Chanting of the Chuckwill’s Widow
Has mankind always been wrong about the moon, or does that orb have powers for good or ill (chiefly the latter) second only to those of that master of our sub-universe, the sun? Any dictionary suggests the story with such terms as moon blasted, moon-sick, moon-struck, lunatic, and so on. Poets have abundantly sung of the influence of the moon upon lovers and we popularly recognize it by calling them loony or moony. That the moon has definite biological effects is shown by the spawning periodicity of the Hawaiian palolo and the California grunion. It may be argued that these are secondary, the primary influence being through the tides. But there is no tidal effect in the moon-synchronized blooming of Morea flowers, the changes in electric potential of a maple tree, the feeding of screech owls, and the chanting of the chuckwill’s widow.
Without subscribing to the cult that deems the success of all plantings dependent upon the sign of the moon, we may admit as a minimum that there is considerable evidence of lunar influence upon organisms. As to effects upon man, there is much chaff to winnow but little grain to glean. The literature is chiefly medical and deals mostly with the alleged relation of the moon to epilepsy, hysteria, fevers, and night blindness. Treatises up to book length have been devoted to the thesis that fevers are connected with, and affected by, the revolutions of the moon. That Hypothesis, however, gets little credence now. Nightblindness and day-blindness have been discussed so long and so ineptly that the meanings of these terms and their technical equivalents have become hopelessly confused.
Thus, savants having been not too successful in the study of lunar influence upon the human race, it may be just as well to consider the testimony of a few laymen. As to blindness, Cuthbert Collingwood (Rambles of a Naturalist, 1868:309-310) reported that: “A sailor lad 18 years of age after sleeping in the direct rays of the moon, for about a month could not see by moonlight, and narrowly escaped serious injury from falling. However, between decks and in daylight, or even in dark before the moon rose, he saw as well a9 ever.” It is said that sailors very generally fear some such evil effect and that they throw a cloth over the face of any man found sleeping in the moonlight.
As to moon stroke or the like, I have been able to find only the evidence of Richard Burton, the famed adventurer and writer. While still a Lieutenant he published books on his experiences and findings in India. In The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night” (1885-1888, 2:4), he wrote: “Easterners still believe in the blighting effect of the moon’s rays, which the Northerners of Europe, who view it under different conditions, are pleased to deny.