Sky gazing may not be as entertaining as tomorrow’s Game of Thrones finale, but the heavens do offer spectacles now and then. Tonight (May 18) is one of those occasions in North America. A rare blue flower moon will bloom in the skies, shedding its bright light on all who look upward—and it’s free, no HBO subscription necessary.
Blue flower moons are a rarity, but don’t be deceived by the name. La luna will not take on a flower shape, and it won’t be blue necessarily. Still, it will be full, and this full moon is called “blue” because it’s uncommon (hence the expression “once in a blue moon”). Today, people use “blue moon” to refer to the second full moon in a single month. Traditionally, however, a blue moon was the name for the third full moon in a season (in this case spring) that has four full moons, NASA explains, and tonight’s lunar display is just such a moon.
In May, the full moon is now widely known as “the flower moon.” The Maine Farmer’s Almanac began publishing indigenous American names for the full moons in the 1930s. Among these is the flower moon, so called because blossoms are abundant during this month in North America, where the appellation was used. Other names for this lunation included in the cosmic lexicon are the “corn planting moon” and the “milk moon.”
This blue flower moon also coincides partly with Vesak Day in Asia, marking Guatama Buddha’s enlightenment and celebrated by Buddhists in India, Thailand, and elsewhere. The timing only emphasizes Buddhism’s long recognition of the moon’s spiritual significance as a symbol of enlightenment.
The moon as metaphor appears often in Buddhism. It symbolizes truth. The Lankavatra Sutra, compiled around the 4th century, contains a lunar-related warning from the Buddha to disciples not to get confused about his teachings: “As the ignorant grasp the finger-tip and not the moon, so those who cling to the letter, know not my truth.”
Whether or not you’re a Buddhist, however, tonight is an important occasion. It’s a chance to glance upward and connect with the heavens, a pastime enjoyed by people all over the world through all eras. It’s what we did for entertainment back in the day, and what people in Westeros would be doing tonight if they were real and not merely fictional characters.