Clouding over the moon

The mythical connection between phases of the moon, madness and epilepsy are discussed in an engrossing but sadly locked article from the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences.

However, it does have this wonderful section where some of the more whimsical portrayals of ‘lunacy’ are discussed:

In the epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto, “Orlando Furioso” (1532/1992), when the paladin Orlando learns that his lover Angelica is married, he becomes mad and goes through Europe and Africa destroying everything in his path. The English knight Astolfo flies up to moon where all human intellects lost on Earth are collected and finds Orlando’s in a bottle, thus restoring him to sanity (Ariosto, 1532/1992).

In the seventeenth century, the term “lunatic,” especially in its more specific acceptation of “insane” as a result of some mental obsession, began to be substituted by the term “moonstruck.” Reflecting the popular association between the moon and the irrational, primitive, and dark side of the human mind, the adjective “moonstruck” makes its first appearance in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.


Link to summary and DOI entry for ‘lunacy’ article.

9 thoughts on “Clouding over the moon”

  1. The moon energy is well-recognized in non-Western energy medicine. For example qigong master Chunyi Lin says that meditation three days before and after the Full Moon is ten times stronger than normal. Most would dismiss this yet the Mayo clinic doctors just verified Chunyi Lin’s “external qi” healing in a randomized, controlled study published August 2010. The Buddhist monks do all night meditation on the full moon, etc. Chunyi Lin says that when there is an eclipse of the moon then evil spirits come out in droves as he saw in meditation….

  2. In the seventeenth century, the term “lunatic,” … began to be substituted by the term “moonstruck.”

    Of course, lunatic already had fairly obvious lunar etymological roots.

  3. I live with 4 women and I can tell you that madness is quite definitely linked with a rough lunar cycle of 28 days

  4. well it is curious: over on Jena Pincott’s “Love Sex and Attraction” blog ( the statistics seem to show that this is just another Moon Illusion, which led me in the comments there to propose the same question I’ll put to here.

    “It would seem obvious, then, to look instead at the symmetric problems, ie, to study the observers. Could people be more aware of special-case events over the full moon? Could they be attuned to remembering anomalous events during the full moon? (there being one rather dominating cue for memory retrieval is illuminating the sky)”

  5. I used to be a social worker in an inner city emergency room, and I swear we could always tell when there was a full moon. We didn’t get busier, necessarily–we were always busy–but the cases coming in seemed to get more bizarre, and the need for psychosocial interventions spiked off the graph. I was never surprised to step outside the night following a particularly draining shift and find a full moon staring back at me.

    Debra Stang
    Alliant Professional Networking Specialist
    A Great Source for Online CE

  6. Not sure if I’m a lunatic but for the past 20 years I find it difficult to sleep around the full moon, even with blackout blinds…

  7. This is the first time I’ve encountered any mention of “Orlando Furioso” since it was assigned reading in one of my college English classes, 35 years ago. That’s crazy!

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