Passing Time and the Jug

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

one village the moon might be hidden by clouds, but on the same night in another village the sky is clear.

American Indians measured time by moons, too. They named each moon. Some of the names have obvious meanings, such as September's Harvest Moon or July's Corn Moon. Other moon names are based on Indian stories.

Unfortunately, the lunar calendar is not an accurate measurer of the seasons. Twelve lunar "months" are 354 days; therefore, over time the lunar calendar drifts through the seasons of the year. But farmers needed to know when to plant their crops. Merchants needed universal time measurements to coordinate business. To help them forecast the Nile's yearly flood the ancient sun-worshipping Egyptians developed one of the earliest solar calendars. Julius Caesar introduced the Egyptian calendar to Europe 2,000 years ago.

The moon's cycle intrigues people. It corresponds remarkably with the length of the average female menstrual cycle and also accurately measures the time between conception and birth-exactly nine lunar cycles. Anyone living near a large body of water recognizes the moon's relationship to the tides. Seeking to explain the moon's mysteries, people have incorporated the moon into their religion and folklore.

One universal occurrence of moon lore is the sighting of a person or creature on the moon. In America we have "the man in the moon." The Masai of Kenya say that the moon was beaten by her husband, the sun, and she publicly displays her black eye and swollen lip to spite him. Siberian tribes see a girl crouching on the moon; the moon rescued the girl from a wolf.

Viewers in Scandinavia see two children on the moon. These children, Hjuki and Bil, were forced to carry water all day by their cruel father. The moon rescued the children. Americans know these children as Jack and Jill.

Many people believe that to wish on a new moon is good luck. Muslim countries revere the crescent moon as a symbol of waxing power, and print the moon upon their flags. Some Americans plant gardens during a new moon. Another bit of American folklore is that a baby born during a new moon will be strong and healthy. An old English proverb reinforces this myth by predicting an unfortunate life for babies born on moonless nights: "No moon, no man."

Several cultures warn against sleeping in moonlight, believing it affects a person's sanity. The word "lunatic" originally referred to people who

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