The Last Quarter Moon by Dana Gerhardt
The Quarter Moons remind me of how clumsy I was as a girl. I skinned my knees at roller skating. I had a hard time keeping my balance while learning to ride a bike. I could fall just by walking on a sidewalk, when for no reason at all, my ankles would suddenly give way. My body, it seemed, often misread the situation, moving out of rhythm with the surrounding world. Even now, at the Quarter Moons, when situations are inherently wobbly, I am often that girl again, misreading the moment, gawky and out of step with the surrounding whirl.
Quarters neither buoy us with the fresh-start feel of a New Moon, nor do they dazzle us with Full-Moon-style illuminations. At the First and Last Quarter Moons, we’re at a half-way point in the waxing and waning hemi-cycles. The Moon is half-lit, which means the Sun and Moon are at right angles, in the astrological relationship known as a “square”. This is no resting place. Squares mean change – or you’ll fall out of rhythm with a turning world.
You can see why I might feel wobbly. Like most people, I like the idea of gowth. But my nerve falters at the reality of change. And that’s what the Quarter Moons have taken as their territory. They shift tempo on us, marking the moment for more challenging steps. Stumbling at the new beat, we can find ourselves suddenly down on the path, our psychic knees skinned.
I do my fair share of this. Over the past year, I’ve gone from an urban corporate world to a self-employed country life. I moved from my California dream home into my partner’s Oregon house, the one with questionable feng shui, the one he bought with his ex. Yes, it’s surrounded by pear orchards, has gorgeous views, and my dog can now chase cows, but it’s different. Shopping, cooking, cleaning and sleeping with a man is different. And having three sudden children to step-parent, along with my son, is definitely alien. Everywhere I turn, there’s new ground; especially at the Quarters, the ground is shaking. Dane Rudhyar calls Quarter Moons “crisis” times.
“Moon phases help us decide our wise next steps. Whatever occurs at the Quarter Moons, we’re invited to see it as two forces in conflict. Something wants to move; something else resists. This tension seeks its release in change, involving struggle, or assertive and decisive action.”
When I first began Moon watching, it seemed more logical to look for lunar influence in the outer world instead of the inner. I made a study of it. During the cycles I observed, Last Quarter Moons fell on weekends. On the following Mondays there were reports of near-record weekend murder tolls in my county, close to the numbers reached during the LA riots.
I found similarly disturbing events at First Quarter Moons – violent fights, high-speed chases, bomb threats, crashing cars, trains or planes. I wasn’t surprised by what I observed. I expected to see traumatic events when the Sun and Moon were square. Squares bring conflict, tension and collision. And there it was, right on TV.
I lost my enthusiasm for correlating Moon phases with world and local events when I noticed the nightly news was happy to report murders, bomb threats and car chases at any and all Moon phases. I now consider my early research specious. I found what I was expecting to see. To prove that Quarter Moons bring a more volatile, dangerous world, one must don the neutral hat of a statistician, record a fixed set of traumatic events across all Moon phases, then observe whether they indeed spike at the Quarter Moons.
In the world of statistics, what doesn’t happen is just as significant as what does. Therefore, a well-designed study would also account for all the quiet citizens who refrain from violence at the Quarter Moons. If the Moon’s influence is really there, why doesn’t it inspire all of us to grab a hammer and start breaking windows?
I’m not a statistician by nature. And it seems that many of my fellow astrologers are in the same boat. A few scientific souls have attempted Moon phase correlations, but none of the results have proven conclusive.Until they are, we should move cautiously before pronouncing which events each Moon phase will bring.
So what do we make of Sun-Moon squares? Increasingly, I’ve found it more realistic, and valuable, to see the lunation cycle not as cause for events but as context for understanding them. Here astrology takes us into the invisible world, a place where most astrologers feel quite at home. We’re invited to understand process and motivation rather than calibrate outer results. We’re also free to apply this information to anyone who needs it, not just those who react in the expected ways. It offers a perspective that can make otherwise inscrutable or seemingly random twists of fate more meaningful. Moon phases help us decide our wise next steps.
Whatever occurs at the Quarter Moons, we’re invited to see it as two forces in conflict. Something wants to move; something else resists. This tension seeks its release in change, involving struggle, or assertive and decisive action. Forces in square don’t work together easily. One blocks or thwarts the other; the other must reorient its direction to get what it wants. Squares bring stress-and a potent thrust of energy that makes necessary changes possible.
What changes are favored is indicated by whether the square waxes or wanes. During the waxing square of the First Quarter we’re motivated to build, to achieve a new structure. We’re attuned to problems in the outer world, something that requires us to take new action. During the Last Quarter’s waning square, we’re prompted to find a new direction. The “something wrong” is generally inside, the change required a mental adjustment, some shift in our thinking, our intentions, or beliefs. Rudhyar called the waxing square a “crisis in action” and the waning square a “crisis in consciousness”.
If we don’t like the sound of the word “crisis,” we might be soothed by what astrologer Sylvia Carroll says about squares: “The square does not feel unpleasant unless the energy backs up on you. Tension here can feel exhilarating as long as it is flowing in action and not dammed up. It is only frustrating when you have no outlets to apply the tension.”
Finding proper outlets is particularly tricky with the Last Quarter phase. Case in point: an inner city shooting during one Last Quarter Moon was against a 19-year-old woman in a wheelchair. The reason? Her assailant was lost-an apt enough metaphor for a crisis in consciousness. He stopped her for directions, yet when she couldn’t help him, he shot her. We tend to drag the outer world into our inner quagmires all the time, particularly at the Last Quarter.
“Our perception needs cleansing at the Last Quarter. Our field is clogged with residue from our growth cycle. A less inward and thoughtful period, the waxing Moon drags in its wake immoderate desires, faulty judgements, misguided ambitions. Having been so attuned to the outer world, we may have behaved in ways that won us social approval, but took us away from our innermost selves. ‘Is that all there is?’ we may find ourselves asking. The underlying desire is to reconnect with our essence.”
My favorite image for the Last Quarter Moon is the “solo spinout”. You know, the lone car discovered upside-down or flipped on its side by the edge of the road with no evidence of collision. The crushed car bleeds with mystery. What happened, we wonder… What threw the driver onto his brakes, what wrenched the steering wheel out of his hands? There is a recognition, rising against our naive hope that the roads we drive will always be safe, straight and smooth: the soul drives an invisible road, that can, when you least expect it, suddenly diverge from the public one. And so it is with the Last Quarter, out of nowhere we can find ourselves unhappy, even desperate, turned upside-down, with no clear reason why.
Something inside wants to redirect us, to change our course at the Last Quarter Moon. That’s the tension. We can move willingly in the new direction or pull back. During a spinout, most people instinctively slam on the brakes and steer against the spin. But experts advise the opposite: Don’t brake. Turn into the spin. So it is with the momentum of the waning cycle. Things are changing. Go with it.
At the Last Quarter we’re closer to the coming New Moon than we are to the New Moon that launched the current cycle. Whatever it was we were trying to build in the waxing weeks, we’ve either already accomplished or gotten new information that can alter our future course. But the future isn’t here yet. This is a transitional time. There is something more to do before the new cycle arrives. Often the work is about letting go. Letting go of unhelpful people, places or things, misguided dreams, attitudes or behaviors-whatever it is that holds us back.
Few people like being advised to let go. As a counseling astrologer, this is the moment I feel as if I’m offering a spoonful of castor oil, “C’mon, this is good for you! It will make you feel lighter, less encumbered, more alert and awake! Release that thing and you’ll be stronger!” This isn’t undreamed-of news, but nobody likes it much. After all, we only hear it when we’re still holding on.
“Your spirit needs to follow the changes happening / in the spacious place it knows about,” writes Rumi. “There, the scene is always new, a clairvoyant river of picturing, more beautiful than any on earth.” We’re between worlds at the Last Quarter. There’s the earthy one that’s falling away-and the possible one that’s beckoning, brighter and more beautiful, if only we’d make room for it. When we don’t, cautions Rumi, the world grows full of people who display our problems, “As one thinks the room is spinning/ when he’s whirling around.” Thieves see only thieves, hopelessness finds more hopelessness, truth keeps evading liars.
Our perception needs cleansing at the Last Quarter. Our field is clogged with residue from our growth cycle. A less inward and thoughtful period, the waxing Moon drags in its wake immoderate desires, faulty judgements, misguided ambitions. Having been so attuned to the outer world, we may have behaved in ways that won us social approval, but took us away from our innermost selves. “Is that all there is?” we may find ourselves asking. The underlying desire is to reconnect with our essence. In burning away the unfortunate by-products of the waxing period, we create an earth-bound version of that spacious place our spirit knows. We gift ourselves with the required room to start over at the next New Moon.
We must “essentialize” in the Last Quarter, drawing closer to our core. This is, as Sylvia Carroll recommended, a positive outlet for the square’s stress. Cleaving to our spirit is a more exhilarating project than just letting go. Scrubbing away what doesn’t suit us feels good. This approach is particularly comforting during the long three-to-four years of a progressed Last Quarter period. We’re moving on. Of course this psychic renewal is also worth doing monthly at every Last Quarter phase, whatever longer progression we’re in.
“Last Quarter Moons are society’s pivot team, helping us see the dead cultural structures that need to be torn down, while pointing to the brave new worlds that lie just around the corner. They’re born revolutionaries, at odds with any empty authority. Last Quarters enter their progressed New Moon before the age of fifteen. And so, younger than those born in all phases but Balsamic, they see the world with perhaps fresher eyes, are inspired to abandon social norms, and know their own minds before many of their peers know theirs. They’re ahead of the curve.”
Doing this requires trust. And so the Moon patiently models for us how cycles work. She acquires light and form, then she relinquishes it. She builds, she lets go, and, renewed, she builds again. Cycles are fluid, ever-changing and natural – unlike the standard date-boxes on our calendars. When we follow the Moon, we eventually sense each cycle as an animal in the wild senses time, as circumstances that favor – or block – this or that activity. When we surrender to this flow, we may seem particularly content or even lucky to others, but all we’re doing is harmonizing with the nature of time. Whenever we find ourselves in a situation that has grown past benefit, we can apply the lessons of the Last Quarter Moon. Caught in an economy on the downturn, for example, we can nonetheless feel ready and purposeful, given what the Moon has taught us to do: We can simplify our lives to what matters. We can scrub off the excess. We can let our spirit go less encumbered to that beautiful picture ahead of us.
During one Last Quarter Moon, Linn called. She’d just had a terrible argument with her mother. With Pluto in her (maternal) 10th house and ruling her Ascendant, Linn has had many power struggles with her mom – over her appearance, over her sexual preference (Linn is gay), over what she’s doing with her life, over whether she loves her mother enough. Linn was sexually abused as a child and had recently revealed this. At first Linn’s mom was sympathetic, but during their recent argument, she did exactly what Linn had always feared: she blamed Linn, not the perpetrators, for the abuse.
Issues tend to erupt at the appropriate lunar phase. Even before looking for transits or progressions in a natal chart, considering the phase in the lunation cycle when a client calls can help plot our way through the event. Given this crisis came at the Last Quarter, was it time for Linn to be assertive, to press through the conflict and try to get her mother to understand her, like she’d been trying to do for years?
My advice, it turned out, was the same as her therapist’s. The Last Quarter is a time for letting go, for bringing your life in line with what you deeply know to be true. Linn needed to acknowledge that although she deserved better from her mother, she was probably never going to get it. It was time to release that fantasy and admit the truth of their relationship. It was painful, but doing so freed up psychic energy, made space for renewal and empowerment. The ghost of her mother’s disapproval had been haunting Linn for most of her life. This Last Quarter Moon brought a powerful opportunity to exorcise it.
Linn was born in the Last Quarter phase. Last Quarter Moons are society’s pivot team, helping us see the dead cultural structures that need to be torn down, while pointing to the brave new worlds that lie just around the corner. They’re born revolutionaries, at odds with any empty authority. Last Quarters enter their progressed New Moon before the age of fifteen. And so, younger than those born in all phases but Balsamic, they see the world with perhaps fresher eyes, are inspired to abandon social norms, and know their own minds before many of their peers know theirs. They’re ahead of the curve. Little wonder that alienation also runs strong in them.
Inflexibility is the blessing and curse of Last Quarter births. Rudhyar calls them “seeds” of the future order. “Seeds are very tough on the surface, and their main external attribute is unalterability. They are built on the principle of bare necessity and uncompromising self-perpetuating strength.” This steely determination is useful when you see a green future while the world is still painted brown, but it may not make you popular. As mythologist Joseph Campbell suggested, sometimes “‘What will they think of me?’ must be put aside for bliss.”
This is a tricky point. Whether we’re born at the Last Quarter, or find ourselves in this phase by progression or transit, it’s wise to submit our inflexibility to a healthy self-interrogation. Are we holding on to a compelling truth – or to a habit that no longer serves? Are we responding to a visionary call, firm as seeds, or merely resisting change?
“Cycles keep returning us to familiar ground, so we might be newly creative there. We’re given plenty chances to change. Particularly during life periods when we might make great leaps forward, it’s wise to mark the Quarter Moons. These are the turnstiles to changes we claim we want to make.”
You may have heard the story of the devout believer caught in a flood. She was convinced God would save her. She ignored the state trooper advising evacuation, waved away a rowboat and a helicopter, sure of God’s aid. She eventually died, and was more than a little peeved when she arrived in heaven. “Why didn’t you save me?” God replied, “I sent you a trooper, a rowboat and a helicopter!” It was a solo spinout. Her belief in God needed reorientation and expansion. Resisting that, she drove towards death instead of her next New Moon.
Cycles keep returning us to familiar ground, so we might be newly creative there. We’re given plenty chances to change. Particularly during life periods when we might make great leaps forward, it’s wise to mark the Quarter Moons. These are the turnstiles to changes we claim we want to make. I’ve watched the Quarters plenty in the past year, noting each time how the struggle between my resistance and future-leaning is going. It hasn’t been easy. But I’ve discovered some guiding principles that seem to help (though I suspect in the coming year I’ll have to find a few more). In the meantime, as one pilgrim to another, I’ll leave what I’ve found so far with you.
Quarter Moon changes are almost never what you think they’ll be. Forget whatever bright changes you planned to make. They’re likely a thinly disguised version of what you’ve already been doing. And if you thought the Moon wanted to change somebody else instead, discard that expectation too. Rather, when you’re facing something extremely uncomfortable, that’s not at all what the you-that-you-thought-you-knew would ever have done, then: Surprise! That’s the step you need to take.
Quarter Moon changes rarely arrive as dramatic events. They’re sly that way. They don’t show up with a marching band, blowing horns and beating drums. They slip soft as moonlight into our lives, changing the tempo through more subtle means. Look for their new rhythm in uncooperative or critical people, things not working out, things that make you feel lonely, angry or sad. It’s easy to miss these moments as personal change timers. That’s why most of us just feel itchy at the Quarters and wonder why the same problems keep happening to us again and again.
Quarter Moons bring two choices: act or refrain. It’s simple. You’ve either got to do something you’ve never done before or stop doing something you’ve always done. The general lunar rule is that you should take new action at the First Quarter and you should stop and rethink your moves at the Last Quarter. But since we’re discussing change, don’t get too comfortable with general rules.
Make friends with your resistance and fear. Maurice Sendak has a wonderful story about a boy with a monster in his bedroom closet. At night the boy drags his dresser in front of the closet door, gathers up his army men, his guns, his stuffed animals and his flashlights. Then he quakes in his vigil, night after night, until exhausted, he finally opens the closet door. The monster roars weakly, then whimpers. Trembling, he crawls into the boy’s bed; after that, everyone gets a good night’s sleep. Whenever we need to change, there are monsters of resistance and fear in our closets too. Say hello. Get to know them. Bring them into bed with you until they fall asleep. Their power to halt your growth will disappear. And your Quarter Moons will be gloriously productive.
CREDIT TO: Dana Gerhardt