Mist covers the landscape. A Full Moon peers through the clouds. In the distance, a wolf howls. Alone in his room, a man grabs his face in horror. Hair sprouts from his hands and face and quickly covers his whole body. His screams convert to throaty growls. Racing into the night on all fours, he’s going to kill something. In the horror flicks I grew up on, this was a familiar scene. In real life, I’ve often heard that Full Moons drive people crazy. On Full Moon nights around the globe, it’s anecdotally reported that murders, arson, and suicides increase; also, traffic accidents, domestic violence, fights at hockey games and in prisons; calls to poison centers and admissions to psychiatric hospitals soar. Yet most scientific research has shown no link between the Moon and increased violence.
The few studies that have proven a connection are widely quoted. They are also criticized as lacking proper research controls (one covered a period where a high percentage of Full Moons fell on weekends, days that also show a high correlation with strange behaviors). Bottom line, the Moon statistics can’t be replicated. What’s more, they often contradict each other, with some proving the Quarter Moons are more traumatic. Nonetheless, in a study among students at universities in Florida, Canada, and Hawaii, when queried about the Moon, half agreed that people are strange when the Moon is full.
After years of watching Full Moons, I vote with the scientists. Blaming the Moon is unfair. Most Full Moons are positively lovely. I’ve never wanted to kill someone or even had an accident when the Moon was full, nor have most people I know. So why do the Moon rumors persist? I think it’s because there are two kinds of truth: the empirical and the imaginative. Empirical truths happen to a statistically significant portion of us. Imaginative truths, delivered through rumors and stories, can capture an equally significant number, whether the tale happened to just a few people, or never even happened at all. Empirical facts we can count, but of imaginative ones, we need to ask: What does this story serve? What is it trying to tell us?
As image, werewolves do describe an essential human conflict—from wild nature we emerged, but into societies we go. What do we do with our wild instincts? How do we quell them to abide peacefully with our fellows? How do we cope with those who don’t? Like the opposing forces of Sun and Moon at Full Moon time, the werewolf evokes at once our desire for the wild and its repression. Today this conflict seems difficult as ever. Cemented, corralled and cowed into our cubicles, staring at computer screens, or in our vehicles racing hither and yon, it’s a wonder we aren’t constantly crazy. So it’s understandable that when the Moon is full and beautiful, something deep within us stirs. Perhaps it’s even coded into our DNA, the memory of countless lifetimes spent raising our eyes skyward to bless the Full Moon with joy and gratitude, then lolling, lazing, making love, and dancing in the Moon’s bright bliss.
In the years I’ve been studying the Moon, I’ve learned to listen to these ancient memories. I’ve discovered that appreciating the Full Moon like this hasn’t made me crazy. It actually makes me feel quite sane. Even when I howl.