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More articles by Deborah Houlding:

The Roaring Sun
Venus: The Two-Faced Goddess
Mars: Solar Hero or Deadly Villain?
Jupiter, The Lord of Plenty
Saturn: The Great Teacher


The Moon in Folklore & Science, by Deborah Houlding
The Moon is the queen of mesmerism and mystification. Enticing us with her delicate aura, intriguing us with her inconstant appearance, the Moon is a wanton creature; sometimes appearing low on the horizon, illuminating the night in her full orb, sometimes appearing briefly, dressed in her flimsiest crescent. Traditional astrology considers the Moon a significator of change, fickleness and easy impressionability; and yet few astrologers would dare to disregard its powerful influence upon earthly events.

Modern man has visited the Moon's surface and analysed its structure - but have we exposed its secrets? Despite all we know about the mechanics and composition of the Moon, a sense of magic and fascination remains. What is the basis of the Moon's enigmatic powers? Has modern science only begun to scratch the surface of the knowledge imbedded in folklore and myth?

True to its elusive nature, many of the astrological influences attributed to the Moon remain one step away from full scientific verification; yet mounting support is now being given to theories that were once rejected as pure superstition. It is now fairly well established that the Moon affects us, and its interplay with the Sun and the Earth is known to act as a cosmic trigger for many natural rhythms and breeding cycles. In one recent experiment a batch of oysters were taken from their natural habitat and sealed in containers 1000 miles from the sea. Initially, they continued to open and close according to their old pattern but after a couple of weeks their behaviour regulated to the position of the Moon at the new location, demonstrating that they were sensitive to the cycle of the Moon and not simply the movement of the tide. Proving the Moon's influence over human fertility is more complex, but a study of over half a million births in New York, between 1948 and 1957, showed maximum births just after the full Moon and a clear minimum at the new Moon. Furthermore, a Swiss investigation which recorded 11,807 menstrual periods discovered the onset of bleeding occurred most often during the waxing Moon than the waning Moon, with a peak on the evening before new Moon.[1]

The Moon's influence upon the waters of the Earth is also clearly recognised. Since the physical body is mainly comprised of water, it is scientifically logical to expect that the waxing and waning of the Moon should have far-reaching effects upon all natural conditions, including the human one. The Earth's tides are mainly created by the force of the Moon's orbit, along with the Earth's own revolution and gravitational pull from the Sun. As the Moon passes overhead, its pull drags a bulge of water behind it, with a second bulge created on the opposite side of the Earth. The most dramatic tides occur at new Moon and full Moon, when the Sun, Moon and Earth fall in line with each other and there is a strong focus to their gravitational force. Tides vary least at a quarter Moon, when the Moon is in a square aspect (90°) from the Sun and their gravitational pulls conflict with, and counteract, each other. This atmospheric bombardment affects the Earth in many ways. The surface tension of water is increased, and even the density of air surrounding the Earth ebbs and flows like the tides in the sea.

The Moon's effect on the tides

Ancient astrologers recognised the conjunction, square and opposition of the Sun and Moon as unfortunate, and claimed that when the lights of heaven are in bad aspect there is a state of imbalance in all mundane and human affairs. There is no shortage of statistics to support this assertion. Many documented studies show that suicide rates increase around the full Moon, and that new Moons, quarter Moons and full Moons all indicate crisis periods when reported incidents of violence and accidents increase. One study, conducted between 1956 and 1970, examined 4,000 murders that had taken place in Miami and Cleveland, USA. The investigating psychologist, Arnold Leiber, wrote that he was 'astounded' at the way the murders peaked around the new and full Moon. 'Our results indicated that murders become more frequent with the increase in the Moon's gravitational force', he concluded.[2]

Even before the use of statistics, popular belief in the power of the Moon was widespread and deep-rooted, based upon personal observation and the accumulated experience of many generations. 'Moon madness' was taken very seriously, hence the Latin word Luna, meaning Moon, forms the origin of the words 'lunacy', 'lunatic' and 'loony'. Lunacy grows worse at full and new Moon — taught the famous 16th century physician, Paracelsus, referring to a disease that had been recognised since Classical times, and which became official under British Law in the mid-nineteenth century. The 1842 Lunacy Act defined as a 'Lunatic' a demented person enjoying lucid intervals during the first two phases of the Moon and afflicted with a period of fatuity in the period following after the full Moon.[3]

In astrology, it is the Moon's association with water that dominates its influence. According to Ptolemy: The Moon has a higher degree of her power in moistening because of proximity to the earth (quite obviously) and the exhalation of moisture.[4] Time-honoured folklore claims that the waxing and waning of the Moon reflects a monthly cycle of water content in the Earth and its produce, with the full Moon representing the time of greatest moisture. In gardening lore, the first quarter of the waxing Moon is the ideal time to plant seeds, repot plants, sow lawns, etc., but if the weather is particularly dry the gardener is advised to plant his seeds at the full Moon, when conditions are likely to be more moist. Full Moons are also favoured for harvesting plants that need to be rich in moisture content, such as grapes, tomatoes, and strawberries, while plants that produce 'below the ground', such as potatoes and carrots, are best planted during the 'dark of the Moon'. The waning Moon is the time for killing weeds, cutting back dead growth, harvesting root vegetables and drying herbs, flowers and fruit.

Recent surveys again support tradition in showing that the Moon's influence over the Earth's waters does not only extend to rivers and tides, but also effects rainfall cycles and the rhythms of bodily moisture (such as the menstrual cycle which mirrors its 28 day period). Observations collected from 1,544 weather stations in North America from 1900 to 1949 reveal that heavy rain occurs most frequently on the days immediately following the full and new Moon.[5] The marked increase in haemorrhaging during the full Moon period is well-known to researchers and medical practitioners, and confirms ancient astrological belief that it is unwise to 'let' blood during the opposition of the Sun and Moon.

Many omens concerning a strange lunar appearance warn of excess of moisture through floods or stormy weather. A halo around the Moon, for instance, is an ancient sign of rain, (which has a factual basis since the halo is caused by moisture in the atmosphere). The smaller the halo, the higher the likelihood of rain. If there are stars in the halo some omens say that it will rain for as many days as there are stars, others that the rain will come after so many days. The Moon on its back (when its horns point upwards) is said to hold water and presages a dry spell. In a general sense it is an unfortunate omen which is sometimes taken as an augury of death. Another omen claims that if the first crescent of the new Moon appears with its lower horn obscured, stormy weather is indicated in the first phase of the Moon. If the obscuration is in the middle of the Moon, the storm will occur around the time of the new Moon. If the upper horn is affected, the storm will come during the wane of the Moon. If you are not sure how to recognise a waxing or waning Moon from its appearance, remember that the waxing Moon grows larger from right to left. It is called the 'right-hand Moon' because the curve of the crescent corresponds to the curve between the right-hand index finger and the thumb. Similarly, a waning Moon diminishes from right to left and is known as a 'left-hand Moon' because of its correspondence with the curve on the left hand.

Another lunar indication of floods is a 'Blue Moon', the term used when two full Moons fall in the same calendar month. This occurs, on average, once every two and a half years. The last blue moon was in May 2002, the next is in December 2005.

New Moons can also indicate bad weather. Sometimes, when a new Moon occurs on a clear night, a faint, golden outline of the full Moon can be seen as a continuation of the bright crescent. Traditional folklore refers to this as the 'Old Moon in the New Moon's arms', a phenomenom created by earthshine — the reflection of light from the Earth back onto the surface of the Moon. Old customs take this to be the sign of a storm or misfortune; as one old ballad goes:

Late, Late yester' ev'n I saw the new Moon
wi' the old Moon in her arm
and I fear, I fear, my dear master
that we shall come to harm
. [6]

Another omen claims that if the new Moon is high in Northern latitude, it brings cold or unpleasant weather, but if far south, it presages a period of fair weather.

Despite the apparent risk of rain, many ancient festivals were timed for the period of the full Moon, partly for esoteric purposes, because it represented the fruition of the month, but mainly for practical purposes, because it was of course the time of greatest night-time illumination. For example, the Jewish Passover is celebrated at the full Moon, and the Christian Easter (which sets the dates of later festivals) occurs on the first Sunday following the first full Moon after the Sun's return to the vernal equinox - delayed until the Sunday, the day of the Sun, since Easter is intrinsically connected to the resurrection of the Sun as it regains its strength in spring.[7]

The appearance of the full Moon at the time near the Sun's passage of the equinoxes can be particularly impressive, because of its size and golden illumination. The full Moon nearest to the September equinox is known as the 'Harvest Moon' because it appears large and bright in the early evening for several nights in a row, giving farmers valuable extra time to gather in their harvest.

Although many myths refer to the Moon as a feminine influence, some ancient civilisations considered the Moon a masculine deity, whose role was to structure society as a measurer and recorder of time. Folklore also continues to speak of the 'Man in the Moon', who is often described as carrying a bundle of twigs or a bucket and who is generally reported to be a thief or tramp, transported to the Moon in punishment for some criminal or immoral activity. One common folklore claims he was a beggar, whose crime was to gather firewood on Sunday, and whose punishment therefore was to live a perpetual 'Monday' on the Moon.[8]

Most cultures have recognised images in the Moon and have their own folktales to tell. A charming Chinese legend speaks of the man in the Moon who secures the destiny of lovers by uniting them with an invisible, silken cord, which he ties around their waist. At the time they are destined to meet and fall in love, he draws the cords together. Astrologers may smile at the thought, yet we still maintain that the best form of synastry between the charts of lovers is to find their respective Moons in harmonious aspect.

"On the Moon, all the stars circle around you every 28 days instead of 24 hours and the Sun moves around you the same way. Yet the Earth stays right in the same spot. I remember thinking if ancient man had been born on the Moon he would have had much more difficulty determining what was going on because things would have been slow in motion. But I felt pretty sure ancient cultures would have worshipped the Earth and thought it was an eye because it would change from blue to white and you could see something moving up there that did look like a coloured eye. No doubt they would think that was a god up there watching them. There's no telling the virgins they would have sacrificed to that thing."

- Al Bean, Crew member, Apollo 12

Notes & References:
  1] Two separate studies, totalling over 20,000, also recordings of the onset of menstruation, showed positive peaks around the period of the new Moon.
The book Supernature by Dr. Lyall Watson provides a good overview of many other similar statistical experiments. (published Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1971).
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  2] The Lunar Almanac, R.E. Guiley, p.147
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  3] The Royal Art of Astrology, Robert Eisler, p.145
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  4] Tetrabiblos, Arhat translation, p.14. Ptolemy did not systematically designate the planets or signs to the four humours, hot, dry, cold and wet, as later authors did. Whereas most describe the Moon as cold and moist, Ptolemy described it as: slightly of heating due to the illumination from the Sun.
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  5] 'Lunar Synodical Period and Widespread Precipitation', Science Magazine, issue 137: 748
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  6] The Lunar Almanac
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  7] The precise formula to determine Easter is:
(1) Easter must be on a Sunday.
(2) This Sunday must follow the full paschal moon (see below).
(3) The full paschal moon is the full Moon which falls on or next follows the day of the vernal equinox - 21st March.
Thus Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25.
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  8] Moon Lore, Rev. T. Harvey
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Deborah HouldingDeborah Houlding is an experienced astrologer and internationally recognised authority on traditional horary practice. She has been teaching horary to astrological students around the world through seminars, lectures, workshops and correspondence since 1990. Her experience includes acting as a correspondence tutor for Olivia Barclays' Qualifying Horary Practitioner Course, acting as the horary editor for the Journal of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, presenting a master class on horary at the AA conference in 1998, conducting horary workshops for the Faculty of Astrological Studies Summer School, and numerous international tours.

Deborah was the editor of the Traditional Astrologer Magazine and is the author of The Houses: Temples of the Sky. Her new title Heritage of the Stars is due to be published at the end of 2004. She currently runs the Skyscript astrology site at

© Deborah Houlding, 2004. This article is an updated adaptation of the article 'The Moon: The Lantern of Heaven', which was published in the Traditional Astrologer Magazine, pp. 24-28; Issue 5, Summer 1994.

The Moon