Laura Dean Bennett
Halloween 2020, which is this Saturday night, will be one for the astronomical history books.
Not only will we be enjoying spooky jack-o-lanterns and ghost stories, but we’ll be watching for witches flying on broomsticks by the light of a full moon.
Contrary to the impression Hollywood may give us, it’s rare to have a full moon on Halloween.
The most recent Halloween full moon was in 2001, and the next recent before that was 1955.
The remainder of the 21st century will see only four more Halloween full moons – in 2039, 2058, 2077 and 2096.
In an even rarer occurrence, this Halloween will feature a Blue Moon.
A full moon is called a Blue Moon when it’s the second full moon in a month.
Despite the saying, “Once in a Blue Moon” – two full moons in a month isn’t all that rare.
Typically, Blue Moons occur once every 30 months or so – about every two or three years.
But a Blue Moon falling on All Hallow’s Eve? That is a rarity.
Full moons have always engendered mystery, folklore and superstitions, and Blue Moons even more so.
According to legend, magic is supposedly at its most powerful during a full moon.
Many of the “old people” whose families settled the Appalachian Mountains espoused centuries old superstitions about the moon which they brought from the old country.
In some cultures the Blue Moon was considered a good omen.
And any full moon was thought to be an occasion for celebration – an auspicious time to make plans, embark on a journey or a voyage or propose marriage.
The ancient Greeks believed that consummating a marriage during a full moon ensured a long and happy union.
For centuries, and perhaps to this day, the full moon loomed large in the Irish folklore about fairies.
It was believed that the fairies who lived in palaces under the sea were particularly active under the light of a full moon.
They’d come onto land, riding white horses, to cavort at fairy mounds and around hawthorn trees with their fairy kindred who lived in the hills.
On moonlit nights, fairies were thought to dance under ancient trees and drink nectar – or fairy wine – from cups made from flower blossoms.
The Irish believed it was lucky to look at a full moon over your right shoulder, but bad luck to see it over your left.
Some believed that if the light of a full moon should land on your face as you slept, it could disfigure your face or you would not live out the year.
Another superstition said that if you looked long and hard at the full moon reflected in a mirror you might see the face of someone who would be important in your future.
It was said that picking flowers or berries during a Blue Moon would invite abundance, love and good fortune into one’s life.
Tricky, these superstitions.
Many believed that the chances of falling in love or forming a beneficial partnership increased during a Blue Moon.
On the other hand, as the Blue Moon was also called a Trickster Moon, you might risk betrayal by your love or your partner should the alliance have been formed under a Blue Moon.
It’s as though superstitious people couldn’t make up their minds whether full moons or Blue Moons brought good or bad fortune.
It was said by some that a wart could be shed by blowing on it nine times during the night of a Blue Moon.
Some believed that looking at a full Moon through a piece of glass could invite 30 days of bad luck.
In many cultures, it was advised to draw the curtains during a full moon as sleeping under a full moon was to invite lunacy.
And an old Welsh superstition stated that if a member of a family died during a Blue Moon, three more deaths in the family would follow.
Early American settlers brought many of these full moon superstitions with them when they came from the old country.
It was a common belief that cutting hair or trimming nails (or trimming the hooves of a horse) on the evening of a full moon would cause them to grow back faster.
Even laundry could be affected by a Blue Moon.
According to an old wives’ tale, if you hung your laundry out to dry on the day before a full moon (or a Blue Moon) and it remained there overnight, it would be bleached white.
Handy in the days before Clorox.
The popularity of so many almanacs in the American colonies – it was a rare household that didn’t keep such a reference guide handy – indicates the importance of the role the moon played.
Many farmers and gardeners planted crops and planned farm work – and still do – according to the phases of the moon.
Native American tribes also held strong beliefs in the power of a full moon and they passed down many full moon legends.
They were not the first culture to have observed that more babies seemed to be born around the full moon.
This belief, and the generally held opinion that police stations and emergency rooms are busier during a full moon still permeates our culture today, although it has been debunked by many studies.
But no one can deny that this Halloween’s full moon – and a Blue Moon at that – is a rare lunar phenomenon.
Hopefully it will be a harbinger of good things to come.
Daylight Savings Time ends this Saturday night, giving us an extra hour of sleep, so you’ll have time to stay up a little and enjoy watching the moon.
But beware – the Blue, Trickster Moon will be watching you, too.