Dark Moon vs New Moon – What’s The Difference?

Ah, the moon… Something near and dear to every witch’s heart! What better topic could there be to kick-off the revamped Speak of Secrets blog than our beloved Sister Moon?

 

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Dark Moon artwork by Renee Starr

 

There tends to be a lot of confusion regarding the terms Dark Moon and New Moon. They are often used interchangeably, and I have often met with confusion when looking at a calendar only to see the New Moon noted on a day when the moon isn’t visible in the sky at all. Seeing how the Dark Moon and the New Moon each have thier own unique energies, clearly understanding the lunar cycle can be crucial to the timing of any ritual work that relies upon drawing upon those energetic qualities.

The first clue in solving this puzzle lies in the very name of the moon itself. Historically and pragmatically speaking, The Dark Moon refers to the period of time when the moon exhibits zero illumination, while the New Moon starts the very first day that the moon appears in the night sky as a slim sliver of light. By this reasoning, the Dark Moon is a one day event, while the New Moon lasts approximately 7 days as a Waxing Crescent, right up until the First Quarter of illumination.

Establishing that the Dark Moon is when the moon is actually dark, and the New Moon is when the moon first shows visible illumination, it seems like things should be fairly straightforward; that keeping track of the lunar cycle would be as simple as checking where the New Moon falls on your calendar to start planning your ritual work. But wait! It’s not actually as simple as that. Many calendars, including the witchy ones published by Llewellyn Worldwide, list the New Moon as being on the date of or even the day before the Dark Moon, while the moon is still in a Waning Crescent phase. Where does this confusion spring from, and why is it being perpetuated?

The answer lies in the difference between the traditional/spiritual definition, and modern scientific terminology. Traditionally, both astronomers and spiritual studies have defined the Dark Moon as the date where the moon is at a liminal point in the lunar cycle, exhibiting zero illumination between it’s waning and waxing phases. The reason behind this dark stage of the lunar cycle is that the moon is in conjunction with the earth and the sun (ie: it is located directly between the two) and therefore the moon is cast into shadow. Modern-day astronomers and scientists refer to this time of conjuncture as the New Moon, and this parlance is what has been adopted into both online and printed calendars.

 

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My witchy calendar, with accurate dates for the Dark and New Moon added. Note that the calendar shows the scientific New Moon date as March 8th.

 

So while the terms Dark Moon and New Moon really *are* interchangeable given that they are referring to the same period of time where the moon is lined-up with the earth and sun, and therefore exhibits zero illumination, they *do* hold different connotations, and certainly need to be understood when undertaking magickal workings that rely upon correspondences to either phase’s energies. It is for this reason that I have made it a habit to always check-in with an online lunar calendar that details visible illumination when planning any work that involves the moon, and mark out my calendars appropriately so I can be sure to tune-in to the corresponding energies of the moon on the correct dates.

The Dark Moon is a liminal phase where the moon sits between it’s waxing (gaining in illumination) and waning (decreasing in illumination) phases, and like the Full Moon, represents a pinnacle point in the lunar cycle. While some traditions take this dark stage as a time to rest, others celebrate the Dark Moon with esbats no less reserved than those which take place in honour of the Full Moon. The Dark Moon is also employed as a time for banishing, binding, or balancing; for honouring or exploring the chthonic aspects of oneself or of deities, or for transformational or ancestral workings. Some practitioners may even warn that magickal ritual should be avoided entirely during the Dark Moon! Like so many aspects of spiritual practice, how one observes the celestial event of the Dark Moon will be guided by tradition, need, or instinct.  I have personally chosen the Dark Moon as a time for meditation and reflection, both of my own inner landscape, and as a pathway for connecting to Hecate’s guidance. For me, the Dark Moon represents a clean slate to sketch out any understanding or transformation I may be seeking.

Understanding the timing and energies that surround the Dark Moon has assisted me in living my practice more fully – I hope that anyone else who has ever became tangled-up in the Dark Moon/New Moon confusion may find clarity and light, and develop a deeper connection to all that is available to us in the shadow of the Dark Moon.

 

Other Dark Moon facts that come in handy when considering ritual, magickal workings, and meditations:

  • The Dark Moon rises and sets with the Sun, therefore it is not visible in the night sky
  • As the Dark Moon aligns with the path of the Sun, it is at its highest apex in the sky at noon
  • The energy of the Dark Moon is as powerful a time as any other in the lunar cycle, and can be accessed during the height of day or dark of night
  • Chthonic aspects correspond to the Dark Moon
  • Dark Moon magick is best suited to introspection, banishing negativity, or transformational and ancestral work
  • The goddess Hecate is associated with the Dark Moon
  • Labradorite is the gemstone associated to the Dark Moon
  • Dark Moon magick is often practiced widdershins (counter-clockwise direction)