This is from Book 2, Chapter 23 of Salamandastron. Samkin, Arula, and Spriggat are sneaking at night into a vermin camp, planning to steal back the sword of Martin the Warrior.

Under a burgeoning three-part moon they set off through the woodland, slipping silently along amid the shadowed tree-trunks and undergrowth.

I'm not sure what a "three-part moon" is. Searching brings up "three part moon phase cards" for teaching the phases of the moon, and well as everything from a "Triple Goddess" which includes the moon as an aspect to a three-part moon mission. Safely discarding the latter two results, I also doubt that the first one is relevant, since the characters are looking at a single moon - not multiple phases.

Having exhausted my admittedly limited search skills, I now turn to Literature SE. What is a "three-part moon"?

  • It might refer to a super blue blood moon: a three-part combination of a blue moon, super moon and total lunar eclipse. – Soyuz42 Mar 23 at 3:46

“Three-part” means “three-quarter”:

three-part, adj. b. = three parts, n.

three parts, n. Three out of four equal parts, three quarters.

Oxford English Dictionary.

“Three-quarter moon” means “gibbous moon”, that is, a moon that is more than half but less than fully illuminated. A citation for this sense:

the greater part of the bright side is seen, and it is called “gibbous” and appears as a “three-quarter moon

George Dalziel & Edward Dalziel (1862). A Handy Book to the Sky, Air, Earth, and Waters, p. 14. London: Ward and Lock.

Jacques’ use of “burgeoning” instead of the more usual term “waxing” for describing a growing moon suggests that he might have been going for a sense of estrangement through unusual word choices, or maybe it was a case of elegant variation.

Concern was expressed in comments that this sense of “three-part” is ambiguous: how do you know that it means three parts out of four, rather than three out of five or however many? Well, language is often ambiguous, and people have to use context to disambiguate. The examples given by the OED include

1843   G. Borrow Bible in Spain I. vii. 129   He was half-intoxicated, and soon became three parts so.
1871   M. Collins Marquis & Merchant x   He rides a three-parts thorough-bred.
1878   R. Browning La Saisiaz 72   There's the stoppage at the inn Three-parts up the mountain.
1887   R. L. Stevenson Memories & Portraits xv. 250   Conduct is three parts of life, they say; but I think they put it high.

In “three-parts thorough-bred” the listener has to deduce that it is three of the horse’s four grand-parents that are referenced.

  • Why is it three parts out of four, and thus three quarters? "Three parts" per million of poison in my drinking water is a lot less than three quarters, but still "three parts". Why is the total of four parts assumed? – Reversed Engineer Mar 24 at 10:02
  • What makes you say that "waxing" is usally used for a gibbous moon? I imagine most readers would know the difference between the moon's waxing/waning and its cresent/gibbous nature. – Isaac van Bakel Mar 24 at 11:45
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    @ReversedEngineer because the moon is typically considered to have four parts, such as in this NASA webpage. It is implicit in the fact that the moon is being described. – Isaac van Bakel Mar 24 at 11:48

A three-part moon is, apparently, just the moon. As the Wikipedia page about the Triple Goddess that the question links to says, modern Pagan usage such as Wicca considers the moon's waxing, full, and waning phases to be three parts of a single deity, usually identified with Hecate. Another reference to the three-part moon goddess is in a post on the confusingly-named and -written blog called thebible.net, which bills itself as "the most comprehensive collection of non-faith Biblical materials ever assembled":

The Lilim (ללים) were nocturnal spectres, equivalent to the Greek Empusae, and Lilit (Lilith in English) herself the equivalent of Empusa, or Hecate, was their mother; indeed the mother of what we now call witchcraft but in the ancient world was simply the rites and ceremonies of the cult of the three-part moon goddess: new moon (Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Maid Marian, Mary Magdalene), full moon (Madonna), waning moon (wicked step-mother, Hecate, Snow Queen).

Prashker, David. "Lilit, Lilim." TheBibleNet. thebiblenet.com. Accessed March 23, 2021.

A poet named Keenan Kelly uses the same phrase in a poem entitled "I'm here where":

I'm now where the three part moon glows
The rise of my love now hides behind the large pine tree
And sadness visits me because you are so far from me
The setting of the moon makes distance sing your name     (ll. 1–4)

Breathless: A Journal from the Heart. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2005. p. 71. Google Books. Accessed March 23, 2021.

Kelly's poem shows that the phrase "three-part moon" is not restricted to neo-pagan contexts any more but is found in literary contexts as a fancy way of saying "moon."

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    Can you back up that the 'three partness' in your first quotation is being attributed to the moon rather than the moon goddess? In your second quotation is there anything there which definitively excludes it being a reference to a moon three quarters full? Do you have any comment on the fact that the OP's quote is specifically about a burgeoning three part moon? – Spagirl Mar 23 at 11:49
  • (1) If the moon is a goddess, then I don't see any distinction between "three part" being applied to the former as opposed to the latter. (2) Yes, line 8 of the poem specifies the "fullness of the moon". – verbose Mar 24 at 2:06
  • Is it proposed that the moon is the ‘triple goddess’ or that it is a symbol of her? The Wikipedia article says ‘ The syncretism of the prominent triple moon goddess... gave rise to the modern conception of a Triple Goddess whose symbol is the moon’. I know it seems like splitting hairs but I’m not seeing the substantiation of the usage of ‘three part moon’ when not speaking of goddesses. I drew attention to ‘burgeoning’ as it may suggest a waxing moon, I’m not sure if the relevance of your citing ‘fullness’ in Kelly’s effort. – Spagirl Mar 24 at 21:10
  • (1) The moon is the triple goddess. Ask any neo-Pagan. (2) You asked whether there was anything in Kelly that definitively excludes its being a three-quarter moon. The poem specifically says it's a full moon. – verbose Mar 24 at 21:20
  • Well I’m not aware of any neopagans in the vicinity so I’m asking the person who’s citing them. The sources you referred us to don’t seem to say that the goddess and moon are the same thing. I see what you are getting at with Kelly now, thank you. However he refers to it ‘fullness’ rather than being ‘a full moon’. The moon could certainly be described as having degrees of fullness which fall short of an absolute ‘full moon’. In terms of evincing your claim both of these cites seem to have lingering ambiguity for me. But thank you for responding. – Spagirl Mar 24 at 21:35

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