Full Moon Myths and Madness

Why do people believe full moons invite mischief and madness?

ByABC News
August 6, 2009, 9:49 AM

Aug. 6, 2009— -- For some, it inspires romance. For others, it elicits madness.

But since time immemorial, people around the world have been bewitched by the full moon, convinced it influences the human psyche and the rhythms of nature.

If you looked outside last night, you might have noticed this month's full moon. And if you caught yourself blaming bizarre behavior or strange events on the cosmic phenomenon, you likely weren't the only one.

Nurses have reported full moons leading to more chaos and more incoming patients. Police have linked full moons to aggressive behavior.

Studies have debunked the connection, though some experts say the increased light could contribute to a rise in mischief-making.

But then why do moon superstitions persist?

"It's a natural phenomenon that is regular and very striking," said Erika Brady, a professor in the department of folk studies and anthropology at Western Kentucky University. "A really good full moon, you can practically read a newspaper by. It's something that really gets your attention."

But since the full moon usually only takes place 12 times a year, give or take, it highlights the phases of the moon, which have intrigued people for centuries.

"The moon is regular in its cycle, but it's not so absolutely regular that it didn't take time for people to figure it out," said Brady, "It seems to link psychologically with the nine months of the human gestation period and the woman's menstrual cycle, and that linkage has always fascinated people."

Even etymology gives us insight into our perception of the moon -- the words lunacy, lunatic and loony all have their origins in the word "lunar." The belief that werewolves morph into their canine incarnations when the moon is full reveals the idea that it is a time of transformation and magic.

Brady said that people in English and Celtic-speaking countries used to believe that you weren't supposed to sleep with the light of the full moon on your face. They thought that the light would pull on your flesh and muscles and disfigure your face.