The moon remains, perpetually and since antiquity, a source of cultural wonder. Last week, when NASA announced that it would reveal “an exciting new discovery” about the moon in a matter of days, the internet, thirsty for distraction, went wild speculating about it. (It happened to be exciting news for space scientists — water and ice on the moon is more accessible than previously thought — but not the supernatural or extraterrestrial news many yearned for.)
Moon updates have been plentiful this year. In August, scientists reported they had flashed a laser onto a NASA spacecraft that was gliding over the moon’s surface at thousands of miles per hour in order to measure distance between our moon and planet. (It worked.) In February, two astronomers discovered a mini-moon orbiting Earth.
Then there was the confusing time, in July, when some self-identified witches on TikTok claimed to have hexed the moon — leading to frustration on the part of more established self-identified witches, who chastised the “fresh baby witches” for disrespect and hurting the “gods that rule the moon,” according to one very popular Twitter thread. (Let’s not even bring up the way witches and astrology lovers responded online to the news that President Trump tested positive for the coronavirus during a full moon on Oct. 2.)
Now, the moon has another significant moment in store for witches and non-witches alike: On Oct. 31 — that’s Halloween to you — humans in all time zones will be treated to a blue hunter’s moon. A blue moon occurs on the rare occasion when there is more than one full moon during a month. (It doesn’t actually look blue.)
A hunter’s moon follows a harvest moon (that was Oct. 2), and it theoretically signals a time to stockpile for winter.
The last time there was a full pizza-pie moon (a nontechnical term) in all time zones on All Saint’s Eve was in 1944. There was a full moon on Halloween in 2001, but it was only visible in the Central and Pacific time zones. The next full moon on Halloween that will be visible worldwide is expected in 2077, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.
The idea that something rare can happen during a full moon has been drilled into the human psyche in countless ways including through popular movies, books and cartoons. The root of the word lunatic is luna (moon in Latin), implying a sort of craze associated with the moon at its fullest. And in a fictional sense, of course, a full moon is a good time for werewolves, and is fully to blame for causing Cher to fall in love with Nicolas Cage in the 1987 film “Moonstruck.”
That said, “there is no significance to the blue moon — none at all,” according to Sarah Noble, a lunar scientist at NASA. “It is a folklore thing,” she added.
On this count, even astrologers, belonging to the practice of ancient folklore themselves, may agree.
“Blue moons do not have an astrological significance,” said Chani Nicholas, an astrologer who in Los Angeles. “However, the fact that the full moon is happening on Halloween is significant.”
“Full moons are a time when we get a little assistance seeing in the dark,” Ms. Nicholas said, speaking metaphorically. “It is a very significant full moon, and it is happening four days before the election and is sitting next to a planet with upheaval, change, surprise, excitement: Uranus.” She said it was a good time to get rid of things we don’t need.
Ms. Nicholas made clear that she was not predicting an outcome for the U.S. election, but merely explaining the full moon in conjunction with the planetary astrological charts.
Jessica Dore, a social worker and tarot reader, said the coming full moon, in its rarity, was a kind of emblem of change. (While astrology and the Tarot are both popular practices rooted in history, they are not scientific or logical methods for predicting future events.)
“I think that symbols — and a blue moon is a symbol — do have the potential to activate things in an individual and in the collective,” Ms. Dore said. “It is a time when something rare can happen.”
It may be that an intrinsic, archaic gravitational force to revere the moon is built into humans after ages of using it for survival, according to Maggie Aderin Pocock, a lunar expert and space scientist and the author of “The Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor.”
In the past, an important mechanism for measuring time was the standard 29.5-day moon cycle; the phases of the moon helped farmers time the planting and harvesting of their crops.
In 2013, archaeologists found what they believed to be an 8,000-year-old lunar calendar in Aberdeenshire, Scotland — 12 moon-shaped pits in the ground that still completely align with the moon during the midwinter solstice.
“It is fascinating how many cultures have latched on to the moon,” said Dr. Pocock, a self-proclaimed lunatic herself. “The fact that they took the time to dig these holes and celebrate the moon is significant. The moon taps into all belief systems that maybe have gone out of use but are still in parlance.”
It’s clear that the pull humans feel to learn about the moon, harness its power or flat out hex it stems from a time when we relied on it heavily in a day-to-day sense. But it also just feels nice to know that there is something out there in the mysterious dark expanse of space that is connected to humanity.
And maybe there’s something even deeper. The atoms of the universe are endlessly recycled, said Ms. Noble, the lunar scientist. (The sun is a second generation star, for example.) Perhaps, with the discovery that human bodies are made of stardust, we all have a little more moon inside of us than we think.