We can learn a great deal from observing nature, and from ancient traditions. Being aware of the 13 moon cycles can teach us about food, health, culture, ancient wisdom, and intuitive eating.
A world where diet culture did not exist, body image hang ups were a non-issue, and people ate and lived in a calm, intuitive way that perfectly nourished their bodies, enriched their spirits, and preserved the environment...
Where every silvery full moon, we were reminded to celebrate the fullness of our lives and everything have that we are grateful for - including our amazing bodies...
Where the annual Blood Moon that falls in mid-autumn was a well-known sign that our bodies may be craving - and could benefit from eating - more fermented foods, root vegetables, and heavier meals. A time when we honour the chill in the air by practising warming rituals. When we notice anything that isn't working in our lives, and clean out the closets of our psyches...
This world did exist, once.
Nature's cycles - both our internal cycles and those of the natural world outside us - are constantly giving us guidance on how we can best live and care for ourselves and others. These gentle inner and outer directives have the power to answer most if not all questions we have about nutrition, exercise, and optimising our health, if we listen carefully.
In our technological world we are largely cut off from these cycles because we are no longer at the mercy of them. We have electricity, air conditioning, and refrigeration, and those are wonderful things.
But for our convenience, comfort, and stability, we have sacrificed a huge body of ancient wisdom.
There are many cyclical patterns in nature and each has its place in helping us live full, rich, and healthy lives. The continual shifting of the four seasons is a well-known natural pattern, as is the alternation of day and night.
But there's more. Did you know that in many traditional cultures, each moon cycle was highly revered and honoured? There are 12 to 13 lunar cycles per year, and in ancient times each moon had its own food rituals, health practices, and deeper lessons of the psyche.
Unbeknownst to many, these lunar cycles can teach us about food, connection and culture. They have the power to help us not only be healthier, but also to understand and heal our relationship to food and our bodies.
First... a Book update!
For some time, a keen awareness of my own menstrual cycle has helped me to understand why I am intuitively drawn towards certain foods at different times of the month. Unsurprisingly, these are the same foods that best support my health at any given time.
This understanding no doubt helped me heal my own previously troubled relationship with food and my body.
Those carb and sugar cravings so many women experience in the pre-menstrual week are a sign your body is doing exactly what it is meant to do. They are not a reason to freak out that you want sugar, restrict then binge on cake, then feel guilty and awful about it, which just compounds the normal emotional volatility of that time. But more about that - and the 13 moon cycles and the wisdom they hold for intuitive eating - will be in my book.
Seasons, sabbats and lunar cycles
What I'm learning is blowing my mind. It goes beyond how the different phases of a woman's menstrual cycle explain many of her food cravings, and give clues about her nutritional and emotional requirements.
I'm learning more about how each season, each sabbat, and each lunar cycle of the year brings with it a unique energy, and corresponding insight into the foods, methods of cooking, and other forms of sustenance we might naturally be drawn towards at certain times.
This knowledge could help us understand, accept and make peace with the fact that during winter we may crave more bread, and perhaps a slow-cooked lamb stew with meat falling off the bone...
...But the saturated fat! The salt! The CARBS! The time required to make it! The modern, busy, health-conscious person may say.
Or why during the "Milk Moon" of early summer we start craving sweet, juicy, seasonal fruits...
...but the sugar! The fructose! But paleo says NO!
Beyond "just eat seasonal produce"...
Fewer people know about the sabbats. There are eight sabbats or festivals making up the Wheel of the Year, a pagan metaphor and calendar for the cycle of the seasons. Each sabbat is spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year.
For instance, we recently experienced the sabbat of Mabon, which falls at the Autumn Equinox (21st-22nd March).
As described in my last newsletter, this is a time when nights and days are of equal length, but light is decreasing - the earth is turning towards darkness, and winter is on its way. It is a time of balance, a time of looking inward, and of preparing - physically, emotionally, and spiritually - for winter.
So here's another juicy layer! The cycle from one new moon to the next is called a lunation.
A lunation is the period of time it takes for the moon to orbit the Earth, approximately 29.5 days. Humans have been keeping track of them for tens of thousands of years, and before the industrial revolution and the advent of electricity there is evidence that women's hormones responded to even the subtle cyclical changes in the light of the moon.
Ancient and traditional cultures often developed evocative names for the different lunations according to the seasons and natural phenomena that took place during that lunar cycle. The moons also refer to food times, times of the year when certain foods assume prominence.
Here's some examples of a few different cultures' moon names as they relate to the seasons, prominent foods, and culture:
- Harvest Moon (cusp of Summer & Autumn, Celtic and North American)
- Moon When Salmon Return to Earth (early Autumn, Native American Indian)
- Blood Moon (mid Autumn, North America)
- Mead Moon (high Summer, 16th century England)
- Moon When Rice Sprouts (around May, Japan)
There are between 12 and 13 lunar cycles in a year, and depending on where you are in the world, each has its own seasonal produce, and corresponding food traditions from both "the grandma years" (how our ancestors ate and lived 100 or so years ago) and indigenous people.
I believe there's a lot we can learn from observing the natural world around us, and learning from ancient traditions. The thing is, many of these old moon names are hard to find, and apply only to the Northern Hemisphere. Getting information on Southern Hemisphere lunations is harder still!
Diet culture vs. timeless wisdom
It's pretty clear that our vital connection with food and the environment has been largely lost in the furore of our "everything all the time" post-industrial culture. We can see the effect this has had not just on our health and what we eat, but also on our relationships with food and our bodies - which in turn determine how we eat.
We eat, NOT according to our body's natural cues of hunger and fullness and our cravings (many of which are influenced by season and bodily cycles)...
We eat according to what sounds correct, what purports to give the best results, what the celebrity chefs, starlets, or book-selling scientists SAY we should eat.
In a world where all types of food are available all the time (and in such abundance that food waste amounts to billions of dollars a year in Australia alone), is it any wonder that intuitive eating - eating according to the bodies' natural cues and cravings - is difficult for so many people?
It is especially difficult for women, who are naturally intuitive yet have been so repressed by 5000 years of patriarchy that we no longer trust our womanly sensitivities - food cravings included.
Furthermore, in a culture that values a thin or lean body type over all others, how can we comfortably embrace the natural waxing and waning of body shape that our great-grandparents and traditional people experienced throughout the seasons of the year, as food availability also waxed and waned?
I believe that understanding some of this timeless wisdom can help many of us get a better idea of why we are drawn to certain foods at certain times of the month, or year, or life stage.
I believe that knowing about natural cycles reminds us that our bodies too are cyclical - they are not machines that can happily adhere to a 1200 or 1500 or 1800 calorie diet all day, every day.
That there is no perfect macronutrient ratio, dietary fad, or superfood that serves us all year round... or even all day.
This knowledge can help us to practice compassion and appreciation for our magnificent bodies. It can help us to heal our relationship with food and our bodies, and offer some much needed but gentle guidance in our modern world of fad diets, poor health, disordered eating, and body dissatisfaction.
Rather than give us harsh directives about what to eat and what not to eat, a working knowledge of the lunar cycles can offer support in helping us come to terms with our own cyclicity, as well as give us clues as to what foods and methods of cooking might be yummiest and most satisfying at a particular time of year.
Because of course, eating what's yummiest and most satiating is a huge part of developing an ability to eat intuitively, trusting your body, and relying less and less on external rules, diets, and celebrity trends.
I've begun researching these lunar cycles in the southern hemisphere, and will continue to do so for the next year. We start with the Moon When Barramundi Enter Shallow Waters. I look forward to researching these 13 moon cycles, and sharing what they can teach us about food, health, culture and intuitive eating!