An exchange student’s eye-opening experience at a Full Moon Ceremony

Learning from a Four Directions’ cultural event

Hinano attended her first Full Moon Ceremony this week.
Credit: 
Supplied by Four Directions and Hinano Kobayashi

How often do you look at the moon? 

In my home country of Japan, this question would qualify as standard small talk—just like asking about the weather. But since I arrived in Kingston as an exchange student, I’ve noticed people don’t talk about the moon nearly as much they do the weather.

When I found out about the Full Moon Ceremony held by the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre on campus, I was interested in finding out how and why some Indigenous peoples feel a connection with the moon, like people from Japan do. 

Four Directions strives to be a home away from home for Indigenous students at Queen’s, providing community and serving as a key resource to learn about Indigenous culture and tradition. 

I hurried to Four Directions to experience the Full Moon ceremony, but with never-ending midterm assignments, I didn’t sufficiently research the ceremony beforehand. The only thing I knew was it’s practiced around the time of the full moon. 

Once there, I learned that the Full Moon Ceremony is a ritual to honour Grandmother Moon and women. It’s open to anyone identifying as a woman, in addition to non-binary and/or gender non-conforming people.

“Our grandmother regulates the tides and the water, [and] determines when babies are conceived and born,” explained Vanessa McCourt, Indigenous Adviser at Four Directions. 

“The ceremony is about unburdening and letting go of the past month’s struggles, stresses, [and] hurt, to come into a safe circle with other women who I can be who I am with, who listen without judgement, and sometimes offer words of encouragement,” she said.

I stepped into a tipi filled with strangers and sat down on a bench in a circle surrounding a fire, which represented male energy. The hostess asked for volunteers to set grass in a bowl and set it alight, so I timidly raised my hand. 

The tipi was silent and filled with the warmth of the fire. As the smoke began to rise from the bowl, the hostess waved the smoke away with feathers and participants started to apply the contents of the smoking bowl to parts of their body: eyes, mouth, hair, back, and legs. The hostess later told me this practice is a form of “purification,”—for example, you could apply smoke to your mouth in hopes it’ll improve your speech skills.

The ingredients of the smoke are sage, sweetgrass, cedar, and tobacco—the four traditional medicines used in the ceremony. After the smoking bowl is passed around, everyone in the circle drank from the same bottle of water, which represents female energy and another form of purification.

The whole group sang songs, each carrying a unique story to highlight nature, strength, and beauty. In between the singing sessions, each participant shared stories from their lives with the other group members. Each participant holds a feather when they speak and nobody interrupts them when they have it. 

I was surprised to hear other people so openly sharing very personal stories—we’d all met an hour earlier.

I was surprised to hear other people so openly sharing very personal stories—we’d all met an hour earlier.

I was also impressed with how the ceremony offers a safe place for women to talk about their vulnerabilities. The environment was simultaneously very comfortable and strange—I felt very open to sharing personal troubles I’d usually keep to myself. 

Hearing other participants’ stories comforted me to know I’m not the only one suffering and dealing with personal issues. Participants were reflecting on grief and emotional feelings, such as losing loved ones, battles with addiction, and adapting to new environments. 

Through the ceremony, I learned the importance of talking about personal issues and stories, and that everyone should spend time reflecting on our wellbeing, whether under the moon or not. 

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