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City of Brass

The last full moon before Ramadan rises tonight. It puts me in mind of the song “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s Pocahontas – especially the refrain,

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

That reference to the Blue Corn Moon isn’t just a cool turn of phrase – it actually has meaning. Recall that the solar cycle is the time it takes for the earth to orbit the sun, and the lunar cycle the time it take for the moon to orbit the earth. We have 12 months in a year, but those months are calculated by the solar cycle and do not correspond exactly to the lunar one. Thus there are actually 12.37 full moons a year, and this is why the lunar calendar year is shorter than the solar year. The Islamic Hijri calendar for example is ~11 days shorter than the western Gregorian calendar, which is why Ramadan creeps ahead every year by two weeks (and for the next decade will be entering the long days of summer – something every muslim in the northern hemisphere is keenly aware of, since that means longer and longer fasts!)

The term “blue moon” thus refers to the fact that some years, there is an “extra” full moon in a given month due to the unequal length of the solar and lunar cycles – if a given season has four moons instead of the usual three, the blue moon is the third of four.

As far as “corn moon”, all months have names for their full moons, in both Native American tradition as well as English farming and Hindu religious traditions. In general, these names reflect an awareness of the season and farming crop cycle, or mythological entities. A given month may have many such names – Corn Moon being just one of the many names for full moons in May, along with Milk Moon, Flower Moon, and Hare’s Moon. This month of August is named Sturgeon Moon and Grain Moon, among others. These names demonstrate the close relationship of the people with the land and the agricultural cycle.

I find this whole topic fascinating because as I alluded above muslims have their own special interest in the moon. The start of Ramadan is a source of orthopraxic controversy between muslim groups as some rely on moonsighting and others use the hijri calendar and astronomical calculation to determine the start and end of Ramadan (and thus, the number of fasts and when to celebrate Eid). Ramadan is only a couple of weeks away so the moon is literally on our minds.

Whatever the method used to ascertain its beginning, I know that Ramadan this year will be illuminated by the Harvest Moon, also known as the Hunter’s Moon. Fitting names, I think – reaping a harvest of blessings is the entire reason we are blessed with the gift of Ramadan in the first place. And like the hunter, Ramadan is a time to hunt our own vices and ensnare them in a trap of piety. This yearly culling sustains us spiritually and keeps the population of our own sins from growing too large. It’s time to get ready.

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