My O-tsukimi altar
Tonight I celebrated the Full Moon Esbat (although there’s some confusion between me and my Pagan friends as to whether tonight or last night was the full moon). This also coincided with O-tsukimi, the Japanese “Moon Viewing” festival. This, plus the fact that this is the final “Supermoon,” made it a rather special Esbat.
I tried to set up my altar incorporating some O-tsukimi traditions, but with a twist. In Japan, you typically offer “O-tsukimi dango” to the moon. These are small, round, white dumplings that resemble the moon, and are stacked into a pyramid. It’s also common to offer pampass grass, which looks similar to rice plants, reminding us that this is the “Harvest Moon.”
As is often the case, I had to put a bit of a Western spin on my O-tsukimi offerings. Not having time to go to a specialist Japanese shop to buy the necessary flour to make O-tsukimi dango, I substituted it for a round, white cheese, as in the West cheese is often thought to resemble the moon. I also offered an egg, which is associated with the moon in East Asia (in China you can get “Moon cakes” which have an egg yolk in the middle). Instead of pampass grass, I simply collected different types of grasses from the local park.
I placed this all on a special O-tsukimi furoshiki (Japanese folding cloth), which a friend in Japan gave to me years ago. It’s the most beautiful and delicate furoshiki I own, incorporating micro-thin layers of gold dye. It depicts a scene of white rabbits pounding mochi rice cakes – very much a lunar image in Japan, as the Japanese believe that this is what you can see in the moon (whereas in the West we think we see “the man in the moon.”) It’s very interesting that both eggs and rabbits, both symbols of fertility, would be associated with the beginning of autumn in Japan, whereas in Britain they are associated with the beginning of spring (also note that both O-tsukimi and Ostara/Easter are determined by the lunar calendar)! I think it’s a very positive symbol for autumn, as it reminds us at the season when plants and animals are disappearing, life will return again.
I made these offerings and my prayers to the Shinto moon kami, Tsukiyomi no Mikoto, as well as Diana, Hecate and two male lunar deities, Khonsu and Aphroditus. Because I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism lately, and because O-tsukimi is considered a time for quiet meditation and artistic inspiration, I attempted to meditate before the full moon.
I kneeled on the ground gazing up at the moon, and slowly chanted the names of Tsukiyomi, Diana, Khonsu, Hecate and Aphroditus. Because the moon was so bright, as I gazed upon it, my surroundings seemed to fade away into darkness, leaving only the moon in my field of vision. And then I began to see shapes in the moon, and it seemed to glow with an aura, as if it was eclipsing the sun. My meditation was broken by a passing dog, which made me jump – a message from Diana perhaps! And earlier, a cat had approached and made me jump – perhaps a messenger from Hecate, who knows?
After this I was feeling pretty jumpy, but I had a “simple feast” (a piece of the cheese and some sweet wine) which helped to ground me. When I came in, my husband mentioned that I seemed very energised, and it’s true – before the ritual, I had felt tired and a bit lethargic, but afterwards I felt so much better. It was probably the most energising Esbat I’ve celebrated so far!