Social Science - Other

Strange Happenings during the Full Moon

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"Strange Happenings during the Full Moon"
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For millennia it was accepted, based on everyday observation, that all celestial bodies orbited the Earth. We were at the centre of the perceived universe and the objects that filled the heavens all appeared to exert influences upon all living things. Astronomy and astrology were inseparable and every religion endorsed and reinforced the status quo.

After several centuries of fiddling with lenses and the roasting of heretical unfortunates it transpired that the ancients had been right in only one regard: the moon alone revolves around our planet. The remaining celestial clutter serves only to emphasise our cosmic insignificance. Beliefs about the moon's influence persist. It may be difficult to accept that our daily lives might be affected by some unimaginably distant star, but the size, proximity and constant presence of the moon offer a final link to a mystical dimension and to past beliefs. Shakespeare, who had a lot to say about our satellite, put it thus: We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars, as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion.'

Folklore has it that, under a full moon, wolves howl, cats prowl, humans lose self-control, the elderly become confused and the mentally ill become agitated. In Britain, the 1824 Lunacy Act stated that people were liable to go mad when the Moon was full. Author, Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was inspired by the true story of Charles Hyde, who committed a host of 'chilling deeds' at the time of the Full Moon. Shakespeare again, in Midsummer Night's Dream, has Titania credit the moon with responsibility for everything from medical problems to the changing seasons:

Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set.

The supposed effects of the moon vary according to culture and mythology, but lunar effects on human behaviour are seldom considered scientific fact.
Lycanthropy is the delusional belief that one has turned into an animal, particularly a werewolf. In medieval Europe, it was commonly believed to be the result of witchcraft or magic. One current premise is that the rye bread of the lower classes was frequently contaminated with the fungus Ergot, which resulted in hallucinations and delusions about werewolves.

The word 'lunatic' derives directly from Luna, the Latin for moon. The inference is clear: the moon affects human behaviour and can even control human activity and state of mind. Although the direct implications are overstated in modern use of the word, where we hear anyone who does anything slightly daring or contrary to the norm described as a lunatic, it does relate the two concepts directly and has done so for centuries. Interestingly, the words lunatique' in French and lunatico' in Italian have the meaning moody', indicating a surprisingly measured response to periodic aberrant behaviour from across the channel. This confirms, perhaps, the Anglo-Saxon suspicion that all foreigners are, at the very least, eccentric.

Government statistics, over the last four years, confirm that violent crime rates increase during the moon's first and last quarters. For example, the number of physical assaults increases by more than fifteen percent. Studies in the United States have revealed similar findings. These statistics exclude minor offences, including drug or alcohol related incidents and traffic violations.

In Florence, 1985 the Monster of Florence as he had become known, stopped killing. He had murdered 32 victims in what appeared to be a series of frenzied attacks. Each of the murders was said to have occurred at the time of a full moon. The killing spree lasted for over 17 years. The fact that the murderer was frenzied at the times of the murders has never been in doubt. Motive was found lacking and the horrific details of the crimes indicate madness, but the belief that it was a full-moon killer has always been paramount to the investigation. This, if nothing else, demonstrates the superstition surrounding the moon and its cycle.

According to a US report in 2004, murders - many apparently motiveless - trebled around the time of the full moon. There was no explanation for the increase other than Lunar Effect hypotheses and rationalization through coincidence. Arson attacks also increase by 100% at the time of the full moon. However, arson also rises when there is a drop in atmospheric pressure, which may also be connected with the phases of the moon.

In response to these statistics, Elizabeth Price, author of Criminal Activity as it Relates to the Lunar Cycle says, "Although we found little information to support claims of the lunar cycle effecting human behaviour, it does seem deeply embedded in people's minds and the appears to be more than coincidental changes in violent crime rates."

Her study hypothesized that levels of ozone in the atmosphere are connected to the lunar cycle and this can affect the judgment and behaviour of humans and other mammals. The study gave no clear results over its course, but did highlight that crime rates were indeed augmented during the first and last quarters of the lunar cycle.

The lunar cycle also appears to affect medical conditions during full and new moons. The female reproductive cycle seems to respond to the lunar cycle. Medical practitioners have reported that women who have already had children are significantly more likely to give birth on the day of the full moon. There is also an increase in epileptic seizures and bleeding ulcers at the time of the full moon.

There appears to be no medical or scientific reason for this, but Dr G. Shah, author of Lunar Influence on Atmospheric Ozone, theorises that changes in light and atmospheric pressure and gravitational variation can affect the protective water surrounding the brain and other organs, causing reactions in the form of seizure or haemorrhage.

Researchers at the University of South Florida reported that the gravitational pull wielded during a Full Moon does not have an effect on the regularity of epileptic fits.

"Contrary to the myth, epileptic seizures are not more common during a Full Moon," commented Selim Benbadis, professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the university's College of Medicine. "In fact, we found the number of epileptic seizures was lowest during the Full Moon and highest in the Moon's Last Quarter."

The Moon exerts its influence on the Earth in subtle yet intense ways. The gravitational pull of the Moon elevates ocean tides on the Earth. The Moon pulls up a swell of water on the surface of the ocean facing it. High tides occur as the Earth rotates beneath this great bulge of water. The far side of the Earth also has a tidal swell. The result is two high tides in one day. Each high tide is followed by a low tide, approximately six hours later. The highest tides can reach up to sixteen metres.

It is clear that the lunar cycle affects the human body and the Earth, but its effect on the brain is the realm of superstition and cultural mythology. Research has found a dramatic rise in admissions to psychiatric hospitals in New York on days of the full moon and a higher number of patients become agitated around the full moon according to nursing staff and medical experts. It is also true that suicide rates are higher at the time of a full moon, but there is no solid link between the two. None of these studies is conclusive.

Roger Culver's report, Moon Mechanisms and Myths: A Critical Appraisal of Explanations of Purported Lunar Effects on Human Behaviour is an extensive investigation into the phenomenon, but does not give any scientific link between the moon and the human psyche.
Migratory birds appear to follow the patterns of the moon for timing and finding their path of migration. Zoologists in Alaska noticed that animals: bears, caribou and salmon moved at the Full Moon. The idea that wolves howl at the full moon is in fact a myth, but it is true to say that wolves howl at the moon. However, during a full moon, wolves are more likely to hunt in a pack. The call to hunt may or may not be response to the movement of other creatures, but the hunting instinct is certainly at its peak in the light of the moon.

"Wolf howls have been inadvertently associated with the moon most likely because they are more active on brighter lit nights." said Lisa Matthews, volunteer for the restoration initiative, Wolf Song of Alaska. It is such dry rationalisation that characterises the dichotomy between what we want to prove and that which we need to believe. The moon is the only heavenly body that orbits the Earth. A massive satellite, which can shift enormous bodies of water, must have some effect on our own puny bodies and minds. The moon will always be associated with romance and human sexuality. Christopher Fry insists that The moon is nothing but a circumambulating aphrodisiac divinely subsidized to provoke the world into a rising birth-rate.'

In our quest for knowledge we seek to be informed, but we also hunger for awe and wonder, witness the enormous popularity of the BBC's Planet Earth in which the producers went to incredible lengths to present visually stunning footage of our environment. We need a dose of mystery to sugar our scientific medicine. Even the phenomenon of the solar eclipse relies on an amazing coincidence of size and distance to make the sun and moon appear to occupy the same space in the heavens.

D.H. Lawrence said: "The moon is a white strange world, great, white, soft-seeming globe in the night sky, and what she actually communicates to me across space I shall never fully know. But the moon that pulls the tides, and the moon that controls the menstrual periods of women, and the moon that touches the lunatics, she is not the mere dead lump of the astronomist. When we describe the moon as dead, we are describing the deadness in ourselves. When we find space so hideously void, we are describing our own unbearable emptiness."

Let us join the grey wolves of legend in their celebration of the full moon. After all, to quote an old proverb, "Wolves have howled at the moon for centuries, yet it is still there."

More about this author: Andrew Duckhouse

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