A Guide to Understanding the Phases of the Moon

The phases of the moon have always held a sense of wonder and awe. In this article, we explore what they mean further and dive deep into all 12 phases.

The night sky, a canvas of celestial wonder, is a source of endless fascination. Among its marvels, the moon stands out with its ever-changing phases. The phases of the moon, ranging from the new moon to the full moon, have captivated human imagination for centuries. 

So, in this article, let’s explore the moon phases, their significance, and more. Why do we see phases of the moon? How many phases of the moon are there? Why do they happen?

What Are the Phases of the Moon?

The moon's phases represent its changing appearance as seen from Earth, a cycle that repeats approximately every 29.5 days. There are a total of 12 lunar moon phases, which we’ll look at in more detail below.

What Causes the Phases of the Moon?

The lunar phases of the moon are caused by the interplay of the moon's orbit around the Earth and the sunlight that illuminates it. As the moon orbits our planet, different portions of its surface are lit up by the sun's rays, creating the varying phases we see from Earth. 

This cycle begins with the New Moon when the moon is positioned between the earth and the sun, leaving the side facing us in darkness. As the moon moves in its orbit, a portion of the sunlit side becomes visible, leading to the Waxing Crescent. This gradual increase in visibility continues through the First Quarter and Waxing Gibbous phases until the Full Moon when the moon's face is entirely illuminated.

After reaching the Full Moon phase, the moon continues its orbit, causing the illuminated portion we see to decrease. This marks the beginning of the Waning Gibbous phase, followed by the Last Quarter and then the Waning Crescent. Ultimately, the moon returns to its position between the Earth and the sun, completing the cycle with the New Moon phase. This continuous dance between the moon, earth, and sun is a natural celestial rhythm governing the lunar phases that have fascinated humanity throughout history.

The 12 Different Phases of the Moon

So, what are the 12 phases of the moon? How do the phases of the moon work? Moon phase names and the phases of the moon in order are listed below, along with their corresponding explanations. 

But who named the moon phases? Surprisingly, these names and phases aren’t sourced by one singular person or group of people. Rather, they’ve been used by civilizations across the globe for thousands of years. So, let’s take a closer look.

  1. New Moon

The New Moon marks the beginning of the lunar cycle and is characterized by the moon being almost completely invisible from earth. During this phase, the moon is positioned between the earth and the sun, with the side illuminated by the sun facing away from us. As a result, the moon's dark side faces earth, making it blend into the night sky. 

new moon phase necklace

The New Moon is often considered a time for new beginnings and is frequently associated with planting seeds for future growth or a new chapter. Although not visible in the sky, the New Moon plays a crucial role in the rhythm of the lunar phases, setting the stage for the cycle that unfolds over the following weeks.

  1. Waxing Crescent

The Waxing Crescent phase of the moon follows the New Moon, signifying the beginning of the moon's visibility from earth. During this phase, a slim, crescent-shaped sliver of the moon is illuminated by the sun and becomes visible against the night sky. This crescent gradually grows in size over several days. 

The Waxing Crescent is often seen in the western sky after sunset, symbolizing a time of growth, intention, and renewal. It's a phase where the initial steps towards the full illumination of the Full Moon are visibly underway, reflecting a period of development and progression in the lunar cycle.

  1. First Quarter

In the First Quarter phase of the Moon, half of the moon's surface that faces earth is illuminated by the sun, presenting a clear half-moon shape in the sky. This phase occurs roughly a week after the New Moon. 

quater moon phase necklace

During the First Quarter, the right side of the moon (as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere) is visible, marking a distinct transition in the lunar cycle. This phase is often associated with decision-making and taking action, as it symbolizes a point of balance between the New Moon and the Full Moon. 

  1. Waxing Gibbous

During the Waxing Gibbous phase, the moon is more than half illuminated but not yet full. This phase occurs after the First Quarter and continues until it becomes a Full Moon. The term "gibbous" refers to the shape of the visible illuminated part, which is larger than a semicircle but not yet a complete circle. 

waxing gibbous moon phase

Each night, the lit portion of the moon increases slightly, creating a sense of anticipation and buildup toward the Full Moon. The Waxing Gibbous phase symbolizes refinement and adjustment, a time for fine-tuning and making necessary changes to plans or intentions set during the New Moon. 

  1. Full Moon

The Full Moon phase is a striking and well-known stage in the lunar cycle, characterized by the entire face of the moon being illuminated by the sun. This occurs when the earth is positioned directly between the sun and the moon, allowing sunlight to fully light up the moon's surface. 

full moon moon phase necklace

The Full Moon is often associated with culmination and realization. It's a time of heightened emotions, increased clarity, and, often, a sense of completion. The bright, round appearance of the Full Moon in the night sky has long been a source of inspiration, fascination, and wonder in various cultures and traditions, making it a prominent and celebrated phase in the lunar cycle.

  1. Waning Gibbous

The Waning Gibbous phase occurs just after the Full Moon, marking the beginning of the moon's transition from full illumination to its gradual decrease in visibility. In this phase, the moon remains more than half-lit but slowly loses its brightness each night. 

The term "waning" refers to the diminishing of the moon's illuminated portion, while "gibbous" indicates that more than half of the moon's face is still visible. This phase is often seen as a time for reflection, release, and letting go, allowing for the assimilation of the experiences and insights gained during the Full Moon. 

  1. Third Quarter

The Third Quarter phase, also known as the Last Quarter, is characterized by half of the moon's surface being illuminated—similar to the First Quarter, but with the opposite side lit. This phase marks the transition from the waning gibbous phase to the waning crescent. It occurs when the moon has completed three-quarters of its orbit around the Earth since the last New Moon. 

During the Third Quarter, the left side of the moon is illuminated in the Northern Hemisphere and the right side in the Southern Hemisphere. This phase symbolizes a time of release and letting go. It's an opportunity to reflect on what has been learned during the lunar cycle, make adjustments, and prepare for the renewal that comes with the next New Moon. 

  1. Waning Crescent

The Waning Crescent phase is often considered the final stage of the lunar cycle before transitioning back to the New Moon. However, the stages underneath the waning crescent can be broken down into the phases below, including the Balsamic Crescent, the Dark Moon, the Disseminating Balsamic Crescent, and the Growing Crescent. 

During this phase, only a small, crescent-shaped sliver of the moon is visible, which gradually diminishes in size each night. The Waning Crescent is the mirror opposite of the Waxing Crescent, with the illuminated part shrinking towards the New Moon. This phase symbolizes closure, reflection, and the completion of a cycle. It's a time for introspection, rest, and preparing for the new beginnings that the upcoming New Moon brings. 

  1. Balsamic Crescent

The Balsamic Crescent, often considered a part of the Waning Crescent phase, occurs in the final days of the lunar cycle, just before the New Moon. It's named after the 'balsamic' period, which signifies a time of healing, rest, and preparation. 

In this phase, the moon is only faintly visible as a thin crescent, and its light diminishes more each night. 

  1. Dark Moon

The Dark Moon phase, sometimes confused with the New Moon, occurs at the very end of the lunar cycle, just before the emergence of the next New Moon. During this phase, the moon is not visible from Earth as it aligns closely with the sun, leaving its illuminated side facing away from us. This results in the moon's night side facing Earth, blending into the night sky. 

Similar to the last few phases above, the Dark Moon is often associated with a period of deep introspection, rest, and the conclusion of old cycles. It's a time for inner reflection, letting go of past burdens, and preparing for the new beginnings of the New Moon. 

  1. Disseminating Balsamic Crescent

The Disseminating Balsamic Crescent is a lesser-known but significant phase towards the end of the lunar cycle. During this phase, the moon is characterized by its decreasing crescent shape. The term "disseminating" refers to the distribution or scattering of seeds, metaphorically suggesting it's a time for sharing knowledge and insights.

During the Disseminating Balsamic Crescent, the focus shifts to reflection, release, and the wrapping up of the current lunar cycle's experiences. It's a period for internal processing, understanding the lessons learned, and letting go of what no longer serves future growth. 

  1. Growing Crescent

The Growing Crescent is marked by the visible increase of the moon's illuminated part, forming a crescent shape that grows larger each night. The Growing Crescent represents the initial stages of the moon's journey towards full illumination. It symbolizes new beginnings, the setting of intentions, and the start of new projects or endeavors.

How Long Does It Take for the Moon to Go Through a Full Cycle?

It takes about 29.5 days for the Moon to go through a full cycle, which is why it’s often implicated as a monthly cycle.

How Do the Phases of the Moon Affect Us?

The cycle of moon phases impacts us and Earth in various ways. While many interpret great meaning of the phases of the moon, as mentioned above in each phase, the moon also plays a role in tides and agriculture, as well as holds significant cultural significance in parts of the world.

Tides are the most scientifically proven impact of the moon and its cycles. If it weren’t for the gravitational pull of the moon, we wouldn’t have tides. The highest tides take place during the New and Full Moon phases.

Some farmers believe that planting and harvesting at certain points during the lunar cycle has impacts on fertility and growth in the soil. Lastly, there have been various cultural and religious references all over the world when it comes to the moon and its cycles. For example, the Full Moon marked the Mid-Autumn Festival in Ancient China. Many Native Americans also cherished the New Moon, seeing it as a time for new beginnings.

What is the 13 Moon Cycle?

The 13 Moon Cycle refers to the lunar calendar year. With each cycle lasting 29.5 days, 13 cycles total 384 days, closely resembling our current 365-day year. This calendar, while perhaps less used today, has held great cultural and religious significance throughout many civilizations and times in the world.

The Link Between Moon Phases and Birth Constellations

birth constellation and moon phase jewlery layers

According to astrology, the phase of the moon and the constellations in the sky at the time of a person's birth can impact their personality and life events. Each moon phase, from the New Moon to the Full Moon, is thought to imbue different characteristics and energies. Similarly, the moon's position in one of the zodiac constellations during birth is believed to affect aspects of individual disposition and fate. While this concept holds significant cultural and spiritual value for many, it's important to note that these beliefs are not supported by scientific evidence. 

The Significance of Moon Phase Jewelry 

Various phases of the moon have differing meanings to different cultures and different people. However, if the moon’s phases speak to you in any way, you may want to commemorate important moments with moon phase jewelry

moon phase necklace

For some, wearing moon phase jewelry, whether that’s a necklace or bracelet, is a way to connect with the celestial body's perceived spiritual and astrological influences. It can remind you of a special date or event, such as a birthday or anniversary, that coincides with a particular moon phase. Others may find inspiration in the symbolism of the lunar cycle, such as renewal, growth, and the passage of time. Moon phase jewelry often serves as more than just an accessory; it can be a personal talisman or a meaningful gift that holds emotional or spiritual significance to the one who wears it.

Create Your Moon Phase Jewelry with The Night Sky

Now that we’ve gone through everything from the phases of the moon explained to what are the phases of the moon, you might feel inspired. 

Bring the moon phase that means the most to you wherever you go. Creating your own moon phase jewelry with The Night Sky!