From Werewolves to the “lunar lunacy effect,” there are several stigmas associated with the full moon. It is difficult to trace how far back these associations go and Shakespeare’s Othello is even quoted saying, “It is the very error of the moon; She comes more nearer earth than she was wont, And makes men mad.” How did lunacy come to be associated with the full moon and what myths can we consider debunked? We’ll sort the full moon facts from fiction by making it clear that the moon is not made out of cheese and travel all the way to the very probable reality of commercial space travel…

Fiction: Werewolves

The legend of werewolves reaches far beyond the influence of Hollywood. One of the oldest known written works, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” is a likely originator of the werewolf myth. In the story, Ishtar is a goddess known for her cruel treatment of her previous suitors. Ishtar turned one man, a shepherd, into a wolf, making him the enemy of his friends, his sheep and even his own dogs. Although there have been reports and speculations, the existence of humans who phase into their canine counterpart during a full moon and transmit their affliction by biting their victims, remains fiction.

Fact: Hypertrichosis is a real genetic disorder linked to the X-chromosome that can cause people to grow very thick hair over their faces and bodies. People with this condition can physically resemble werewolves, but it’s extremely rare and the moon does not play any role.

A human with rabies may also display traits of a werewolf. Many mammals can carry and transmit rabies, typically through a bite, and the disease is fatal without immediate treatment.  A rabies epidemic may have caused wolves and dogs to bite humans, who then could have exhibited werewolf-like tendencies.

Fiction: Lunar Lunacy Effect

It is no coincidence that the Roman goddess of the moon bore the name Luna, prefix of the word “lunatic.” Belief in the “lunar lunacy effect,” was prevalent in Europe through the Middle Ages through today, as many people still think the mystical powers of the full moon induce erratic behaviors. While the theory persists, there is simply no proof to back it up. Scientific American explains that “Florida International University psychologist James Rotton, Colorado State University astronomer Roger Culver and University of Saskatchewan psychologist Ivan W. Kelly have searched far and wide for any consistent behavioral effects of the full moon. In all cases, they have come up empty-handed. By combining the results of multiple studies and treating them as though they were one huge study—a statistical procedure called  meta-analysis—they have found that full moons are entirely unrelated to a host of events, including crimes, suicides, psychiatric problems and crisis center calls.”

Fact: Any seemingly correlating events have rational explanations. For example in one study published in 1982, an author reported that traffic accidents were more frequent on full-moon nights than on other nights. However, in the period under consideration, full moons occurred most often on weekends, when more people drive. When the authors reanalyzed their data considering this factor, the lunar effect vanished.

Fiction: Heightened animal bites

An increase in animal bites during full moon nights  is tantamount to the Lunar Lunacy Effect. There is no evidence to support any claims that full moons directly increase the occurrence of animal bites.

Fact: Correlations are, once again, rationalized using logic. On full moon nights, pet owners are more likely to allow their pets outside, due to the well lit sky. More pets outdoors equates to more animal-related accidents. While the number of dog bites may increase, the ratio of dog bites to number of dogs outdoors and unattended does not increase.

Fiction: Psychological Idiosyncrasies (an extension of the Lunar Lunacy Effect)

Scientific American explains away this theory using the term “illusory correlation,” “the perception of an association that does not in fact exist. Illusory correlations result in part from our mind’s propensity to attend to—and recall—most events better than nonevents. When there is a full moon and something decidedly odd happens, we usually notice it, tell others about it and remember it. We do so because such co-occurrences fit with our preconceptions. Indeed, one study showed that psychiatric nurses who believed in the lunar effect wrote more notes about patients’ peculiar behavior than did nurses who did not believe in this effect. In contrast, when there is a full moon and nothing odd happens, this nonevent quickly fades from our memory. As a result of our selective recall, we erroneously perceive an association between full moons and myriad bizarre events.”

Fiction: “The Great Moon Hoax” of 1835

If you believe that life resides on the moon, you may have been influenced by The Great Moon Hoax of 1835. The New York Sun was a publication that, after printing fictitious articles claiming the discovery of furry, winged men resembling bats inhabiting the moon, was able to announce that the Sun possessed the largest circulation of any newspaper in the world: 19,360. While the publicity stunt was brought to light the month following the hoax, people still believe that life exists on the moon.

Even after sorting facts from fiction, the moon maintains her mystical allure and continues to tempt man toward her. Golden Spike is a private company looking to send companies, corporations, and individuals who have the desire (and the cash) to walk on the moon. They even plan to offer trips to the moon by 2020.

Do you have any interest in traveling to the moon? After reading, do you still maintain that any of the misconceptions above are true? Let us know in the comments below what fascinates you about the moon.


Image Credit – Luke Hayfield / CC by 2.0 

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