When you locate the First Quarter Moon in the sky, you will see half of a circle. Half a circle, you say? Then why do we call it a First Quarter Moon and not a First Half Moon? The phrase "First Quarter" refers to being one-fourth of the way through the cycle of lunar phases, starting from the New Moon. It is not a reference to the shape of the moon or how much of the moon is bright; a completely different set of words are used to describe that characteristic of the Moon. The side of the moon facing the earth is 50% illuminated and 50% in shadow at First Quarter. She is just barely over 7 days old.
Many people, Pagan or not, seem to have a good deal of difficulty finding the First Quarter Moon. We tend to notice it on accident rather than find it on purpose. The First Quarter Moon seems to follow the Sun. In fact, the First Quarter Moon is 90 degrees behind the sun. Hold your right hand up and point your index finger. Stick your thumb out, so your hand is making a sign-language "L." The angle between your index finger and your thumb is roughly 90 degrees; while not exactly accurate, it's certainly close enough for this little activity. Point your index finger at the Sun. Turn the palm of your hand to face south. Your thumb will be pointing to First Quarter Moon. Please note -- you must be using your right hand and your palm must be facing south for this trick to work.
Let’s use the little trick. Make the “L” with your right hand. Point your index finger uo, representing the Sun at midday. Make sure your palm is facing south. Your thumb should be pointing to the eastern horizon. Therefore, the First Quarter Moon is rising about midday.
Where is the First Quarter Moon when the Sun sets? Take advantage of the trick explained above. Make an "L" with your right hand thumb and index finger. Point your index finger at the setting sun. Make sure the palm of your hand is facing south. Where is your thumb pointing? The First Quarter Moon will be above you at sunset.
At midnight, the Sun is on the other side of the planet. The First Quarter Moon is still following it, so you should expect it to be setting at this time of night. Of course, the right-hand-trick still works. Make sure your palm is facing south; the position is a little awkward, but is important. Pointing your index finger towards the ground at your feet may seem strange, but it is correct -- that is, in fact, the straight-line direction to the Sun. Notice your thumb points to the western horizon, just like expected.
Continue rotating your right hand, palm facing south, until your index finger is pointing to the eastern horizon. This position is likely to have you even more twisted around than the last one. When the sun (your index finger) is rising, the moon (your thumb) is beneath your feet shining on the other side of the planet.
At this point, you have learned what the First Quarter Moon is, what it looks like, and how to locate it. Let's fast-foward about 7 days to the Full Moon.
This article is part of the Quarters of the Moon Series.
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