Tahlequah Daily Press

August 1, 2013

Full moon madness backed by little evidence

By SEAN ROWLEY
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — That may not be worth a headline today, but throughout human history, cultures have attached importance to the moon and its phases. It has been worshipped as a god or goddess, inspired paintings, songs and prose, and today it is sometimes even blamed for human behavior.

Emergency room personnel may anticipate more patients or unusual ailments during the full moon. Law enforcement may expect people to be more aggressive during arrests.

However, Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault doesn’t subscribe to the idea that the moon affects people.

“I’ve heard that my whole life, but I really don’t see the difference,” he said. “A few people are going to do stupid things no matter the phase of the moon. We may make special preparations for holiday weekends and Halloween, but not the moon phase.”

The English language includes words like “lunatic” and “lunacy” which suggest a connection between the moon and unbalanced behavior.

But it seems science cannot support such contentions. There have been studies which suggest a correlation between human behavior and the full moon, but attempts to duplicate them have failed.

A 1998 study appearing in the “Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry” found no correlation, contradicting the findings of a 1986 study published in “Psychological Reports.”

One possible explanation for more emergency calls and mischief during a full moon might be its illumination. Humans, being diurnal, may be more active during a brightly lit night. Full moons also shine throughout the night, rising at dusk and setting at dawn.

While some sinister references to the moon exist in literature and folklore, Dr. David Linebarger, professor of humanities at Northeastern State University, said positive portrayals of the moon, including while full, are more numerous.

“The moon is an old romantic image of love and beauty we often see in art,” he said. “During the 19th Century or Romantic Period, you often see examples of people staring at the moon. It is an emblem of beauty and mystery.”

It probably should come as no surprise that the moon has always received so much attention. Not only is it a brilliant spectacle, but long ago human welfare depended on familiarity with the cycles of the moon, sun and stars. They marked the passage of the year, planting and harvest times and warned of approaching winters.

“Ancient peoples saw the moon wax and wane,” Linebarger said. “They attributed the power of life and death to the moon, as they did the sun. The ancient Egyptians believed the sun was born each morning and would fight with the forces of the underworld after sunset. The moon did much the same thing, but each month.”

Linebarger, who also teaches English and comparative religions at NSU, added that there was nothing recent about the idea of the moon controlling the behavior of earth-bound humans.

“Many people regarded the moon as mysterious,” he said.

“The entomology of words like ‘lunacy’ reflect the fact that ancient peoples looked to the skies believing heavenly bodies had an impact on us. The Romans believed that the moon, sun, planets and stars controlled their fates. The planets, after all, are named after Roman gods. Each god had a respective sphere of influence in our lives, and people would pray to a respective god.”