Passing Time and the Jug

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

In Europe, another belief held sway. People saw a man's face outlined on the moon. Some claimed this was the face of Judas, who had been banished to the moon as punishment.

Meanwhile, the Efe people of Africa told stories crediting the moon with helping create the first man on earth. The Fon tribe called the moon the mother of all people.

These moon tales, and thousands like them, sound far-fetched. Yet we have our own moon lore in Missouri today. Consider these beliefs:

  • Fish are easier to catch in the dark of the moon.
  • You should plant your garden "according to the moon."
  • To see the moon over your shoulder is bad luck.
  • A full moon makes people act strangely, even increasing crime and emergency room visits.

The moon is in our popular culture, too. We all know the song "Blue Moon." The film Moonstruck earned three Oscars. Margaret Wise Brown's classic picture book, Goodnight Moon, still lulls children to sleep. The nineteenth century produced Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and van Gogh's "The Starry Night," with its jarring crescent moon. Mother Goose's cow vaulted over the moon.

If we broadened our search, we'd find the moon's imprint in all cultures, all times.

The English word "moon" exists in similar form in all Indogermanic languages and comes from the Greek word meaning "measure." This is no surprise: most old cultures measured time with the moon. In fact, our word "month," derived from "moon," originally referred to the moon's 29 day cycle.

The ancient world's calendars were nearly all lunar. The Babylonians kept track of new moons as early as 750 B.C.E., and the Sumerians probably did the same 1,000 years earlier. Many religions originated in cultures that used the lunar calendar. Judaism, for example, follows a lunar calendar even today, though it has been modified to match the solar year's length. And because Christians originally calculated some of their holidays in relation to Jewish holidays, Christianity still preserves its ties to the lunar calendar in the "movable feasts," most notably Easter. This holiday, according to the English Book of Common Prayer, "is always the first Sunday after the Full Moon which happens upon, or next after the Twenty first day of March."

The Islamic faith also retains the lunar calendar. The Koran forbids the introduction of leap days and states that Islamic holidays begin when the new moon is sighted. This means the same holiday can begin at different times in different places-in

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