The Moon in the Man
"The folklore stories vary considerably as to detail but have the same central idea. Just as with children it is the place of the unusually strange or the unusually beautiful. Lucian the Greek satirist wrote a book on the “Voyage to the Globe of the Moon,” in which he describes it as a great round and shining island which hung in the air and yet was inhabited. These inhabitants were a most fantastic order, were called Hippogipians, and their king was Endymion. Others of the ancients thought the lunar men and plants were of immense size. Generally, however, the moon as a place stands in a much closer relation to the earth, and becomes a sort of hades or receptacle for the departed. In the Egyptian “Book of Respirations,” Isis breathes the wish that the soul of her brother Osiris might rise to heaven in the disk of the moon. Plutarch tells us that the moon the element of souls which resolve into her as the bodies of the dead resolve into the earth. Johanna Ambrosius, the German peasant-poet, prays in one of her poems that when she dies she may spend eternity in the moon. Mr. Tyler tells us the Saliva Indians, of South America, point out the moon as their paradise where no mosquitoes are, and the Guayaurus show it as he home of deceased chiefs and medicine-men, and the Polynesians, of Tokelaù, in like manner claim it as the abode of departed kings and chiefs. A common mediæval conception made the moon the seat of hell, and Plutarch mentions an ancient theory that hell is in the air and elysium in the moon (Slaughter 1902, p.307)."
In modern times, more or less, we've looked up at a full moon and 'thought' we could discern a face. Such pareidolia (like 'seeing' faces in clouds), is widespread and extends to Mars, and with the face of Jesus, to toast as well. I'm a bit surprised these faces are predominately male, as the average menstrual cycles of women are around 28 days apart, the moon's phase or synodic cycle is approximately 29.53 days in length, lunar calendars were all the rage at one point (until yearly dating began to get all types of messed up), but the most significant opposition to a 'male' moon is in its name, Luna, an ancient Roman goddess (a counterpart to Sol, the 'male' sun), who is often depicted in art with a two-yoke chariot (Latin biga) pulled along by horses or oxen. Yet, despite the feminine name, we often speak of the “man in the moon,” though we seldom discuss the moon in the man. Let's change that, shall we?
a man who is pure in heart
Ah, poor Larry Talbot! After being bitten by a werewolf he kept changing into a wolf and killing people. The above poem was written by the actor (in 1927's Metropolis), novelist, and screen-writer, Curt Siodmak, for Universal's Lon Chaney, Jr.'s character (which he reprised in four authorized sequels, and also in a bad 1959 Mexican movie, a 1962 television appearance in Route 66, and a sad and brief cameo in his last film, 1971's Dracula vs. Frankenstein). In the authorized sequels, the last line of the poem became "And the moon is full and bright" and the change occurred during every full moon, not just in Autumn (it was the re-vamped version of the poem which was repeated in an episode of the horror soap-opera, Dark Shadows). Wolves, werewolves, and full moons aside, the usage of “wolfbane” by Siodmak is cool, yet both botanically correct and incorrect at the same time.
Wolf's-Bane or Aconitum lycoctonum (from the poisonous genus, Aconitum, with the ancient Greek lycotonum literally meaning 'wolf's bane', as its poison was used as bait to kill wolves or arrows were dipped in its toxic juice) is an interesting choice by the screen-writer, but not exactly the plant or family of plants he should have used. To become a werewolf, as has been known since Classical antiquity, one consumes or uses an ointment made from the Solanaceae, or nightshade family (especially Belladonna, Datura, Henbane, and Mandrake). The references from ancient, medieval, and even relatively recent sources are so numerous, I'll limit such to what I believe this column can handle.
In his often cited article, “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft,” anthropologist, professor at various graduate schools, and promoter of neo-shamanism, Michael J. Harner, drew attention to the seventh century CE Greek physician and author, Paulus Ægineta, and his description of lycanthropia (Harner 1973, p. 141). Harner quotes an 1844 translation by Francis Adams, but an earlier version (Adams 1834) seems much more complete:
– On Lycaon, or
ON THE THIRD BOOK OF PAULUS ÆGINETA
Solanaceae is not specifically mentioned, though it must have been common knowledge, as the late second century CE novel (Europe oldest surviving, in fact) The Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius whose Latin work was based on a guy watching a beautiful naked woman (a witch) rub herself with an ointment, turn into a bird, and fly away. She saw that her transformation had been witnessed and cursed the protagonist to be a donkey until someone performs a good deed for him. This bawdy novel specifically mentions an ointment of transformation, and as it was likely in every learned collection. 'Magical” or transformative ointment was probably used with Achilles (except his heel), is the basis for the Berserkers (berserk = bear-shirt) who wore bear-pelts and were especially savage warriors, the Irish hero, Cúchulainn (“the hound of Culain”) and his riastartha battle-rage, and concluding the animal-ointment traditions, we have ...the werewolves.
An amusing aside – modern Italians wouldn't know what to cook if they didn't have tomatoes, yet for some 75 years while the rest of the Europe sampled this New World fruit/vegetable, Italians wouldn't go near tomatoes because they knew it belonged to the Solanaceae family. It was soon revealed the 'fruit' of the tomato was fine to eat, but the leaves and stems, not so much. We shouldn't question WHY the scientific botanical name for the tomato is Solanum lycopersicum or the “wolf peach.” Wolves?
During the 16th century, while the Italians weren't eating tomatoes, werewolves throughout Europe (as well as Africa) were ravaging the countryside killing livestock and eating the meat raw. The German anthropologist, author, and teaching academic, Hans Peter Deurr described various incidents of Solanaceae ointment intoxication, but also isolated cases of outsiders who lived in the wild for so long they themselves began to assume an 'animal' nature both mentally and somewhat physically (Duerr 1985). He cites an infamous judge, Pierre de Lancre (1553–1631), who under orders from King Henry IV was commanded to rid Labourd, the French part of Basque Country, of witchcraft and associated practices (i.e., werewolves) with: “A statement by P. de Lancre, in Wunderbahrliche Geheimnussen der Zauberey (n.p., 1630), p. 79, indicates that a clear distinction was made at the time of the Renaissance between the werewolf illness (lycanthropy) and the werewolf institution: 'There does exist an illness, and those suffering from it are called werewolves (insania lupina) but these people appear as werewolves only in their own eyes, while the sorcerers are werewolves also in the eyes of other people' (ibid p. 238).” The quote from 1630 which recognizes two distinctive types of werewolves is correct, but noninclusive of organized gangs of rampaging youth whacked out on the Solanaceae ointment and the many pagan fertility rites of transformation which Duerr traces from ancient times, through the Middle Ages, and even into to the nineteenth century. It seems werewolves, like the Universal films, may indeed have been monsters (Latin monēre or “to warn”). Punks on drugs are one thing, but the 'outsider' warns the civilized about the result of isolation. Talk about “use it or lose it,” leaving society and living in the wild crosses a line of sanity one might term lunacy (< late Latin lūnāticus). Ah, Moon in the man…
“A Warning to the Reader,” Deurr wrote: “...1 they [the
'spirits' of the Solanaceae, RDF] do not want to be called just for
fun or out of craziness. If they feel like striking up a friendship,
they will let the respective person know. 2 The tickets they issue
are often one-way, singles i.e.: the return part is missing.” The
late LSD-guru and stand-up philosopher, Dr. Timothy Leary wrote in
personal correspondence he'd never tried Solanaceae and had no desire
to experiment. The New World peyote and psilocybin mushrooms elate
the user and weird colors are seen, while in the Old World the
Solanaceae, like Nightshade, produce dark, aggressiveness, and
violence. Our current parlance includes references to crazy folk
coming out with the full moon. From killing and eating livestock raw
to slang vernacular
is a change from the Moon
in the man as monster to street idiom and a tremendous improvement.
Now, if only we could get all those guns out of the wrong hands...
Harner, Michael J. 1973. Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Edited by Michael J. Hartner. New York: Oxford University Press.
Slaughter, J. W. 1902. “The Moon in Childhood and Folklore.” The American Journal of Psychology. 13,2: 294-318; from p. 307.
Time to listen to Bowie's "Let's Dance" in some serious moonlight,