Throughout recorded history, and probably long before that, there have been many myths and legends regarding the Moon and it’s significance. It is important to remember that myths and legends are not always false, and very often, they are based on observable facts.
This is even more true of legends than of myths, because legends are based on myths that have been studied over and over.A great definition for “myth” came from a college professor who was an expert in mythology: “A myth is simply anything we have not seen or experienced personally.”
Still, because of the association, it is useful to think of myths and legends as the same thing, even though they aren’t, though both are based on beliefs.
With this in mind, here are a few of the myths. The first persists strongly even today, and is a good start as it shows how the observable evidence supports the legend, though there is nothing concretely observable to prove it is fact.
Crimes, accidents and child birth
Legend has it that during a full moon, there is more crime, more accidents, and more child births.
Though some studies have shown that there is no credence in this legend, there are others that would seem to support it. Many people working in obstetric wards and hospitals will attest to the fact that there do appear to be more accidents and births during a full moon than at any other time, and it is quite common for police and fire departments to be on heightened alert at that time.
It has been suggested by some that this happens because the increased light or other aspects of the Moon allow for more activity or heightened emotions, yet this really doesn’t explain the legend.
Others have supposed that it has to do with the gravitational pull the Moon has on the water in our bodies. This, too, isn’t supported scientifically and is considered to be a myth.
The moon does exert a huge gravitational pull, owing to both its size and proximity to the Earth. This is the ‘Tidal’ force. However, this is inversely proportional to the distance from the center of gravity. So, simplified, ocean tides are the result of the Moon being closer to one side of the Earth than it is to the other (and this explains why there are two high tides, one on the side facing the moon, and the other on the opposite side.) The difference in the gravitational pull between a person’s feet and their head is simply not great enough to account for a difference in physiological or psychological behavior.
It is entirely possible that there is nothing to the myth and that it is mostly due to the idea that a full moon is more likely to be noticed, as contended by NASA.
The ‘Man in the Moon’
This is a very old myth, probably originating with the original hunters and gatherers before the rise of civilization. At least with this legend, we can surmise where this legend came from.
Being easily the brightest and largest object in the night sky, no doubt these ancient peoples spent plenty of time looking at the moon. When we observe the moon, with the numerous light and dark areas, it isn’t difficult to imagine the face of a man looking down on us.
The disappearing moon
Many ancient people, living lives steeped in superstition, saw the 28 day cycle from new moon to full moon and back to new moon and thought this was a sign that some great beast was ‘eating’ or otherwise destroying the moon. Though the myths differ among different people, this too is understandable, since it does indeed seem to disappear.
It is probably that nearly every adult has heard the legend of the werewolf and has an idea of what this is, where a person, having been bitten by one of these beasts will turn into a werewolf at the next full moon. The origin of this legend is uncertain, but though it has been around for a great length of time, it appears to some that the part about the full moon causing the transformation may be relatively recent, perhaps within the last few hundred years. It is likely that the original legend has little to do with the full moon or that the full moon was used to instill fear and to romanticize the legend.
As we can see from these few examples, myths were used to explain the unexplained, regarding the moon, and some of the beliefs exist even today. Of course, this was primarily during the period of time when the legend was widely believed.
Can we explain away the literally thousands of different moon legends, from the many different cultures, through the thousands of years that man has been around? It is highly unlikely that all legends will be proven, disproven or even understood at least for a long time.