Moon Watching series (9) by Dana Gerhardt

The Balsamic Moon

fairy taleRemember having a particularly exhausting day, and that night, how good it felt to turn off the lights and drop your weary body into bed, sloughing off the chattering thoughts? Remember how good it felt next morning, waking up refreshed and renewed, your problems shrunk to their rightful size, your optimism and hope grown larger? As the final phase in the lunation cycle, the Balsamic Moon is the monthly "sleep time". During the three to four days of this phase, vitality and spirit are replenished, fueling your start at the next New Moon. Few neglect their nightly sleep, though most take no advantage of this cyclic rest. Yet, if you could observe just one Moon phase per cycle, this should be the one.

Balsamic begins with the waning Sun/Moon semi-square. The Moon is a slim Crescent, forty-five degrees behind the Sun. Moonrise comes in the pre-dawn hours, when most of us are sound asleep, in the theater of our most vivid dreams. Right brain processes are at their peak this phase, having gathered momentum since the Full Moon. Instinct and intuition are high. Rest is imperative. Even during waking hours, we work in Balsamic much as we do in dreamtime, when the subconscious sorts and catalogues our experience, when it struggles against or integrates conflicting impulses, clearing our residue of feelings, receiving messages of guidance.

Our physical energy is necessarily as low as our psychic energy is high. We're at a threshold, ending one cycle while anticipating a new one round the corner. We might want to get into motion, but our bodies are tired. Our clarity and focus wane, like the Balsamic Moon herself, rising thinner and fainter each morning until she eventually disappears altogether, lost in the Sun's glare. This is the Dark Moon. Much of the time we won't know whether we're finishing up or leaning toward the future, whether we're being truly psychic or simply dreaming - which is why this is a better period for introspection than for action. Without the dormancy of winter, spring's (or the New Moon's) seeds cannot mature.

If this liminal stage sounds disconcerting, imagine what it means to be born during a Balsamic Moon, poised for a lifetime between endings and beginnings. According to my Balsamic-born friend, astrologer Maria Maggi, "It's hard for us Balsamic types to see the details of manifestation, since we're so busy helping everyone through the deep tremors of letting go. My whole life I have always arrived at the party, the job, the relationship, the neighborhood, the Ph.D. program, whatever, just as it was on the brink of some irreversible transition. I used to think "Why me?" But now I just dig in and help other people who are freaking out to see the big picture. Or sometimes I just ride the wave, always curious to see what it'll feel like to land on the beach."


"Balsamic begins with the waning Sun/Moon semi-square. The Moon is a slim Crescent, forty-five degrees behind the Sun. Moonrise comes in the pre-dawn hours, when most of us are sound asleep, in the theater of our most vivid dreams. Right brain processes are at their peak this phase, having gathered momentum since the Full Moon. Instinct and intuition are high. Rest is imperative. Even during waking hours, we work in Balsamic much as we do in dreamtime, when the subconscious sorts and catalogues our experience, when it struggles against or integrates conflicting impulses, clearing our residue of feelings, receiving messages of guidance."


Some astrologers suggest that Balsamic births are a karmic "finishing up" lifetime, for bringing to a close unfinished business from prior incarnations. Whatever Moon phase we're born under, we share an imperative to deal with past karma, to right wrong imprints left by a string of past lives. But I'm intrigued by what lunation expert Demetra George has said about Balsamics in this regard. She suggests they frequently go through a series of intense, short-lived relationships. These are rendezvous with past life partners, with whom the karmic scales need balancing. Once this occurs, however neatly or mysteriously, the relationship can dissolve, as suddenly as it began.

I've quizzed my Balsamic friends and clients, and many have indeed experienced this pattern. Of course their next (usually plaintive) question is "Does that mean I can't have any long-term relationships?" I assure them I know Balsamics in long-term relationships, too. It would seem the lessons of releasing, hollowing out and making one's peace with the past can come from many contexts - as can the power to create new and better futures, after the letting go is done.

Balsamics have a strong future-orientation. They're often ahead of the curve, like the kid doing slick skateboard tricks long before Tony Hawk made it popular. This doesn't mean Balsamics know what's going to happen. In fact they're usually more confused than the rest about where they're headed. Well-meaning astrologers might want to help with inspiring crystal-ball work. But this in effect subverts the mysterious process of Dark Moon births.

Balsamic instincts are likely better than any astrologer's. But instead of naming the future, these individuals need to live it, feeling their way as they go. Ask a Balsamic how they accomplished their life's greatest changes, and they'll usually say "It just happened" or "I fell into it." They ride the wave until they land on the beach. There's nothing passive to this approach. Rather it's a deeper form of intelligence, about which reason doesn't know much.

How does this intelligence work? We might get a clue from a recent research study.[1] Participants were asked to predict the weather in a computer-simulated world, based on a combination of cues. After 50 attempts with feedback on their accuracy, subjects were to determine whether a particular trio of signs predicted rain or shine. Researchers designed it so the predictions were lawful, but by probability functions so complex, even the smartest individual couldn't deduce it by logic alone. Nonetheless, most subjects were able to get it right 70 percent of the time. None could explain how they did it. They "just knew", developing a sense or feel for the scenarios, and solving a puzzle beyond the limits of ordinary thought.

Balsamic intelligence may work likewise. If Balsamics are indeed "old souls", wrapping up loose ends from many lives, they may hold such an impressive databank of past-life experience in subconscious memory, that it guides them well, though in ways they cannot name. Or harder to rationalize, but perhaps no less plausible, is how their proximity to the future gives them a keener sense of it, so they instinctively make decisions or attract opportunities that lead in the right direction. Whether it's a past intelligence or a future one, or both, Balsamics have a gift for working in the dark.

RapunzelArtists can work this way, too. As Justin Spring writes about the art of painting, "...I think it's impossible not to get some sort of form if you don't think about it. If you do think about it, you can get chaos. But if you don't think about it, you get form."[2] This is the secret formula for Balsamic days. To bring form to the next Moon cycle, one must not think - or do - too much during the Dark Moon. Rather: rest and dream. Let intuition lead. The reward is a renewal of creativity, as sure as Sunrise.

"When will it end?" is everybody's first question on learning they've entered a progressed Balsamic phase. No matter how colorfully I paint its virtues, they peer beyond to a bleaker landscape, to a three-to-four-year sentence of all loss and no gain. I can see it in their eyes: I'm suddenly the witch, abducting their Rapunzel dreams to a door-less, ladder-less tower where they can grow nothing but hair. I tell them this is the richest spiritual time. I tell them when my own progressed Balsamic phase was over, I had nostalgia for it. I cheer: "You will too!" But it's a tough sell.

Doing Balsamic goes against the cultural grain. We're afraid of loss. Anything but endless upward growth appears unfortunate. The downward arc of cycles is difficult. Yet fearing Balsamic means shunning the medicine that can make us well. This Moon phase brings a profound initiation into cyclic intelligence, like the menstrual huts or Moon lodges of long ago, when women would bleed on the dark of the Moon and withdraw from the tribe's daily business. In the womb of the lodge they surrendered to visions, renewing their powers, returning to their tribe inspired, with a renewed capacity to inspire others. Of course in our day, menstruation is often called "the curse". And so it seems for the Balsamic phase.

Both the menstrual and Moon cycles regulate creativity. A menstruating girl is being initiated into her feminine creative power, the capacity to give birth. Likewise, the Dark Moon makes possible our future creating. If we return to hapless Rapunzel, isolated in her tower at the menstruating age of twelve, we'll find her story offers insights into both these cyclic mysteries. Whenever a fairy tale begins, as this one does, with a barren couple, we're sure to learn some secrets about how to make things grow.

witch stampIn the story, a childless couple lives next door to a powerful witch, who's very much feared. Her garden, however, is unimaginably lush, with sweet peas, sunflowers, string beans and rapunzel, a delicate white lettuce that tastes like walnuts. The wife develops such a craving for this lettuce, her husband steals a handful, then some more. The witch is waiting for him. "One theft begets another. Take all the rapunzel you want. But I'll take the child your wife doesn't know is growing, even now, in her womb."

The first rule is obvious: stay in your own garden, no matter how barren it seems. When creativity goes underground, but desire still flourishes, we may want to steal away, into a more enticing, exciting world. People in a progressed Balsamic phase are often plagued by listlessness. They have no juicy plans to work on. They claim they've lost interest in everything. They may hunger for a sweet taste from somebody else's garden. But to turn away from their own ground compromises a deeper desire - for the birth that's not yet seen, but is mysteriously on its way.

Recently I took a train trip along the Pacific coast. I was struck by the vivid difference in houses along the tracks. Many were neat, freshly painted, with lush gardens in full bloom. Many had yards full of junk, rusted wheelbarrows, broken window screens. Others were abandoned altogether. Looking out my sleeper car window, I saw the Balsamic Moon, a luminescent sickle in the pre-dawn sky. Maybe it was her influence that led to my next thought: what made the abundant homes so lush was not their caretakers' relentless drive towards growth. Rather it was a more rounded wisdom, which included knowing when to slow down and let go, when to cease acquiring and nourish what is there.


"Doing Balsamic goes against the cultural grain. We're afraid of loss. Anything but endless upward growth appears unfortunate. The downward arc of cycles is difficult. Yet fearing Balsamic means shunning the medicine that can make us well. This Moon phase brings a profound initiation into cyclic intelligence, like the menstrual huts or Moon lodges of long ago, when women would bleed on the dark of the Moon and withdraw from the tribe's daily business."


Without this knowledge, life exhausts itself and can't go on. Leading to things abandoned, overgrown, beyond use, falling apart. Far from lacking ambition, I supposed the owners of the wrecked, deserted homes had had too much. They tired themselves out. They didn't know, as the witch does, the secret of the Dark Moon. To desire all the time is unnatural.

The witch simply makes things right. The mother must clean up her past; Rapunzel is renewal held in waiting. Monthly, a menstruating woman sheds the uterine lining meant to nourish the egg released at last ovulation. A parallel practice for the monthly Dark Moon is to likewise go through drawers and closets and throw away what's no longer needed, challenging one's attachments, making room for a new self to grow. Grief can arise - from discarding an old pair of shoes, a sweater bought on sale and never worn. Harder still is reckoning with past mistakes, lost hopes, love that never materialized. We need to feel the pain. Frozen grief is energy the body will keep locked up, to manifest as disease, accelerating death. The ground may seem bleak, but we're making a newly fertile field. We're growing our patience. Courage too.

However difficult, there's something attractive in this work. Ideas and new enthusiasms often rush in, like the prince who can't keep his hands off Rapunzel, so delicious in her forest tower. They secretly meet, again and again. The witch finds out: "It's a dreamy time - but you've gone too far!" She chops off Rapunzel's hair and banishes the pregnant girl to the desert. The prince leaps from Rapunzel's tower in grief, blinding himself on a patch of brambles. They'll meet again - only after they've done much mournful wandering.

Their fate carries an admonition: ignore cycles at your peril. Do things at the wrong time and everything takes longer. I've known friends and clients who refused to honor their progressed Balsamic phase. "Slow down? I have too much to do!" Then quite unexpectedly, they contracted a serious illness, or got into a car accident, which forced them to halt and do nothing for awhile. This is just the witch, making things right.

Witches are typically hated in fairy tales. This is how people with magical powers are often regarded, like the tribal sorcerers, petitioned for treatments during the day, and rumored to undo their healing spells by night. Wise ones often live away from the people they cure, in the heart of the forest. They live close to nature's rhythms, at a necessary distance from the social world. Their mystique says more about our ignorance. In modern parlance, the wise old woman has been stigmatized as a withered "old bag", but it's the same old fear of the witch. "The hardest thing about growing old," my post-menopausal friend tells me, "is that no one looks at me anymore. When I walk through Wal-Mart, it's like I've disappeared."

wise womanThe phases of the Moon are often linked to phases in a woman's life. The waning Moons, especially the Balsamic period, belong to the Old Woman, or Crone. We should revere rather than disappear her. She no longer sheds her blood, but contains her power within. She has more time for herself, something to treasure. Free from all the responsibilities of her child-bearing years, she can now choose who, and when, she wants to nurture. Her wisdom and experience are gifts, if only we'd listen.

What does the Crone want to teach? What did she tell Rapunzel every day, after climbing up the tower on her hair? No version of the tale I've ever read reveals much about that scene. I suspect it's for the same reason many spiritual traditions don't publish all their esoterica. The highest teachings must be delivered one-to-one, from master to student in a secret place. We must be properly initiated. And what is told to one student might be different than what is told to another. Part of every wisdom journey is necessarily personal.

After going through my own progressed Balsamic phase I can see the logic in keeping its teachings a mystery. It was a profound experience, but it sounds strange to speak it, almost trivial. It's like those stories of initiates seeking out enlightened masters, climbing up mountains, enduring incredible hardships, only to reach the master's cave and hear "Life is about washing your socks every night."

What did I learn during my own Balsamic phase? I learned the deep value of staying in bed with the covers drawn over my head. I learned to conduct my errands in inefficient ways, taking ridiculous routes that somehow made everything flow more smoothly. I learned by moving at a slower pace my old self unraveled more quickly. I can see why a good storyteller might leave out what Rapunzel learned from the Crone!

It's some years later; I'm now in my progressed First Quarter phase. Like Rapunzel who's done with her wandering, now raising her children and cooking for her prince, what I once understood has gotten out of focus. Perhaps I'll get it back when I'm a Crone myself. But during my progressed Balsamic phase it was somehow easier to be present in the moment, to perceive the sacred in little things. I never learned this from my own grandmothers. Both of them died before I was five. Like many others, I must find my Crones where I can, and such occasions are rare. Maybe that's why the following brief encounter, on a Balsamic Moon, still lingers in my memory.


"I've often wished I had a Crone to teach me about the phases of the Moon. I've found a few facts in books, but it's taken years for my senses to catch up with their sentences. I'll share some of what I've read, though it may seem trivial, like that Zen saying, "Chop wood, carry water." According to the old Zen parable, this is what we do before enlightenment. And it's what we do after."


I was at a large, open-air fruit stand, at the cherry bin, picking my cherries in a Virgo rising way, discriminating between them one by one, when I became aware of a grandmother with her granddaughter. The old woman had wild white hair that had perhaps been combed with a broom. She wore a dress with giant flowers across her ample hips and belly. She had taken her granddaughter's hand in her own and was saying, "This way. Grab a bunch, but loosely, then shake your hand back and forth - you see, only the ripe ones stay in your hand." I tried it. It worked. Only the most luscious, ripest cherries remained. Not only did I want to follow this pair all over the fruit stand to learn more, but tears welled in my eyes.

I've often wished I had a Crone to teach me about the phases of the Moon. I've found a few facts in books, but it's taken years for my senses to catch up with their sentences. I'll share some of what I've read, though it may seem trivial, like that Zen saying, "Chop wood, carry water." According to the old Zen parable, this is what we do before enlightenment. And it's what we do after. In other words: enlightenment is no big deal. The Moon might likewise wink down at us.

At the waning Moon: Chop wood. Literally. Logs that won't burn are filled with sap - and have been cut at the wrong Moontime. When the Moon wanes, life force goes underground, into the roots, into the earth. Sap descends. The wood in trees is drier then, good for burning. Fruits are less juicy, not as tasty to eat, but good for canning (they won't spoil as quickly). Your body is also dry, retaining less fluid. It's a good time for detoxing. So: Carry water. And drink it!

towerAccording to gardening wisdom, during the waning Moon the earth withdraws, taking energy into herself, away from above ground things. After the New Moon she'll begin her long exhale, sending energy outward, to strengthen all growing things. But now she goes inward, balancing out-breath with in-breath. To follow her rhythm, we should bring our projects to completion after the Full Moon and avoid starting new ones until the next cycle begins.

I've already said we should rest on the Dark Moon. But generally we don't. Which is why an astrologer friend has dubbed this the "whining" Moon. When isn't there a project that calls to us? What are we supposed to do with ourselves when it's not the time to build and grow? How do we cease our restless striving?

We could start by recognizing there are some things we don't want to grow. Mow your lawn on a Balsamic Moon and it won't grow back so fast. The same applies to weeds and fingernails. If you want your haircut to last, schedule your appointments at the waning Moon; your hair will grow back more slowly. Also trim your trees and bushes. Because their sap is low, the plants will lose less energy. Surgeries will be less traumatic too, less blood loss; healing will accelerate once the New Moon arrives.

I think the waning Moon chose the morning sky for good reason. From there she can watch over how we start our day - when we most need the encouragement to mind what's going on. Chop wood, she says, carry water. Clean out a junk drawer, a corner of your garage. Find yourself in the quiet details. Go inward. And take care.


  1. Researchers Barbara Knowlton, Jennifer Mangels, and Larry Squire, discussed in A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), p. 107-108.
  2. Quoted from Gail Sher, The Intuitive Writer, (New York: Penguin Compass, 2002), p. 64.

TWELVE MOONS WORKSHOP

12 Moons Workshop As earth's closest celestial ally, the moon has a powerful influence on daily life, but few are tuned in. If you want to increase your sensitivity to the lunar rhythm, this is the workshop for you. Every month before the New Moon, you'll receive a 26-page workbook, personalized to your birth chart and current location. You'll learn about the astrology particulars — the new moon and solar ingress, how these influence your chart, along with moon phases, moon voids, moon signs and house transits. Throughout the cycle, you'll be guided into an ever more intimate appreciation for the moon's workings in your life
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19-Apr-2014, 09:31 UT/GMT
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