The Return of the Light: Full Moon in Cancer 2015

A close up of Amanita Muscaria
mushrooms in South Cambie, Vancouver,
BC, Canada; photo by peardg.
Full Moon @ 3 Cancer 20'
Dec 25, 2015
6:11 AM Eastern
3:11 AM Pacific

This month, the Full Moon comes to a culmination in the tropical sign of Cancer on Christmas Day. While the winter solstice is a time to honor the return of the Sun’s light after reaching its lowest declination in the sky, traditionally (in the extreme northern hemisphere), Christmas Day was the official day that the light of the Sun would literally return after three days of darkness. There is convincing evidence that our western Christmas celebrations originated in northern Siberia, where shamans would gather sacraments (psychedelic mushrooms known as Amanita Muscaria; they’re red capped with white spots) on winter solstice, hang them up to dry on pine trees (where the mushrooms grew in symbiosis beneath), and then distribute them to local villagers on Christmas Eve (via climbing down the chimney of their homes because the front door would be blocked by snowpacks).

The villagers would sometimes hang the mushrooms in stockings above the fireplace to dry (the drying diluted the more toxic constituents within the fungus). Thus, the earliest Christmas celebrations were honored as a time of deep introspection, healing, and mystical vision. The ego death experienced via the sacramental ingestion of the mushrooms mimicked the death and rebirth of the Sun. This was the way that our ancestors perceived reality; they understood the symbiosis of all life and the synchronicity between the inner psyche and the outer world. Much of that understanding has been lost today, but it is slowly reemerging in what Terrance McKenna called the “Archaic Revival”. It’s not hard to see the extreme disparity between those ancient Christmas celebrations and what the modern, western world celebrates today.

The Resurrection of Santa Claus; oil painting
by Jimmy b, 2004.

The excess focus on materialism and the stress of getting everything done for the holidays (the dark side of Capricorn) seem to intrude upon the opportunity that this time of the year affords for contemplation, soul searching, and mystical experience. As much as we can’t entirely escape the traps of modern culture, we can preserve these ancient understandings by honoring our need for solitude and mystical vision in our own personal way. However you can cultivate that for yourself, I encourage you to do so. But with that aside, the sign of Cancer is perceived as a rather nostalgic and tradition loving sign. The bulk of the population will respond to this lunation with an increased interest in the traditional Christmas accouterments so beloved by the modern, western world.

Yet, much of that hinges upon an illusion. To be a little cynical for a moment, for example, the vast majority (more than 60 percent) of Christmas decorations purchased around the world are made in China, where workers practically slave away for very little (making in a month what I practically make in a single day)—completely detached from any sense of magic or meaning that we project onto the holidays. For them, they’re merely trying to make ends meet and barely doing so. The Christmas celebrations, at least here in the United States, feed into our economy of hate and exclusion that supports greed, selfishness and the exploitation of those desperate and less privileged than others. That truth really kind of makes me sick, and yet there isn’t much I can do about it myself, beyond my non-participation in hoarding wealth and living simply and humbly. I still buy gifts for those I care for, and I do enjoy it, but I try my best not to get so wrapped up (pun intended) in the mania of the holidays that many fall prey to (Black Friday, etc.).

This Full Moon is unique in the sense that a Full Moon on Christmas Day is a rare occasion indeed. The last Christmas Full Moon was in 1977 and the next will be in 2034—far rarer than any “Blue Moon”. So, what is its significance? Depending on your awareness and level of consciousness, each astrological event differs for each person. As I said, Cancer can be a rather nostalgic sign. It seeks security, protection, safety, comfort, nourishment, nurturance, and healing. All these impulses will be amplified during this Full Moon. A Full Moon always brings things to a head and culmination. 

Something is emerging from the unconscious to conscious awareness. At the root of Cancer, is the longing in our heart to belong and to cultivate intimacy in our lives—not necessarily sexual, but communal--the experience of truly connecting, bonding and sharing ourselves authentically with other human beings who see us as we actually are. Such an experience requires trust and deep commitment.  One question might be whether or not you have such experiences in your life. Many of us go through the usual routine with our families around the holidays. Some of us may enjoy it, yet others may feel alienated from their blood-related relatives. I often have mixed feelings.

As I’ve discussed before in other articles, we are biologically wired to be nomadic creatures. I don’t think that throughout the bulk of our evolution that we ever really stayed tied to a nuclear family, or the same people our entire lives. Our ancestors were likely rather promiscuous vagabonds. But our ancestors still craved Cancerian experiences while communing over a fire, sharing a recently butchered carcass, gathering berries in the forest, or breastfeeding babies. Our archaic sense of family extended beyond our blood relatives in those days to the whole community that we were a part of. And since our ancestors were likely devoid of any concept of paternity, we were likely unaware of anyone beyond our biological mother.

One thing I’ve noticed, at least here in the United States, is that many people have lost their trust in other human beings. The media obsesses over reasons to be afraid, reasons to no longer trust others. Within the majority of the western world, we live highly compartmentalized lives—segregated and disconnected from any sense of true community, intimacy, authenticity, or trust. Such a society breeds paranoia, distrust, competitiveness, narcissism, and alienation. We seem to financially reward and idolize sociopathic/antisocial behavior while seeming to simultaneously uphold the merits of having a conscience: charity, compassion, and empathy. It’s quite a paradox and contradiction, isn’t it? I suppose such is life. But what can we do about it? What can we change within ourselves and within our own lives to shift our world from an increasing sense of isolation to experiences of trust and connectivity?

The head of a marble Roman statue
depicting a Vestal Virgin, a priestess of the Goddess Vesta;
circa 100-120 AD; British Museum of Art; photo
by Carole Raddato.

It starts with you and the choices that you make in your own life. It starts with each of us choosing to find our true communities, our true families. While this lunation doesn’t symbolize anything too revolutionary, it does present some tension that could catalyze change. The asteroid Vesta makes a square to this Full Moon (a 90 degree angle) from the sign of Aries. The glyph of Vesta symbolizes a fire, a hearth—such as the ancient fire that burned in the yurts of Siberian villagers as they dried their sacraments just after winter solstice. Vesta is symbolic of the devotion required to stoke the flames of creative and sexual passion. Its contact with this Full Moon hangs in the balance between both the paradoxical and potentially complimentary qualities of Cancer and Capricorn: the solitude required to achieve anything great and manifest it in the world and the longing to bond, connect and share ourselves authentically with those we truly love and care for.

First, you may feel that polarity within yourself—a longing to connect and a longing to retreat into your own soul. An opposition suggests that you find a way to feed both ends of that spectrum. And yet Vesta in Aries brings in an impulse toward independence and freedom from what blocks you from your authenticity. Vesta may bring to your attention just what it is you are devoted to and whether it truly feeds your heart and soul. A square symbolizes the ripening of karma, the call to action. It places a certain kind of pressure upon you that may feel unbearable. While the past is comforting because it’s predictable and known, it is perhaps equally suffocating and stagnating, too. What to do? The Sun in Capricorn invites you to seek solitude and to reflect. The Full Moon invites you to share yourself, whether or not you feel received, seen or understood. From there, you will come to realize just what you should truly be devoted to—where you need to place your time and energy. This Christmas/Holiday Full Moon offers you an opportunity to redefine your sense of devotion, commitment, and passion for yourself.

What are you passionate about? How are you living a creative, passionate and heart-centered life? This Full Moon may bring these questions to your attention. Remember, that the dark side of Capricorn is coldness, apathy, and a desire to control or dominate as a compensation for a lack of true authentic connection to one’s soul’s purpose or destiny. The dark side of Cancer is an inability to care for oneself by placing too much significance on the caretaking of those who would be better off with tough love. To truly love others, you must first learn to cultivate self-love—a devotion and commitment to what feeds you. That love will then extend throughout the community and the universe will bring just what you need. So, to be devoted to anything or anyone requires first, a devotion to your own wholeness, health, and happiness. Take some time to contemplate that.