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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The myth of the full moon

Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night. 
- Hal Borland

The full moon always has me rushing outside to have a look. It somehow evokes feelings I cannot quite describe - euphoria, sadness, loneliness, feeling at one with nature and wonder at the magic of this light in the sky.

For centuries mankind has been intrigued by the notion that a full moon — which rises tonight — drives people to madness, crime, suicide and other  major crisis. 

One of the most enduring myths in human history, embedded in popular culture and folklore from Transylvania, is the myth of the werewolf. And like most popular myths, there's a certain logic to it: Earth is about 80 percent water, much like the human body, the theory goes, and if the moon's gravitational pull can effect the ocean tides, can't it also affect a person's body? 

Studies have found that cops and hospital workers are among the strongest believers in the notion that more crime and trauma occur on nights when the moon is full. One 1995 University of New Orleans study found that as many as 81 percent of mental health professionals believe the myth.

But there may be a simpler explanation for moon-induced behaviour: moonlight. One obvious explanation is that, before the advent of gas lighting at the beginning of the 19th century, the light of the moon permitted outdoor activities that were otherwise impossible. Full moon nights are 12 times brighter [under a clear sky] than at first or last quarter, and therefore it is likely that people stayed up later and slept less than the rest of the time. Even partial sleep deprivation can cause mania, and it is plausible that sleep disturbance during a full moon may function as positive feedback once a manic episode has begun in a predisposed person.

"Perhaps this lies at the origin of the association between madness and the full moon."



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