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December 28: Last Full Moon of 2012

Actually, the full moon event occurred this morning at 4:21 AM Texas time–that’s the moment “when the moon is exactly opposite the sun in the Earth’s sky.” But at 10:30 PM, it still looks pretty dang full. The patterns of light and dark on the moon’s face shift throughout the moon’s cycle. These darker areas used to be called seas, but they’re just spots that don’t reflect light as well as the lighter spots. Some cultures look at the moon and see a person’s face; some cultures see a rabbit. The rabbit sometimes is thought to be pounding a mortar and pestle, making medicine for the gods or rice cakes. Each culture has its own spin on how the rabbit got there. Wikipedia relays this tale:

In the Buddhist [folklore], a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon…believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward.

When an old man begged for food, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees and the otter collected fish, while the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. The rabbit, who knew only how to gather grass, instead offered its own body, throwing itself into a fire the man had built. The rabbit, however, was not burnt. The old man revealed himself to be Śakra and, touched by the rabbit’s virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the moon for all to see. It is said the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire.

Wallace Stevens has his own idea of the rabbit’s relationship to the moon:

A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts
The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

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