Mist covers the landscape. A Full Moon peers ominously through the clouds. In the distance, a wolf howls. Alone in his room, a man grabs his face in horror. Wolf hair sprouts from his hands and face, and quickly covers his whole body. His agonized screams convert to throaty growls. Racing into the night on all fours, teeth bared, he’s ready to kill. In the horror flicks I grew up on, this was a familiar scene. Though I never met a real werewolf, I’d often heard it was true: the Full Moon drives people crazy.
On Full Moon nights around the globe, cops, nurses and cocktail waitresses steel themselves. It’s widely reported that murders, arson, and suicides increase at the Full Moon; also, traffic accidents, domestic violence, fights at hockey games and prisons; calls to poison centers and admissions to psychiatric hospitals soar. Yet such stories are largely anecdotal. Most scientific research has failed to prove them true.
The few studies that have succeeded 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 the reported 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 inFlorida,Canada, andHawaii, when queried about the Moon, half agreed that people are strange when the Moon is full.
So why does the belief in full-Moon crazies persist? Scientists blame the believers. The human mind is irrational and easy to fool, they say. It likes solutions, but rarely wants to work at them. When something odd occurs it’s easy enough to look up and finger the giant lone culprit in the sky. Who can miss the Full Moon — except when wild things occur at other times, few seem to notice its absence. Cognition studies have shown the mind typically seeks to confirm its beliefs and will conveniently ignore or discredit contrary evidence. “People don’t realize how much trouble they invoke by their own expectations,” says psychiatrist Melvin G. Goldzband. “When people take something like Friday the thirteenth or a Full Moon seriously, and they begin to dread what will happen on those days, trouble results. If you expect trouble to come, it’ll come.”
After years of watching Full Moons, I’m inclined to vote with the scientists. Although I’m an astrologer, I believe blaming the Moon is generally unfair. Many Full Moons are positively lovely. Nor have I killed anyone, gone into a hospital, or even gotten into an accident when the Moon was full. But I’m intrigued by the persistence of the lunacy rumor. And unlike the scientists, I can allow there are two different kinds of truth: the empirical and the imaginative.
What’s empirically true shows up in research reports. Imaginative truth comes out in rumors, myths and stories. Scientific truths happen to a statistically significant portion of us. Imaginative truths can capture an equally significant percentage, even though they occurred among only a handful of people, or never even happened at all. Imagination responds more to image than literal incident. And its force can shudder through millions at once. 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?
Werewolf stories remain largely unverified but have appeared everywhere, in cultures diverse as China, Babylonia, Bavaria, and Navajo. Why? A common thread seems to be the human one. 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, or racing hither and yon, it’s a wonder we don’t hear more breakout werewolf rumors. But then maybe we do. With our connection to the wild so distant, we may have simply upgraded the story, naming it “Full Moon crazies” rather than a literal return to the beast. The Full Moon may evoke strange behaviors when our natural spirit goes too long unrecognized — or when we’re around someone else like that. The more pent up and disconnected one is, the greater the need to erupt from civilized codes.
If my theory is true, this might happen anytime — not just when the Moon is full (which seems to be what the statistics are saying). But maybe it’s worse when we see the Full Moon slowly rise, evoking memories of all that we’ve lost, provoking our yearning to connect with the wholeness of nature again.
The remedy is simple. You should neither run from the Moon nor hide from crazies. Rather you should mark your calender for Full Moon nights and plan a dropout from your regular routine. On that night you should fully surrender to your ancient wild self. Just you, your spirit, and the Moon. I don’t think it will make you crazy. You just might feel more sane. And if you’ve got the urge, know that it’s quite okay to howl.
© 2000 Dana Gerhardt
All rights reserved
Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Moonscapes (Prentice Hall Press, 1991)
Kelly, Rotton, Culver, “The Moon Was Full and Nothing Happened: A Review of Studies on the Moon and Human Behavior and Human Belief” (Skeptical Enquirer, Vol. 10, Winter ‘85-’86).