In this edition of my continuing search for myths about the Moon (AKA Moon lore), I look at 10 more beliefs that are very likely to be more myth than reality. Still, they are interesting.
The word moonshine has two meanings. In the U.S., it means “illegally distilled liquor,: also known as “white lightning.” An older meaning was “total nonsense.”
In English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, the Moon is feminine. But in all the Teutonic languages, the Moon is masculine. In Sanskrit, the word for the Moon is mas, which is masculine.
In medieval Europe and England, “Moon’s men” were thieves and highwaymen who plied their trade by night. The current term “moonlighting” is similar, meaning to hold down an additional night job.
Originally, the term Moon-struck or Moon-touched meant chosen by the goddess. These people were considered to be blessed.
In China, the Old Man in the Moon was Yue-lao. It was his duty to predestine the marriages of mortals. They said he tied the future husband and wife together with an invisible silk cord that never parted as long as they lived.
In Ireland, it is said that if you walk nine times around a faery rath or hill at the Full Moon, you will be able to find the entrance.
In some legends, The Egyptians said that the Dark Moon and the Full Moon were the two eyes of Horus.
The horseshoe is a symbol of the Lunar crescent. Certain ancient British coins had the horse and the crescent on them. For the horseshoe, and the Crescent Moon to be lucky and hold the luck, the horns must be turned upwards.
The eastern branches of the Eskimo clans say that their people came from the Moon to Earth.
To cry for the Moon is an old saying that means you are craving or demanding something that you can’t have.
For centuries, the full moon has been associated with madness. The term “lunatic” was once used to refer to people who are considered mentally ill. It also was a label put on someone who was dangerous, foolish or unpredictable. “Lunacy” is now considered insulting and not used as a medical or legal term – though it is still used in jest.
The words are from lunaticus meaning “of the moon” or “moonstruck”. The term originally referred mainly to epilepsy and “madness” as these were diseases believed to be caused by the Moon.
By the fourth and fifth centuries astrologers began to commonly use the term to refer to neurological and psychiatric diseases Philosophers such as Aristotle and Pliny the Elder argued that the full Moon induced insanity in some individuals because the Full Moon provided light during nights which would otherwise have been dark. This extra light caused sleep deprivation.
Into the 17th century, it was also a common belief that the Moon influenced fevers, rheumatism, episodes of epilepsy and other diseases.
Scientific study has continually shown that Full Moons do not cause madness or an increase in suicides. You can find stories online about both of those beliefs and others. I have heard a number of times that there are more animals killed on roads in a Full Moon period.
Fauna fatalities peak along secondary roads through edge habitat (where two types of habitat meet). Add more deaths during late summer and early fall, when spring-born leave home to strike out on their own. And add more on new and full moons, when drivers seem more reckless and animals less reclusive.
The lunar theories continue. In 2005, Yuan, Zheng, and Zhu found “that stock returns are lower on the days around a full moon than on the days around a new moon. The magnitude of the return difference is 3% to 5% per annum based on analyses of two global portfolios: one equal-weighted and the other value-weighted.” The return difference is not due to changes in stock market volatility or trading volumes. The lunar effect is not explained away by announcements of macroeconomic indicators, nor is it driven by major global shocks. Moreover, the lunar effect is independent of other calendar-related anomalies.
Is this truly a lunar effect? That remains to be seen.
An ancient Assyrian/Babylonian belief was that “A woman is fertile according to the moon.” The notion was widespread in many cultures and misconceptions about fertility and birthrates cross continents and centuries.
Eugen Jonas, a Slovakian psychiatrist, created a method of birth control and for predicting fertility that was more based on astrological superstition than any science. He was following that ancient belief that there are more births during a full moon. That is despite the many studies that have failed to find any significant correlation between the full moon and number of births.
And then there are the phases of the moon, menstrual cycles, and fertility. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days and that is close to the lunar cycle. Close enough in ancient times to create a correlation. But women’s cycles vary from woman to woman and month to month. The length of the lunar month is a consistent 29.53 days.
Since the moon really does affect the ocean’s tides, it must be powerful enough to affect the human body – which is mostly water – too. That’s another old myth. The lunar force is actually a very weak force. Astronomer George O. Abell claims that a mosquito would exert more gravitational pull on your arm than the moon would. Nevertheless, many people believe that the moon not affects us but can cause earthquakes.
The tidal force of the moon on the earth actually depends on its distance from earth, not its phase. I wrote this weekend about the full Moon, the “supermoon” and apogee and perigee (when the moon is closest). We have higher tides at the new and full moons, but it is because the sun, Earth, and moon are in a line and the tidal force of the sun joins that of the moon at those times to produce higher tides.
I love the Moon and I write about it quite a bit. I enjoy the romance and lore of the Moon. But I also like knowing the science.
The moon regularly seems to disappear and then return. The waxing (increasing) and waning (decrease) in the Moon’s appearance to primitive peoples seemed to be similar to our own life and death cycle – and perhaps, to our rebirth.
Stories which associate the moon with the origin of death are found especially around the Pacific region. According to J. G. Frazer’s The Belief in Immortality and The Worship of the Dead, in Fiji, it is said that the moon suggested that mankind should return as he did. But the rat god, Ra Kalavo, would not permit this, insisting that men should die like rats.
In Australia, the Wotjobaluk aborigines say that the moon used to revive the dead until an old man said that this should stop.
The Cham have it that the goddess of good luck used to revive the dead but the sky-god sent her to the moon so she could not do this any more.
A waning Moon is sometimes considered an unlucky time for a marriage or birth.
In South Africa, it is considered unlucky to start a journey or begin any important work during the last quarter of the Moon.
In Cornwall, if a boy was born during a waning Moon, they said that the next birth would be a girl.
In Wales, if you moved from one house to another during the Crescent Moon you would have more than enough prosperity in your life.
We know now that the lunar phase of the moon is the appearance of the illuminated (lit) portion of the Moon as seen by an observer, usually on Earth. The lunar phases change cyclically as the Moon orbits the Earth, according to the changing relative positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun.
One half of the lunar surface is always illuminated by the Sun (except during lunar eclipses), and hence is bright, but the portion of the illuminated hemisphere that is visible to an observer can vary from about 100% (full moon) to 0% (new moon).
Tonight is a New Moon, also known as the Dark Moon.
Even in the modern Druidic calendar, the phases of the moon are followed closely. The night of the Full Moon is considered a time of rejoicing, and the night of the New Moon is a solemn occasion, calling for vigils and meditation.
To the Druids, the new moon represents total feminine energy and an absence of masculine energy. The feminine is receptor of the seed and womb of the newborn. So this is seen as a time to “plant a seed” whether that be a literal seed of plants or the seed of a child or a more proverbial or spiritual beginning.
In astronomical terminology, the new moon is the lunar phase that occurs when the Moon, in its monthly orbital motion around Earth, lies between Earth and the Sun, and is therefore in conjunction with the Sun as seen from Earth. At this time, the dark (unilluminated) portion of the Moon faces almost directly toward Earth, so that the Moon is not visible to the naked eye.
The New Moon has significance in many religions. For example, in the Hindu calendar, people generally wait for new moon to start new works. And the new moon is the beginning of the month in the Chinese calendar. Some Buddhist Chinese keep a vegetarian diet on the new moon and full moon each month.