The Moon

This excerpt is from a story I read last week:

It could have been the wind. They hoped it was, but the next time they heard it they knew they were
wrong. That long, sad cry was the sound of a lone wolf howling at a full moon. Nervously people in
the small German village of Bedburg double-checked the latches on their doors and windows, then
rushed back to the warmth and security of their fireplaces. To those people on that night in 1589, the
cry was the sound of death … one they had heard for the past 12 years.

Every spring this lone wolf returned to their part of the Rhine Valley and stayed until the first snows
of winter came. Every year, at this time, it would kill more villagers. At first it had only been a
nuisance to the farmers, attacking a few of their sheep and cattle. In time it began to turn on people as
well and over the years had left a bloody trail of corpses behind. During its seasons of attacks, the
bodies of at least a dozen children and two women had been discovered in the forest outside the
village as well as the bodies of nine men found with their throats ripped open.

The villagers knew this was no ordinary wolf because it behaved in such an odd way. For some
unaccountable reason it ate only the bodies of the women and children it killed, not those of the men.
Also, it only attacked during the time of the full moon and then only during the warmer months of the
year. This was especially peculiar because wolves usually turn into man-killers only in the winter,
when there are fewer animals around to eat. Finally, after each attack the animal disappeared without
leaving a trace – no tracks, no animal droppings, none of the usual signs.

In 1589, after years of frustration, a hunting party of villagers and their dogs finally picked up the
fresh scent of the wolf not far from the mangled remains of its latest victim. It was already October
and the men knew time was running short. If they didn’t get the animal now it would be gone with the
first signs of winter, only to return the following spring.

This time they were lucky. The dogs were able to keep on the scent and eventually trapped the animal
in a steep ravine. The hunters got ready for the kill, moving slowly in an ever shrinking circle on the
cornered wolf. When they got ready to strike, they saw something that first stunned, then bewildered

Instead of a wolf they found a man scrambling around on all fours, snarling and clawing back at the
dogs and their owners. He was a local woodcutter named Peter Stumpe who had lived in Bedburg for
years. Now he was barely recognizable. He had the strength of ten men and it took at least that many
to tie him up and drag him off to the nearby city of Cologne, where he would go on trial for the wolflike
killings of Bedburg’s citizens.

A squat, husky man, Stumpe did have a reputation around the village for bizarre behavior. Still, it had
never occurred to anyone that it could have been a human being who committed those savage killings,
much less that it was Peter Stumpe. And no one could have been prouder of such vicious crimes than

During his trial he eagerly described in bloody detail how he killed his victims and he claimed what
helped him to do it was a magic wolf pelt given him by the Devil. He said when he put it on during a
full moon it turned him into a vicious wolf and gave him the urge to kill women and children for food
and any men he felt had offended him, for revenge.

Obviously a totally insane person, Stumpe was found guilty of witchcraft and was executed at the
wheel, a death at least as horrible as those he inflicted on others. His bones were broken, and, finally,
he was beheaded. With his death the villagers of Bedburg were free forever of the terror of the
wolfman. To commemorate this they erected a small monument on the spot where Stumpe was
executed. Anyone visiting Bedburg today can still see it, a plain pole on top of which sits the carved
wooden figure of a wolf.

For all his claims, Peter Stumpe was no werewolf in the horror movie sense. No claws sprouted from
his fingertips, hair did not cover his body, and none of his teeth turned to fangs. He was the victim of
lycanthropy, a bizarre kind of mental illness in which the sufferer believes the full moon has the
power to turn him into a bloodthirsty wolf. During most of the sixteenth and part of the seventeenth
century, it was a serious problem in Europe. During that time there were about 30,000 cases of attacks
by individuals who thought somehow the moon had turned them into wolves.

Does the moon have the power to cause this kind of delusion? If you go by legend and folklore, the
answer is yes. Man has always considered the moon to be the source of many mysterious powers and
forces. During solar eclipses, for example, when the moon passes between the earth and the sun,
momentarily blocking out the sun, the ancient Chinese thought the moon was a live creature gobbling
up the sun. To scare it off they would set off firecrackers. In those days fireworks were taken a lot
more seriously.

In New Guinea and parts of Africa, mothers still hold up their children to a full moon in the belief that
it will help a child grow straight and strong. In some parts of Scotland, women curtsy to a full moon
for luck and in Germany many women would never go out on a bright moonlit night for fear of giving
birth to a lunatic child.

In fact the word lunatic itself comes from luna, the Latin word for moon, because of the belief that
anyone who was crazy was somehow under the control of the moon This is probably the most well
known of all moon legends and is the basis for bits of horror folklore such as the werewolf.

For years scientists dismissed all this talk about the moon driving people crazy as a lot of superstition.
It didn’t make any sense to them that a huge hunk of dead rock, circling this planet at a distance of
more than 200,000 miles in space, could have anything to do with people on earth being crazy or sane.
At the same time no one bothered to check and see if there could be any truth to this ancient belief.

Finally, in 1951, Dr. E. Beamer-Maxwell, a psychiatrist, decided to settle the question once and for
all. She figured that if the full moon did drive people mad, then more people would be sent to mental
hospitals during that phase of the moon than any other time of the month. As a simple test, she
checked back through ten years of admission records at the hospital where she worked. As a result of
her search, she found there was a big jump in the number of mental patients not once a month, but
twice a month. These two times always coincided with the two main phases of the moon, when it is
full and when there is a new moon, that is, when the moon disappears completely from the night sky.

Other equally skeptical scientists copied her experiment in attempts to prove her wrong but in every
case they got the same results. It began to look as if that old belief about the moon’s causing insanity
had some truth to it after all.

An even more disturbing discovery was made in 1972 by a Florida psychiatrist who found a link
between the moon and murder. As a young intern working with mental patients, Dr. Arnold Lieber
had heard stories about the moon driving people mad and he himself had noticed strange outbursts
among mental patients during both full and new moons. He never forgot this and years later he
decided to see if there was any connection between the moon and the ultimate act of insanity, the
murder of one human being by another.

He and psychologist Carolyn Sherin decided to do a little scientific detective work by going over 14
years of crime records in Miami. They carefully noted when each murder took place and fed all this
information into a computer. The computer did a month-by-month breakdown of murders and then
drew them on a graph as up and down waves. Lieber noticed a steady pattern from one month to the
next. The number of murders always shot up during full and new moons then settled back down again.

In reading through the descriptions of the murders they noticed something else. Not only did the
number of murders increase during the moon’s two phases, they were more bizarre. The most extreme
example was a series of murders, which was double the usual number, that took place in two months
in 1970.

One was particularly strange. A couple of men walked into a local bar, quietly ordered two
sandwiches and, after eating, pulled out pistols, announcing it was a stickup. Everything went
smoothly until a waitress, who had acted quietly and calmly at first, suddenly went berserk. She began
running around, waving her arms and screaming unintelligibly. Completely unnerved, one of the
holdup men panicked and began emptying his pistol at her. By the time the fourth bullet hit her she
was dead.

This was just one of a whole chain of exceptionally strange killings reported at this time. On checking
astronomical records Lieber found not only was there a full moon out during this time but another rare
galactic event was also going on. The earth, the moon, and the sun were all exactly in a straight line
with one another, something that happens only a few times in a century. Perhaps this lineup of planets
boosted the moon’s strange powers.

Not all records of moon behavior end in total insanity or death, however. Sometimes merely odd
behavior is the result. Charles Hyde was a good example of this. In 1953, Hyde was a quiet man who
earned his living digging ditches in Cornwall, England. He was known for being a hard worker, a
good husband, and a loving father. He was also known for one other thing. “He gets this moon
trouble, acting very strangely and going off for a week at a time,” his wife said at his trial.

Hyde was on trial because he had been caught breaking into a house on the night of a full moon. His
lawyer had what he thought was a good excuse for Hyde’s behavior. He claimed his client was subject
to fits of what could only be called moon madness, meaning he lost all control of himself during a full
moon. For that reason, the lawyer said Hyde couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. The judge
agreed and put Hyde on probation for his moon-inspired crime.

A few moons later Hyde dropped out of sight. He surfaced at a French Foreign Legion outpost in
Algeria. Even there the moon continued to have upsetting effects on him because after only a few
months the Legion sent him home. Back in England he was arrested but at the pleading of his wife
and lawyer he was released on probation once again. During the next full moon his luck changed for
the worse. He was caught breaking into his brother-in-law’s house and put on trial once again. This
time the judge had little sympathy for Hyde’s fit of moon madness and sentenced him to a year-and-ahalf
in prison.

It’s not only the human mind that is sensitive to the powers of the moon; the body is as well.
Old-fashioned doctors would never operate on a patient during the time of a full moon if they could
avoid it. The reason offered was that people bled more at this time than any other time of the month.

For years doctors either followed this belief or ignored it completely, performing operations when
they felt like it. Finally, in the 1950s one doctor did what no one else had done. He decided to find out
if this was just another superstition or was based on fact. For two years he kept careful records of all
the operations he did, making special note when there was heavy bleeding. Then he went back over
the records looking for a bleeding pattern and found it. In four out of five cases the operations with the
greatest blood loss were always done at the same time of the month – when the moon was full.

Another bit of folklore doctors have also discovered to be true is that more people are born during the
full moon. The most elaborate investigation to support this idea was one in which doctors went over
the records of more than half a million births; month after month they found the greatest number of
babies were always born within 24 hours of a full moon.

As a matter of fact, every living thing seems to respond to the mysterious force of the moon. In the
animal world one of the most spectacular examples is the mating of a small sea creature called the
palolo worm. A green or brown worm usually measuring a few inches long, the palolo spends most of
the year living out of sight among the coral reefs around the Fiji and Samoan Islands in the South
Pacific. They only show themselves twice a year, about one week before the full moon in the months
of October and November. At those times they rise to the surface of the ocean by the millions so that
all anyone can see for miles around is one huge mass of wiggling, swimming worms. After their

second appearance in November, they disappear until the next October. They are so precise in their
mating habits that local people use the event as part of their calendar.

Other sea creatures equally sensitive to the energies of the moon are the fiddler crab and the oyster. In
fact, it was the oyster that in the past 20 years or so stirred up people’s interest in moon power. It
began in 1953 when Frank Brown, a biologist from Illinois, wondered how a creature as stupid as an
oyster knew when to open and close its shell.

As the high tide rushes in, the oyster opens up, straining from the seawater the tiny organisms it eats.
As the tide rushes out, the oyster closes up tight to keep from drying up. Brown had some oysters
shipped from Connecticut to his laboratory in Illinois so he could study them at his convenience. First,
he noticed that though far from their native ocean, the oysters opened and closed like clockwork in
time with the Connecticut tides. Brown figured the oysters had some built-in memory that triggered
their feeding times.

A few weeks later, however, the oysters suddenly started opening up three hours later than usual. He
couldn’t figure this out until, checking some astronomical data, he found the answer. It was the tidal
pull of the moon!

The moon controls the oceans’ tides with a strong gravitational pull. This pull tugs at the oceans and
actually shifts around billions of gallons of water, thus causing high and low tides. During the daily
rotation of the earth, every part of the planet feels this pull whether it is ocean or land. By doing a few
quick calculations, Brown figured out that this high-tide force of the moon hit his part of Illinois about
three hours later than it hit the Connecticut shoreline. This is what the oysters sensed. So the threehour
shift in their routine was nothing more than their adjustment to high-tide time in Illinois.

Brown tried this new discovery out with another sea creature, the fiddler crab, so-called because one
claw is larger than the other and crudely resembles a fiddle. These crabs show a sixth sense about
tides. Once the tide has gone out they scavenge the beach for food. Somehow they also seem to know
enough to leave the beach just before high tide hits and thus avoid being swept out to sea. Brown had
some Connecticut crabs sent to his laboratory and found that, like the oysters, they too sensed the
three-hour tidal time difference and adjusted their schedule to fit.

Other investigators have found that even plants have some kind of sensitivity to the energies of the
moon. For example, the Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends planting many crops around the time of a
full moon to get better harvests. Many old-fashioned farmers still follow this system. They find that
vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots planted during the full moon grow faster and are
more lush than non-moon crops. One reason for this, scientists have found, is that seeds planted
around the time of the full moon absorb more water. As a result they start growing more quickly than
plants normally do.

Because of these discoveries about how the moon can have such a wide array of strange effects on
living things on earth, no one laughs anymore at those old moon folk tales and superstitions. At the
same time no one has yet solved the mystery of how the moon can do all these things. Some suspect
that at the heart of the moon’s power is its tidal force which moves around the earth’s massive oceans
on a daily basis. Since the human body is about 80 percent water, it may be that this force can have an
effect on people similar to the one it has on the oceans.

Perhaps the human body has its own lunar tides that ebb and flow on a daily basis, controlling what
happens to the brain and body. Since the moon’s tidal force is particularly strong at the time of both
full and new moons, it may trigger many of the peculiar effects scientists have noted. It may be that
for some people, sanity is a delicately balanced state of body and mind and during the strong tidal
force of a full moon this balance is upset; the lunar tides of the body get stirred up and there is more
pressure on the brain, resulting in bizarre, violent behavior.

This same tidal force could be what stirs up the blood so that it is hard to stop bleeding on full moon
nights, or determines when a woman will give birth. It certainly is the power that rules the lives of
simpler creatures like the oyster and fiddler crab and perhaps the even simpler life of the tomato plant
as well.

But it is not the whole answer to the moon power mystery. The more man learns about the moon, the
more complicated the mystery seems to get. Even our landings on the moon have shown that the
moon can have control over machines as well as men.

Sitting on the moon right now is a robot left behind by the Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971. Its job was to
take different kinds of measurements of moonquake activities and atmospheric changes and broadcast
these back to earth. Because of its Tough journey to the moon, some parts of the robot never worked
at all, but it was in good enough shape to do a few chores on the moon.

Finally in 1976 the robot had a complete breakdown. It stopped doing anything, including
broadcasting to earth. It was almost forgotten by earth scientists when suddenly two months after its
breakdown the robot started up again. Not only was it doing all of its old work smoothly, but the parts
of it that had never worked before were operating beautifully as well. It was as though someone or
something had turned off the robot, fixed it completely, and turned it on again.

Experts were trying to figure out what had brought new life to the robot when it shut down again, this
time for good. When a reporter asked a space scientist what had caused this odd series of events, all
the expert could offer as an explanation was that some “mysterious force” on the moon had taken
control of the robot. What this force was he didn’t know!