Saturday 17 August 2019

Midsummer, black magic and the full moon

A full moon over Beale Beach, Co. Kerry
A full moon over Beale Beach, Co. Kerry

Fiona O'Connell

With midsummer magic less than a week away and a full moon tomorrow, it's no wonder you can stay outside till late, the moon hovering over the ancient watchtower across the river in this country town. Sometimes it wavers on the water, becoming Moon River - the fourth most memorable song in Hollywood history ,

But it's no mistake that this most romantic of rivers is both dream-maker and heartbreaker.

For the moon is linked not just to love and desire but also danger and lunacy. As the recent Mr Moonlight case reminds us - a name no doubt meant to conjure up glitz and glamour for a part-time DJ came to sum up a shocking murder.

For we joke about people turning into werewolves or vampires during the full moon, a belief known as the Transylvanian hypothesis that persisted in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. But we haven't changed that much from our superstitious ancestors.

Tellingly, the theory resurfaced in the 20th century before it was dismissed as pseudo-science. Though in 2007, several police departments in the UK added officers on full moon nights in an effort to cope with presumed higher crime rates.

The link between the full moon and murder is also kept alive by scores of Hollywood horror flicks that portray full moon nights as a peak time of spooky occurrences and psychotic behaviours.

Though there is a kernel of truth to the unease some feel about a full moon. Before the advent of outdoor lighting, the bright light of the full moon deprived people who were living outside of sleep, which could trigger those with certain psychological conditions. This lunar lunacy effect is called a "cultural fossil".

But maybe we don't want to give up our belief in the supernatural, stubbornly pointing to anecdotal evidence of full moon induced black magic. Yet this can have tragic consequences for those on the margins of a community when a brutal crime occurs.

A phenomenon whereby we see a connection between events that don't exist, called "illusory correlation", often comes into play at such times.

It lies behind many witch hunts, both the literal ones in the past whereby powerful or different women were persecuted, and those that continue today, where a person is demonised by a group who unconsciously practises black magic by projecting the phantoms of their dark side on them.

It is no coincidence that the target is often an outsider or oddball, the most vulnerable and easiest to vilify.

The chilling certainty against them can be contagious as madness makes us see what we believe, with people remaining convinced even after their claims are proven false. So best forget the hocus-pocus and moon over the facts in the cold light of day.

Sunday Independent

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