Moon Phases – The Science and The Magic

For many pagans and witchy folk, and even “muggles”, moon phases are very important.

Even my dance teacher growing up used to say “it must be a full moon” when her students started to get a little out of hand and energetic.

The energy of the moon is felt by many people whether they know it or not. Recognizing the phases of the moon is something I’ve always done and my relationship with her has been getting stronger as I develop my spirituality and practice.

With last night’s lunar eclipse and the super full moon that is still happening, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the moon’s phases today!

We’re going to start off with the science behind what is actually happening, then go into the magical energies, and I’ll wrap things up with touching on special events that happen like eclipses and super moons.

Moon Phases - The science and the Magic

What actually creates moon phases

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had the cause of moon phases a little backwards.

I know that the moon orbits the earth while the earth orbits the sun and that the sun illuminates the moon. Most people are taught those parts.

And we’re taught that the moon has phases. But what I missed was how those phases actually, physically happen.

My thinking was this:

  • The moon is always out at night
  • This means it is always on the opposite side of the earth as the sun when we see it.
  • Which means the shape of the moon is determined by the way the earth’s shadow sits on the moon.


This never really made total sense to me, so I’m not surprised at all to learn how wrong I was.

Here’s what actually happens:

  • Half of the moon is always illuminated by the sun, just like the earth and all other planetary bodies.
  • The line that divides the light from the dark side of the moon (any Pink Floyd fans out there?) is called the terminator.
  • Moon phases are determined by where the sun is hitting the moon and what angle we’re viewing the moon from, a.k.a. the moon’s orbit around the earth.

Mind = Blown

It finally clicked.

Before I get in to how each phase works, let’s go over how my initial understanding was wrong.

  • The moon is not always out at night, half the time we can see it is actually during the day.
  • It is not always on the opposite side of the earth from the moon at night, hence why we see it during the day (definitely a duh moment for me).
  • The earth’s shadow isn’t always a factor in how we see the moon.

Alright. On to the phases.

New Moon

The new moon is the beginning of the cycle. It happens when the moon is between the earth and the sun.

What we see: The dark half, slightly illuminated by light reflected off of the earth.

Rise/Set time: Roughly matches the sun.

When we see it: During the day

Waxing Crescent

This happens a few days later. If you were to view the solar system from above, with the sun at 0° in front of the earth, the moon would be 45° to the left.

It is referred to as waxing because the moon appears to be growing.

What we see: The terminator line appears curved so we see a crescent shape of the illuminated side.

Rise/Set time: Delayed from the sun’s times

When we see it: During the day and into the night.

First Quarter

The first quarter happens about a week after the new moon. If you bring back that aerial view of the solar system, the moon is at 90° to the earth.

This marks the first quarter of the moon’s orbit, hence the name.

What we see: The terminator line appears straight down the middle, we see a roughly equal split between the illuminated and dark halves.

Rise/Set time: Significantly delayed from the sun.

When we see it: Roughly equally in the day and night (noon to midnight), depending on the time of the year.

Waxing Gibbous

A few days after the first quarter, the moon will be at about 135°.

Gibbous means convex or bulging.

What we see: The terminator line is curved in the other direction, we see an almost full moon with a sliver of the dark half.

Rise/Set time: Nearly opposite of the sun.

When we see it: Starting in the late afternoon/evening through most of the night.

Full Moon

About two weeks after the new moon, the moon is at the 180° position.

The sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth. All of the illuminated half of the moon is facing the earth.

What we see: We don’t see the terminator line, only the fully illuminated side, a full circle.

Rise/Set time: Opposite from the sun.

When we see it: At night.

Second half

The second half of the moon phases are simply the first in reverse. Since the moon appears to be shrinking we use waning instead of waxing.

So we have the waning gibbous, third quarter, and waning crescent, before returning again to the new moon.

During this time the rise and set time is shifting back to line up with the sun so you start seeing the moon later in the night and into the morning.

Here’s a visual:

Moon phases

Here‘s a great video if you need it broken down a little more!

Moon Phases and Magic

 Now that we know about what the moon does and how it looks, we can talk about how it feels, what kind of magic is good to do when.

*Just so I don’t have to say it over and over again, these are just suggestions and different approaches to take. Ultimately, do what you feel most connected to. If you don’t feel the need to work with the moon at all, that’s okay too!*

New Moon

The new moon is also called the dark moon by some. I prefer dark moon myself.

This is a great time for anything connected to darkness or shadow.

It is a powerful time for breaking curses and hexes, or for casting them if that’s part of your practice.

It is also a great time for meditation, shadow work, and anything more introspective. The dark encourages taking a look within rather than expending energy outwards.

Some people also view the dark moon as a time to relax, maybe to not do any magic at all!

One of my preferred dark moon activities is intention setting. It is a wonderful time to reflect on what you need and to prepare for obtaining it!

Waxing Moon

In general, the waxing moon (from new/dark to full) is great for constructive magic. This is anything you want to build up, work on, attract, etc.

Some people break things down further and give the crescent, quarter, and gibbous their own purposes too:

  • Waxing crescent: Personal magic, starting new projects, personal development
  • First Quarter: Attraction, wealth, love, bonding with animal companions
  • Waxing Gibbous: Motivation, final push to bring in what you have been working towards

Full Moon

Many view this as the most powerful time of the moon cycle. It is a good time for anything that needs an extra boost. The full moon is the most common moon phase to set out crystals and other tools to charge.

Excessive energy from the full moon is often seen and felt by people that don’t practice magic at all. Emergency services almost always see a spike in extreme behaviors during the full moon.

The full moon is a fantastic time to connect to the divine, develop your intuition, and practice divination.

The abundance of energy also makes it a good time for healing.

Waning Moon

The waning moon phases are generally good for release, reduction and destructive magic.

This is a great time to work on getting rid of bad habits, ending toxic relationships, smoothly ending jobs, etc.

If you want to get specific about it:

  • Waning Gibbous: General upkeep and cleaning, ending things that are currently ready to be wrapped up
  • Third Quarter: tackle bigger things, smoothly transition,
  • Waning Crescent: Major cleansing, especially of the home, end things that no longer serve you.

A Note on Charging tools

I wanted to mention that the full moon is not the only time to charge tools. You can choose to charge things under different energy if you think it would be better!

For example, maybe you want to charge a crystal for help with attracting wealth, consider charging it under the first quarter moon. Or if you want something to ward off negative energy, charge it at some point during the waning moon.

Again, do what feels right to you!

Lunar Events and moon names

So what was up with this Super-Blood-Wolf moon? What does that even mean?

The wolf part is just a name given to the January full moon. Each month has a name, a few actually if you look at different sources.

Super moon – The moon’s orbit is irregular, when the full moon happens near or at the point of being closest to earth, we get a super moon. It appears bigger and brighter and some say this makes it more powerful as well.

Blood moon – This is a result of a total lunar eclipse which happens when the sun, earth, and moon are perfectly lined up. The earth blocks all direct sunlight to the moon. The moon appears red because of sunlight being refracted and reflected in the earth’s atmosphere.

Blue moon – Unfortunately this moon isn’t actually blue. This is when there are two full moons in a month. Others define it as the 13th full moon in a year.


How do you work with the moon?

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