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"Adele Dubois brings finesse and grace to the page.
Captivating characters and tightly woven
plots give readers a fabulously robust story."
~ L.A. Banks, NY Times Best-selling Author

Cold Comfort
February brings rituals of fertility, love, death, purification—and a lunar eclipse

by Adele Dubois

Published in Ellora’s Cave Lady Jaided Magazine and The Cerridwen Press Newsletter, February, 2008.


Is anything more romantic than a full moon? The moon’s pull on us is primal, and it goes deeper than merely providing atmosphere for starry-eyed walks on the beach. The moon carries serious fertility mojo—for crops and for people. Many gardeners believe the phases of the moon affect germination and growth of plants, and there’s no denying the phases of the moon mirror the human menstrual cycle.

We also use the moon to mark time, dividing our year into 12 slices based on the 29.5 days it takes the moon to orbit the earth, and we calls those slices “months” a word derived from this cycle. The moon’s phases were so important to our ancestors that they tracked, recorded and predicted them all, solemnizing full moons with proper names and celebrating them in festivals. For every full moon of the year, there is at least one special name and a related fete of some sort somewhere in the world.

Names for the February full moon evoke the darkest days of winter, when life slows down and the dormant earth in the Northern Hemisphere is covered by cold and snow. The Celts called it Ice Moon, the Cherokee Bony Moon. To the Choctaw it was Little Famine Moon and others knew it as Full Snow Moon, Budding Moon and Storm Moon.

Whatever you call it, February’s full moon is special this year because it will undergo a full eclipse beginning on Wednesday, February 20, 2008.

 

Here’s the timeline for the United States, Eastern Standard Time.

Partial Eclipse begins 8:43 p.m.

Total Eclipse begins 10:01 p.m.

Total Eclipse ends 10:51 p.m.

Partial Eclipse ends 12:09 a.m., February 21.

 

Everyone living on the night side of earth will be able to watch Luna pass directly through the earth’s umbral shadow when the earth, moon, and sun align.

The umbra is the region where the earth stops all direct sunlight from reaching the moon. During totality, when the moon enters the darkest area of earth’s shadow, the earth’s atmosphere filters out all blue and green hues. Although direct sunlight is then blocked, the sun’s indirect light still provides the moon some illumination. The resulting effect is often awe inspiring. All the sunrises and sunsets happening around the world will reflect their lights at the same time, and Luna will turn a magnificent orange or blood red color.

Watch as Luna turns dramatic hues from orange to red or dark brown or, more rarely, a very dark gray. Pastel colors like violet or dark apricot may also appear. The colors are unique to each full lunar eclipse, depending on weather conditions and the amount of dust in the atmosphere. Although it’s safe to watch with the naked eye, bring your binoculars outside and snuggle on a blanket in a clear, open space with the one you love for the best view of the moon’s colorful palette.

While you’re watching the eclipse, you can ponder the ancient festival associated with February, Lupercalia, the Roman festival of purification and fertility from which this month derives its name. It takes place February 15 and begins with a feast commemorating the she wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus in a Roman cave called Lupercal. The festival was kicked off with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dog.

After the feast, strips of skin called februa were cut from the sacrificed animals and young men ran around town lashing people with them. Young women especially presented themselves to be lashed because it was thought that blows from the hides would ensure fertility and decrease the pain of childbearing. The event was portrayed by Plutarch as something of a drunken, licentious bacchanal (not unlike Mardi Gras, which may be a descendent of it) followed by a time of fasting and purification (not unlike Lent), often attributed to the Etruscan god of death and purification Februus.  

(There is some disagreement as to which came first, the strip called februa or the god named Februus.) It makes sense, though, that February, a month when food stores are low, days are short and everything appears lifeless, would be associated with fasting and death. In both Celtic and Roman cultures, spiritual cleansing and initiation were encouraged during this time. We clear out the negative while preparing for positive new life in spring. It’s a bit like making New Year’s resolutions, which makes sense, given that February was the last month of the year in ancient Rome.

As for the February holiday we celebrate in contemporary times, there isn’t much credible research relating Valentine’s Day to the fertility rites of Lupercalia, despite the proximity of their dates and similarity of themes. But it makes sense that at this deadest, darkest time of year, we want to snuggle up to a broad, warm chest and pass the long, cold nights with a box of chocolates and someone we adore. Sure beats getting lashed by a hunk of animal hide!

by Adele Dubois

Sources:

http://www.etymonline.com

http://www.reclaimingquarterly.org

http://en.wikipedia.org


Adele Dubois is a former journalist and foreign correspondent who writes sexy novels for Ellora’s Cave and Loose Id. Her new releases are entitled Dream Traveler and Intimate Art. Please visit her website at www.adeledubois.com 

Adele Dubois 2006-2008 All Rights Reserved

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