By Róisín Noonan
For millennia now humans have had a close relationship and fascination with the moon. According to Nasa, the moon was created over 4.5 billion years ago, when a mars-sized body collided with earth created debris that accumulated together to form the moon. The Ancient Greeks were the first to observe the moon to make initial discoveries about it, gazing at it from earth without telescopes. As modern technology progressed to give us the landmark moon landing in 1969 our fascination with the moon has spanned many disciplines from science to the supernatural to a more spiritual or magical level.
Ancient cultures, societies and the moon
In Greek mythology the full moon was seen as a time of potential and possibility. Shining in times of darkness it was a time to begin new tasks or to set new goals. In Ancient Rome, Luna was the goddess of the moon and was said to be influential on agriculture. Native American tradition viewed the moon as protector and guardian of the earth, whereas Chinese culture views the moon as symbolising unity and continuity especially with regards to the family. The Bible also contains several mentions of the moon and its creation and influence. The Easter period changes each year to fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon of the Spring equinox.
Traditionally, the moon was attributed with both male and female characteristics depending on the culture or society. It was also used as a type of early calendar to differentiate between passages of time as early as 30,000 years ago. The moon has very obvious connections with astrology also and star signs and moon signs are interconnected with horoscopes. The ancient tradition of yoga also has very close connections with the moon and some yoga disciplines plan their practices around the cycles of the moon. Ashtanga yoga for example is never practiced on the day of a full moon.
Does the moon influence human behaviour?
Claims that on the night of a full moon emergency rooms, police stations and fire brigades are inundated with emergencies and call outs are nothing new. These places are notoriously renowned for being crazy busy on full moons. Even though there is no scientific evidence to prove a correlation between these events and a full moon, policemen and doctors will probably argue differently given their experiences.
Studies have shown however, that the moon can have certain physical effects on the human body. For example, research has shown that people tend to get less sleep on a full moon. We don’t sleep very deeply or have much REM sleep around a full moon. In ancient times there was a belief that because the moon cycle is 29 days, it controlled the female reproductive system and was therefore thought to have an influence on fertility levels, although this is not thought to be true today. There are also some suggestions to say that a full moon can lead to increases in the amount of heart attacks, strokes and suicides. This is supposedly due to the magnetic effect that the moon has on the electrical cells in our bodies. However, this has never been concretely or scientifically proven either.
The moon has been linked with mental health for centuries and was said to be a cause for some mental illnesses. The word “lunatic”, widely used in the past in reference to mental illnesses but now recognised as a derogatory term, derived originally from the Latin “lunaticus” which means moonstruck. Ancient philosophers believed the full moon to be a cause of epilepsy and seizures. Characters in Shakespearean plays blamed their actions and madness on the cycles of the moon. The famous British Jurist Blackstone stated that he believed that people’s ability to reason shifted and changed depending on the moon.
Today however, the only somewhat consistent evidence we have to suggest that the moon may affect mental illness, is in relation to bipolar disorder. In a study conducted by T. Wehr in 2017, rhythmic changes in mood were observed in patients with bipolar disorder and these seemed to correlate to the moon and tidal cycles. This small piece of evidence is in itself somewhat narrow and vague, however in a separate study, 81% of mental health workers claim that they have seen a correlation between mental disorders worsening and full moon cycles.
When you take the fact that our bodies are made up of 75% water and couple this with the effect that the moon has on oceans and tides, one has to wonder if the moon has a similar effect on our bodies? Research in this area is ongoing and of huge interest to scientists and academics alike so it remains to be seen if any further links will be established between the moon and mental health in the future.
The Moon and the Natural World
Despite the moons effect on humans being somewhat doubted or dubious, science has proven that the moon has very real and significant effects on animals and nature. And I’m not talking about the werewolf kind! The most obvious effect perhaps being tidal flows as mentioned above. However, animal reproductive cycles in certain species are said to mimic the moon cycles. Corals also reproduce at significantly rapid rates under a full moon. Oysters close up their shells on the night of a full moon and lions, normally nocturnal hunters, hunt during the day following a full moon.
Manifestation and the moon
To move away from the scientific to the more holistic side of things, in recent years people have been turning more and more towards the moon for guidance, information and intention setting. There are countless books and articles out there claiming to know the secrets about using the moon to manifest your goals. Living your life by the lunar cycles or synching your projects and activities to the phases of the moon each month is said to bring more balance, inner harmony and intuition to our lives. It is said that during each of the different phases of the moon we have different mental and physical energies. The key to mastering these energies and using them to the fullest of their potential lies in understanding the phases of the moon.
There are eight stages to the moons monthly journey and each stage is said to represent a different type of energy and provide potential for different things. The dark moon or the new moon occurs at the start of a new lunar cycle when the moon is not visible in the sky. It is said to be a time to start afresh, to set new goals and intentions for the coming month. The full moon on the other hand is said to be a time of peak energies and illumination to show us where we may be going wrong in our lives or what we may need to change. It is said to help us see the wood for the trees. The stage after the full moon – the waning moon, when the moon is decreasing in appearance can be a draining or tiring time energetically and we may feel drawn to go inward, to rest, relax and recover.
You may have guessed by now that I personally find all of this moon “stuff” fascinating and I love to read into it and to believe in it. Since I was a child, I’ve always enjoyed watching the moon at night and following its changes and phases. It was something my mom and I used to love to do together.
I recently came across a book called “Lunar Living” by a UK author Kirsty Gallagher. It gives a great insight into the moon, its cycles and how to use them to your benefit for goal setting and reflection. Now a Sunday Times Bestseller, it is indicative of the amount of people now turning to the moon and to nature for guidance in our modern world. I must admit that at certain times I find myself hugely surprised at how accurately the book seems to describe how I have been feeling that month/week, be it anxiousness, tiredness etc. It seems to describe what feelings or thoughts or energy levels I am having extremely specifically. Of course, you can put this down to coincidence or a placebo effect, but who is to say for sure? Be it moon magic or not, setting goals and intentions and checking back in with these and with ourselves on a monthly basis, can hardly be a harmful thing, both from a personal growth and mental health point of view.
Regardless of whether you believe in the power of the moon, be it magically, scientifically or holistically, the moon continues to fascinate and enthral humankind from the scientific to the superstitious. Maybe something could be learned from looking at how the moon was interpreted and used by our ancestors throughout history. Maybe there is something to be said for how they used the moon cycles and how they paid closer attention to the natural world. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind on that one.
Photo Credit Mairead Brown