folks will say this. The more we pay attention to magic, the more it will make itself known. In my community, we call these synchronicities rather than coincidences. The word coincidence implies that these things just happened by chance or a logical explanation.


That used to be my view, too, especially in my grad school days when I was immersed in science. Still, I was drawn to these circles, to these moon ceremonies in the same way that my body just seemed to know that it was a full moon, in the same way that women's bodies know when they are near one another. I've experienced absolutely countless synchronicities at this point. Absolutely wild, unexplainable things have happened, and I no longer feel the need to justify them or explain them away.


I want to live in a world where magic exists. That's enough for me. I know that my body and the earth are both wild and mysterious beings. I know that there are unexplainable phenomena. Releasing my grip on the need to know has been an essential thing for my healing.

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