W is for waxing and waning

Waxing and waning are terms that mean “growing” and “shrinking” respectively. Neither is limited to an astronomical context (“As he waxed eloquent on his own magnificence, her interest in him waned.”), but they often refer to the monthly changes in the apparent size of the Moon as it moves from new to full (waxing) and back again (waning).

montage of the waxing and waning moon

Planning activities to coincide with the waxing or waning Moon is an easy form of magical timing. Many everyday calendars show the phases of the Moon, so you don’t need buy a special book or bookmark an obscure website. The idea is, start activities related to growth and increase during the two weeks of the waxing Moon. If on the other hand you’re trying to reduce or diminish something, then time it for the two weeks that the Moon is waning.

Lunar gardening makes extensive use of the waxing and waning Moon, although it gets a little more complicated than just growing and reducing. For one thing, stuff that goes on above the ground is related to the waxing Moon, while that which happens in the ground is related to the waning Moon. You can refine the system even more by paying attention to which sign of the zodiac that the Moon is in, since some signs are considered fruitful and others barren. 

Sample activities for a waxing Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow faster. Similarly, you’d mow your lawn now if you wanted it to grow faster, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say they wanted that to happen. Maybe if you’d just seeded your lawn, but then you wouldn’t have anything to mow yet.
  • Sell things for the best chance at a good price. While selling something means you’re getting rid of it (waning Moon), you’re focusing on what you can get for it, which relates to the waxing Moon. Centuries ago, the astrologer Dorotheus of Siddon concluded that the second quarter is better than the first for getting a good price, so this is when I haul books to the used book store.
  • Plant annuals. Usually we’re interested in their flowers, fruit, and/or leaves, which counts as above-the-ground.
  • Harvest herbs for their flowers and/or leaves.

Sample activities for a waning Moon:

  • Cut your hair if you wish it to grow slower. Ditto for mowing the lawn, only I bet this will be a much more popular time.
  • Declutter a closet, clean out the garage, etc.
  • Plant biennials, perennials, bulbs, trees, and root vegetables. The waning Moon favors the roots, and you want good root structure to support these plants for years—or to make great potatoes and carrots for this year.
  • Harvest herbs for their roots.
  • Weed the garden.
  • Prune trees and shrubs.

But does it work? I…don’t know. I choose to act as if it does. I prefer the idea of a cosmos in which energy moves in accordance with planets, where waxing and waning moons have observably different effects. It’s a major part of the “magical lifestyle” I want. At a practical level, it gives me deadlines to work to: clean out the refrigerator before the Moon begins to wax again, remember to sell these books before the Moon becomes full or be stuck with them for another month. And if that gets me to do something that needs to be done, a lot of the time, that’s enough.

Of Jupiter, Saturn, and philodendrons

Gardening is not my greatest skill. Be it a vegetable garden or a windowsill of houseplants, once I get the plants going, I tend to slack off on their maintenance. Especially watering. Really, if the shamrock plant could jump up on my bed and poke me until I watered it, the way my cat used to insist on being fed, all my plants would be happier for it. And someone who barely remembers to water her plants is unlikely to remember to prune them. Indeed, it’s difficult for me to get past the notion that pruning a plant will harm it. Never mind that millions of Americans mow their lawns several times a year without killing them off, it feels counter-intuitive that snipping off branches and fresh new growth helps a plant in the long run.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a moderate collection of houseplants that have managed to survive my maintenance style. Among them is a philodendron. It has been one of my more successful home gardening efforts, sending out tendrils and unfurling new leaves with exuberance, and bouncing back remarkably well when I’ve watered it after a period of forgetting. I certainly haven’t pruned it.

* * *

In astrology, Jupiter and Saturn are symbolic opposites. Among other things, Jupiter represents growth and expansion. This is the planet associated with good fortune and boundless possibilities.  Jupiter brings with it the faith that it will all work out somehow, although this is the optimism that comes from never having had to grapple with a real problem. In the days of yore, astrologers dubbed Jupiter the Greater Benefic, and it’s difficult to see Jupiter as anything else than a good influence. Which of course, it isn’t always. Just ask anyone with a malignant tumor, a problem with obesity, or who is living on a planet suffering from ecological exploitation what the downside to unrestricted growth might be.

Saturn, the Greater Malefic, represents all those limitations and restrictions that Jupiter doesn’t comprehend. Duties, responsibilities, rules, delays, the passage of time, eating your vegetables before you get dessert, paying your dues, recognizing your limits—all of these are Saturn’s domain. Sure, nowadays we tell ourselves that these things are good for us, that they build character, but mostly we just put up with them.

* * *

Leaving the philodendron to grow as it would seemed reasonable at the time. Heck, I was thrilled that it was growing, period. Leafy vines covered the plant stand, helping disguise the fact that all of my plants look a bit tired (living with me isn’t easy). But today, I saw the philodendron without my rose-colored glasses and realized that it wasn’t healthy. It had reached the stage where there were more vines and leaves than the roots could support, both in terms of nutrition and in holding the structure of the plant itself together. Those cascading vines had more dead leaves on them than living and many were largely bare. Dried leaves were scattered around the plant, which had a stretched look to it as the vines were pulled straight under their own weight.

So I’ve had to prune the plant to give it a chance to thrive. Maybe two-thirds of the vines had to be removed (the image of the god Saturn with his scythe comes to mind). I struggled to untangle vines to find a safe spot to clip them and discovered that the philodendron had started climbing up itself, strangling itself in the process. It’s entirely possible that in waiting this long, I may have had to cut off too much for it to survive. We shall see.