The first issue we need to tackle is the fact that two different definitions of "New Moon" are currently in use in the Pagan community at large.
Definition #1) "New Moon" refers to the first sliver of the waxing crescent visible to the unaided human eye. To find the this kind of New Moon, look to the western horizon, just after sunset. You're looking for that faint, thin, white curve that is the edge of the moon. The bright surface of the moon is just barely peaking around the right side of the moon's shadowed face. It will look like a thin smile, reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The first evening that the Moon is visible again after her disappearance from our view is the night of the New Moon according to this usage of the phrase.
Definition #2) "New Moon" refers to the moment in the cycle of lunar phases when the side of the moon facing earth is 0% illuminated or 100% in shadow. To find this kind of New Moon, you need modern astronomical equipment. This is the New Moon that is listed on calendars and in almanacs. This is the New Moon represented by the dark circle shown in the picture above and to the left.
While you are welcome to use either definition in your own practice, this article (and the others in this series) will use the second definition -- the New Moon occurs when the moon is 0% illuminated. The reason for this choice is simple. The definitions and descriptions of the other phases are easier to explain and understand this way. All of the pieces form a coherent and logical whole if we start from this single starting point. This will become apparent as the articles unfold. Again, using the other definition in your own practice is not wrong. The other definition was just inconvenient to use in this discussion.
What does the New Moon look like? It doesn’t. This is the Moon that does not show up at all. You won’t find it in the sky at night or during the day. She is lost in shadow.
The question that usually comes up next is the one that goes something like this: Well, if you can’t see the New Moon, how do you find it? The Moon and the Sun do not travel exactly the same path across the sky; they are close, but not identical. Usually the Moon rises a little north or a little south of the Sun. The New Moon is not so far north or south from the Sun, though, that we can see her. Locating the Moon under such conditions is probably analogous to locating a small spider hanging right next to a 120-Watt light bulb. It can be done, if you can block the light of the bulb. (Every once in a while, the Moon herself will block the light of the sun; when the Moon and the Sun are in exactly the same place against the sky at the same time we witness a solar eclipse.) Because the New Moon is in such close proximity to the Sun, the New Moon rises with the Sun at sunrise -- both coming up over the eastern horizon at approximately the same time.
If you keep in mind that the New Moon is in roughly the same place against the sky as the Sun, then you can easily draw a few more conclusions about where the Moon will be at different times. The New Moon is with the Sun at midday -- high overhead. She is with the Sun at sunset -- sinking below the western horizon – and, she is with the Sun at midnight -- looking over the other side of our home planet.
At this point, you have learned what the New Moon is, what it looks like, and how to locate it. Let's look at the First Quarter Moon next.
This article is part of the Quarters of the Moon Series.
To read the other articles in the series, please visit
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