By Joel Beck and Dinah Cardin
Friday, November 5, 2004
no intelligent life on Saturn - and not just because its temperatures
tend to dip more than 300 degrees below zero and the atmosphere is made
up mostly of helium and liquid hydrogen.
OK, mostly because of that.
What could make it really uncomfortable for Saturn's inhabitants is
the extreme lunar force of more than 30 spheroid satellites circling
the planet. Here on Earth, one moon is enough to deal with. There's
a long history of anecdotal evidence documenting the effects of our
moon's activity - specifically full moons -on human behavior.
Having one solitary moon rather than Saturn's 30-plus doesn't mean we
aren't unphased by the monthly lunar phases. Going back to ancient times,
it was believed that a full moon brought out the worst in people. It
has spawned the word "lunatic," from the Latin "luna,"
meaning "moon" and "lunaticus," for "touched
by the moon."
Legend and lore blames the moon for causing madness and alternately
credits it for curing disease. Depending on your perspective, it can
illuminate the world for two lovers or light the path to mischief. Some
have believed a rare lunar eclipse could help win a ball game.
At this time of year, when the harvest moon climbs above the horizon
and the sun leaves us earlier and earlier in the afternoon, our thoughts
can turn to that storied circle of Swiss cheese that dominates the starry
Florence Gaia waxes poetic when speaking about the moon being something
spiritual that is deeply a part of our essence. She goes so far as to
say the moon enlarges our spirit when gazed upon. The Plum Island resident
has some experience to back up her thinking. She is a nurse who has
worked with Native American teachers, lived in tee-pees in Montana,
and communes and drums under a full moon.
"It puts some perspective on our problems to have those moments
of awe, peace, wonder and mystery," she says. "We kind of
get a better perspective of what we need to take seriously and what
we need to let go of. Any time we're focusing on the power of the moon
or tides, it gives us some rest to our human spirit."
Many would say, after years of Red Sox consternation, fans now can rest
their spirits. Perhaps it was the wink of the moon that helped out the
team that night, as the game played half a continent away.
If the moon has no role in strange circumstances, then how do you explain
the turn of events in October on the night of a full hunter moon that
experienced a rare full eclipse? That night, the formerly "cursed"
Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in the first
championship baseball game ever played on the night of a full moon.
Something had to be going on that night, says Lenny Pearl, a bartender
at Molly's Pub in Newburyport, because the winning pitch of the World
Series seemed to coincide with the exact moment the moon was fully eclipsed.
"It was very mystical," he says.
Pearl and the rest of the pub staff and regulars were not only watching
the game - they were out in the back, watching the eclipse through the
"The surface of the moon was this brown, reddish color. It was
gorgeous," says Steve Korpics, an amateur astronomer for the last
In the restaurant business, people always joke about the full moon bringing
in rowdy customers, Korpics says.
"It all depends on what you want to believe in. I think people
who go out to brunch act a lot weirder than people who come out during
a full moon. It's really hard to look at that and not be awestruck by
"To me, it has a calming effect and is just so inspiring. Especially
during the fall, you get some gorgeous moon rises and that golden color.
People sort of ask 'where did that come from?' It's so big on the horizon.
People stop and notice nature's beauty, and that's a good thing,"
Korpics keeps his telescope in the back of his car. The advantage to
working nights is that he can take it out to dark places after work.
He is teaching his two young children to have the same appreciation.
Over on Middle Street at The Grog, bartender Ed Dufault says any omen
is a good one when the Sox are in the World Series. But as far as the
moon affecting people's behavior - he doesn't buy it.
"People always act freaky here, so it's hard to tell," he
Howl at the moon
People aren't the only animals in tune with the cycles of the moon.
Bill Gette, of the Massachusetts Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center
on Plum Island, says migrating birds often travel at night when weather
conditions are calmer, and they frequently fly by the light of a full
moon that illuminates the ground below, helping them to follow landmarks.
Experienced birders watch and wait on Plum Island's wildlife refuge
to catch a glimpse of geese and swans in flight against the bright,
"Last night was extraordinary," Gette says of a recent evening.
"A full moon rising in the fall is just one of those spectacles.
You don't have to travel very far to see a natural spectacle, and seeing
the moon rise over the Merrimac River is one of those for me."
If the moon does indeed possess some kind of unexplainable cosmic energy,
it evidently is experienced by all members of the animal kingdom. Just
ask Kevin Ackert, president of the North Shore Amateur Astronomy Club.
"I know my cat is affected by it," Ackert writes in an e-mail.
"She seems to become more feral during the full moon period."
Anne Kay, a counseling spiritual astrologer from Lynn, says her cat
also runs around, crazed by the intensity of a full moon.
Kay conducts full moon intentional ritual ceremonies to help people
harness the moon's energy. She tells them to use its power to make things
"From the new moon, the idea is to plant seeds for what you want
in the coming months," she says.
With more than 30 years experience in astrology, Darrell Martini, a
renowned astrologer from Saugus, has yet to meet a bartender, hairdresser,
firefighter, police officer or hospital employee who won't swear on
their lives that full moons really do muddle up things.
Police officers often comment on the full moon causing trouble. Some
claim it's merely a figure of speech, while others, like Amesbury Police
Sgt. Mark Gagnon, say the full moon has contributed to busy police logs
in years past.
"At one time I probably bought into it - the moon bringing out
the crazies," he says. "It seemed like it years ago but now
there's no correlation."
However, Newburyport Police Lt. Robert Gagnon thinks a connection remains.
"If a lot of strange calls come in on a particular night, I look
up and it's usually a full moon or a new moon. A new moon has its effects
too, I think."
Look at some North Shore police logs from full-moon nights in past years.
What about the woman in Beverly who called the police on her son on
the night of a September full moon? According to the Beverly police
log, the boy was driving his mother crazy by unplugging the telephone.
On the night of a July full moon, Saugus police records show that a
disoriented man was walking on Ballard Street with a photo of Jesus
attached to his face.
And only last June's full moon could explain why two men were spotted
running on the median strip on Route 1 in Saugus. The men later said
they were just trying to chase some ducklings out of traffic.
Last week, as Halloween approached, Amanda Connolly of Amesbury Country
Day School good-naturedly thought the full moon could be contributing
to making her preschool kids act a bit crazy. Or not.
But on a more serious note, Gaia thinks people toward the end of their
lives may be more connected to the moon. Recalling when she worked in
a nursing home, Gaia says her patients tended to be more agitated and
"acted up" under a full moon. She now works in a psychiatric
hospital and wonders how patients would react to quiet time under the
"Something happens when you do that," she says. "To lay
out under the stars and open your eyes occasionally, it gives you a
sense of peace and quiet. We are so often overwhelmed by our thoughts
and feelings. To see constellations, to hear the sounds of the night,
to hear another animal close by snorting because he senses your presence.
It will change you for the rest of your life. You hunger for it, once
you've gotten over your fears. You just have a hunger for it."
Gaia eventually wants to lead wilderness retreats, where she can expose
people to the brightest moonlight piercing an otherwise dark landscape.
Beam me up
"Oh, I'm going to sound weird," says Marblehead artist Robin
Samiljan just before she explains why she's been painting each month's
full moon for the better part of the last year.
"Once I started paying attention to the moon, I felt energy,"
Samiljan says. "When there's a full moon, I really feel a cosmic
energy. This energy is something that we, as individuals, if we are
open to the possibilities, can have float right through us. It's up
to you if you want to pay attention to it."
But believe it or not, Ackert of the North Shore Amateur Astronomy Club,
says most astronomers don't look forward to a full moon, because it
generally ruins the night sky for viewing other stars or constellations.
Moreover, there's a pretty substantial gap between astronomy and astrology,
and Ackert suggests that most astronomers pay little attention to anything
out of the ordinary that happens during a full moon.
During the past several full moons, more people seemed to be in search
of some relief from stress, says Melissa Comeau O'Brien of Massage Only
As she flips through her business' book, she notices that Aug. 30, Sept.
28 and Oct. 28 were very busy days for massages. That leads her to speculate
that clients are more aware of their health because of their connection
with nature when the moon is full. She optimistically anticipates the
same will be true at the end of November.
The battle of the sexes carries over to this arena. Women and their
bodies are traditionally more in tune with the moon than are men.
"It's a time when we have a little more access to our emotional
levels," says Grace Ramsey Coolidge, a psychotherapist energy worker
in Newburyport. "In our culture, we're cut off from the heart center
and what they call in the East, the gut center. Some say it's a time
of breakthrough. Women tend to go into cycles more in the full moon,
and there are more [birth] deliveries. It has a pull effect that you
can say pulls emotions up and pulls babies out."
Convincing arguments? Scientifically, nothing backs up any of this.
Brian Lankshear, of Merrimack College's physics department, says there
is no reasonable explanation to link people's behavior to phases of
"People act funny enough without the moon interfering," he
says. "There is a lot of misinformation and silliness out there.
I don't think there's any correlation between physics and werewolves
and howling at the moon. It moves the tides, and if you're a sailor,
you might get excited. The gravity of a big truck parked nearby has
as much gravity as a full moon."
A blue moon simply means two full moons in the same month. It's a coincidence
of the calendar and the moon, which are normally about 28 days apart,
says Lankshear, so there's "nothing too mystical or weird there."
He still wonders whether some day a connection will be found.
"Our ancestors were closely tied to natural things. The moon rising
over the ocean certainly has an emotional effect. They reckon if the
moon weren't there, we wouldn't be here," Lankshear says. This
is because our moon stabilizes our planet. Mars, on the other hand,
lacks a big enough moon to stabilize its axial tilt, which accounts
for its inability to support human life.
While it may be convenient - and to some, even logical - to target the
full moon as an easy explanation for any number of strange events, Sky
and Telescope magazine editor Kelly Beatty says it just doesn't add
He says the human mind tends to work in such a way that most people
are more willing to accept illogical explanations than rational ones.
After all, why else would a show like "The X-Files" have such
a devoted audience?
"We see this on television all the time," Beatty says. "Something
weird happens out in the countryside and, in some people's minds, it's
just as plausible to blame it on aliens as it is to some natural event."
There is also no psychological explanation for people's reactions to
"Anecdotally, yes, empirically, no," is the explanation by
John Malis of Joppa Counseling in Newburyport.
He does hear more complaints about sleep disturbance when the moon is
full, and that's when his patients complain of anxiety and irritability.
But Malis says it doesn't amount to something he could put into a scientific
"It isn't like when the moon is full 'oooh watch out for your patients.'
It's usually not that pronounced," he says. "People are looking
for different homeopathic medications and different explanations for
why things happen, so things like the phases of the moon are grist for
the mill. Sometimes people make reference to it but more in a matter
of fact way."
Malis does credit moonlight for its beneficial effect on those suffering
from seasonal affective disorder, which is comforting when you consider
most 9-to-5 workers are going to see more moonlight than sunlight this
Perhaps most importantly, "the moon reflects back at us a quality
within our own human spirit," Gaia says, "whatever that fascination,
whatever that enchantment is. It may not even be a quality we can name.
"If we can stop projecting for a moment and experience that this
fascination, this beauty, is within me, is my spirit, in a quiet and
humble way ... if we can have a quiet moment of peace and serenity,"
Gaia says, "it can be very healing."
To see the moon
Salem State College Observatory
Route 114, Salem
Monday evening, weather permitting, September into May. Closed June
Merrimack College Observatory
Science, Engineering and Technology Building
Route 114, Andover
Open every clear Wednesday and third Thursday of the month for free
public viewing. Dusk till 10 p.m., weather permitting. 20-inch telescope.
Cancelled if overcast or rainy.
reporter Joel Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dinah Cardin at email@example.com.