Within modern Neo-Paganism, particularly among Wicca (or Witchcraft ), time is measured by the movements of the Sun and Moon. In ancient European cultures, such a frame of reference would be common to the community, but in the modern world, the secularized Christian calendar has become dominant. The ancient calendar was anchored in the observation of the movement of the rising sun as it traveled north and south along the eastern horizon. The most northerly point coincided with the longest day of the year and the most southerly point with the shortest day. Halfway between, the day and night would be equal. These four days became known as the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes, and they, along with four additional days, half way between the solstices and equinoxes, provided an overall framework for community activity. In the modern world, no longer tied to an agricultural cycle, the points on the solar calendar have become the holidays that assist in defining the Wiccan faith.
While there are records of ancient European tribes marking the important points on the solar calendar, there are few records of their paying attention to the lunar cycles, at least as a point for gathering and the working of magic. The idea of meeting monthly at the new moon or bi-weekly at the new and full moons (the esbat), appears to be a practice introduced by Gerald B. Gardner, who created modern Wicca over a number of years after retiring to England in the 1930s. Previously, he had been a Mason in Southeast Asia and while there may have learned of the so-called "Moon Lodges," Masonic groups that met monthly according to the lunar calendar.
Modern Wicca is built around small intimate groups of ten to twenty people (covens) who gather in a culture that is either secular or follows another faith. While several covens may father for the solar festivals (sabbats ) to celebrate together, the real work of the coven is done in its esbats. Common to all Wiccans is the full moon esbats. It is at these meetings that one develops their psychic powers, learns to do magic, and focuses the spiritual life.
Most covens also meet at the new moon. New Moon rituals tend to be for personal growth, healing, and the initiation of new ventures. These tend to be the most intimate meetings of the coven and rarely are outsiders admitted. Full Moon rituals are for the working of magic, banishing of unwanted influences, and assistance for those in need. Central to the esbat is the ritual act of "drawing down the moon," magically raising a whirlwind of power and symbolically drawing it into the circle within which the coven meets, As the energy is released, each member feels an empowerment for their life.
Ravenwolf, Silver. To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1995.
Valiente, Doreen. The ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973.