Very early on in the religion project, I decided that the moon was a major part of my religious practice. One of the first notes I have in Evernote associated with this project is the results of a brainstorming session where I was seeking to list symbols that are meaningful to me personally. Second on the list was the moon:
A moon. Closely identified with Artemis, the Greek goddess associated with the moon and the hunt. In addition, the constant changes of the moon resonate with me because I am constantly changing and am impossible to understand if you're only looking at one of my "phases".
The moon provided a nice symbol for my beliefs for a couple of other reasons as well. The moon was an astronomical body. It was a tangibly real object and not some ephemeral concept. We can see it. We feel its effects on our tides. We've even sent scientists and robots up to its surface to study it. For a Dawkins-inspired atheist, the moon felt very safe as a devotional focus. In addition to the kinship I felt with the moon because its constant changes, the illumination of the moon had some symbolism that matched up well with ideas I found important. The moon doesn't generate it's own light but rather reflects light from another source, and in doing so, it serves as a light in times of darkness.
In addition, the timing of the moon's cycles felt very comfortable to me. I'm chaotic, and as a general rule, I distrust daily routine. Thinking about myself and my struggles with calendars, I decided that I could handle "formal" religious rites about twice per month. Weekly is a little too often for me, and a month is a little too long. In the end, I decided to split the difference and tie my rituals to the new moon and the full moon. At the time, I had no idea that many pagans also celebrate these two points in the lunar cycle.
In the end, I sketched out this rough idea for my religious rites:
Light a single candle on the morning of the full moon. Meditate on the strength of the moon at her peak. Draw on her strength and feel it filling you up and giving you strength. Imagine you can feel your connection with her as though it were a physical connection.
Light a single candle on the morning of the new moon. Meditate on the new moon as a time of renewal. Imagine the moon as delicate and desiring your attention and care. Imagine you can feel your connection with her as though it were a physical connection. Send her your strength and determination. Remember that dark times are only temporary.
In the months since, my lunar rituals have become a bit more involved, but the core purposes are still the same. I incorporate a lot more explicitly pagan traditions now: cleansing the space/myself, casting a circle, grounding/centering, and even calling the elements (which I associate with states of matter in our universe). I don't use any prepared text, either written down or memorized, but I think my words are pretty similar from ritual to ritual just by sheer force of habit.
Ritual days have become some of my favorite days. I start looking forward to them and mentally preparing for them days in advance. I sometimes even have trouble sleeping the night before just from the anticipation. Ultimately, I think that's a really great sign. My prior religious practices—from Bible study and church service up through Zen-style sitting meditation—always felt kind of forced, and there was always an element of making myself do something that felt foreign to me. But lighting candles and connecting with nature all by myself in my back garden? That doesn't feel at all like a burden, and it leaves me feeling renewed, happy, and ready to face my day.
In my next post, I'll actually sketch out a rough outline of my lunar rituals. Until then, I want to encourage you to set aside time for things that inspire you, even if it might seem silly or frivolous. If you belong to an already established religious tradition, make some time to connect with those religious traditions in whatever way feels appropriate. If you're like me at the start of the Religion Project, just set aside some alone time to do something that feels important to you. When you do the things that inspire you, it changes your perspective and the world around you for the better.