A full moon is a beautiful thing. It is gorgeous to look at up in the sky among the stars, and it can make you feel like something special, or even supernatural, is about to happen. People in ancient times felt the same way, which is perhaps why they came up with so many myths and legends about the full moon. Here are five of the most intriguing (and most bizarre).
The moon rabbit
In both ancient Chinese and ancient Native American cultures, people used to look up at the full moon at certain times of the year and see the shape of a rabbit mixing something with a pestle or pounding something on a log. In Chinese myths in particular, this rabbit is said to be a companion to Chang'e, the moon goddess. It mixes the "elixir of life" for her with its mortar and pestle, so that she can live forever. This myth has been handed down for hundreds of years, and even led to mission control telling the crew of the Apollo 11 to watch out for "a lovely girl with a big rabbit" when they landed on the moon in 1969.
Full moons make people crazy
People who work in hospitals or police stations today often say that things get busier when there's a full moon, as if it is the moon itself is making people act strangely. You might be surprised to learn that this idea has been around since ancient times, when people thought that the moon caused things like sleepwalking, outbursts of violence, criminal activity, and even suicides. In fact, the words "lunatic" and "lunacy" are both derived from the name of the Roman moon goddess, Luna, implying that the moon was the cause of one's insanity or bizarre behavior. This idea has persisted for thousands of years, and was even used as a reason for giving out lighter sentences for people on trial for murder in 18th-century England, if the alleged killer committed the crime during a full moon.
There was a man in the moon
We have all heard and made references to the "man in the moon," and we are almost always talking about the shapes on the full moon's surface (caused by asteroids) that just look like a man's face or a man carrying a sack. Ancient Aztecs, though, believed that there really was a man in the moon—or, better, a god in the moon. This god was named Tēcciztēcatl, and was one of the only moon gods of ancient times that was a man instead of a woman. Many artifacts have been found depicting this man in the moon, and many of them show him actually carrying the moon on his back, as if the moon were his responsibility.
The full moon was the best time for funerals
In ancient Egypt, both the sun and the moon were seen as extremely important parts of religion and culture. While the sun was worshipped as a god, the moon was seen as more of a symbol. The full moon was normally viewed as a harbinger of rejuvenation or fertility, but it was also seen as the end of a cycle of life. The Egyptians thought that the cycle of human life was much like the cycle of the moon: starting with nothing, then waxing, waning, and growing until it became full and the cycle ended, only to begin anew. For this reason, funerals often took place under a full moon, which symbolized the end of both life cycles.
No list about full moon myths could ever be complete without our furry friend (or foe) the werewolf. The idea of werewolves has been around for centuries, being passed down from nearly every culture, including Greeks, Scandinavians, and other ancient European civilizations. Roman poet Ovid, for example, told a story about King Lycaon, who served human meat to gods and was punished for this crime by being turned into a werewolf. Interestingly, it was only the European myths that associated this transformation with the full moon, even though nowadays that is a given in most werewolf movies and books.