the blood moon foretold this deceit
Today I fell for some misinformation.
There was a lunar eclipse the other night, and a mutual follower of mine on fedi complained about the recent proliferation of the term "blood moon".
I pushed back a little, saying it was a nickname people have used for ages, and just because it's not scientific doesn't mean it's bad. I compared it to saying "half-moon" when you're talking about the phase technically called "quarter moon"—with our limited 2D perspective, the moon looks like a circle and the quarter moon looks like a half circle.
Much as humanity didn't always know the moon is a 3D object, I was thinking about times before we knew what a eclipse is. Without knowing the cause, either a solar or lunar eclipse would be a terrifying phenomenon. People thought it was a bad omen: "blood moon" would be a totally apt way to describe it.
It made sense to me that the nickname would stick around even after we understood the reason. Another analogy would be the nickname people often use for a circle of mushrooms: "fairy ring". Using the phrase doesn't mean I believe in fairies,1 it's just a cute nickname for an unusual natural phenomenon.
Well, after actually looking it up, it turns out the recent use of "blood moon" has a slightly more sinister background. I'll quote myself here:
Sorry, I looked it up, and I was conflating two things. The historical term "blood moon" refers to the first full moon after the harvest moon, which is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox. I don't know why they called it that, it doesn't look red.
Several ancient cultures mythologized lunar eclipses as bad omens, but I can't find evidence that any of them called it a "blood moon", even though I think that'd be a really apt nickname for a reddish moon you think is a bad omen.
The recent adoption of the term seems to originate in fundamentalist christianity and has been mostly spread by journalists in the last decade or so. Yikes. Mea culpa.
I figure the MtG card and any other use of the term I remember from when I was a kid (which may very well be false memories, post-hoc rationalizing on my part) was also based on conflating the two pieces of historical moon lore.2
It was the perfect storm of half- or mis-remembered information and convenient inferences. Like "of course an ancient culture would see that big scary red moon floating up in the sky and call it a blood moon, are you kidding me?" And well, maybe some people did. But if they did, that's not why people are saying "blood moon" now; it's because of this weird fringe apocalyptic sect journalists are referencing— unwittingly, I assume, but one never knows.
You see why I was confused?
That doesn't mean we shouldn't have a cute nickname for a creepy full lunar eclipse, just that we shouldn't use that one. Here are some possible alternatives:
- Wizzard's moon
- Woe moon
- Moon of Sauron
- Iron discus
- Satan sphere
- Lucifer Luna
- Roaming Phobos
Feel free to use any of these, just don't use them for a creepy doomsday cabal. Don't be gross, be spooky 👻
Though in this case it wouldn't be a big deal if I did, who cares↩
Wikipedia. Lunar Eclipse (refs. 16, 18, 19)↩