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October’s hunter’s moon: How it got its name and the history behind it

Hunters moon? By the name of its name, that would be an easy way to pronounce October’s hunter’s moon. But its real name means hunter ‘moon’ in Latin, the noun being offered as an explanation. It is unlikely that the word was coined by Roman or Greek explorers, because the word hunter referred to not only hunters, but also to those who were hunting, and the hunter’s moon would not normally fall between October and November. The word hunter’s moon would likely first be used in the Middle Ages, and possibly in the 16th century.

Date of Astronomical Festival: It can be dated from the year 1071, when the first annual Astronomical Festival of October first occurred. It was named for the month of October, and falls in accordance with its sunset exactly on the same day, every year. The moon is usually at its bluest at this time, as the moon of yore was thought to be even more beautiful, but the elements of Moon Fever didn’t have that same effect on ancient pagan worshippers, who continue to celebrate the phenomenon.

A handout photo shows October?s hunter’s moon, in ultraviolet light captured on a camera obscura setup on May 8, 2015. (Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Calcada)

Yawn-worthy Observation: It may not affect astronomy, but October?s hunter’s moon does have quite a reputation in mythology. In apocryphal texts throughout ancient Europe, it has been associated with vampires, spouts blood, and sheds pallies at night. The myth goes that those people who are bitten by moonbeams are believed to have powerful, but awful, powers. It has been invoked in coronation ceremonies to ward off bad luck; it has also been used to symbolize the fall of pagan kings to the ungrateful and barbarian. And the slightest blush of a strawberry at a special dinner or dessert seems to provide the proverbial kiss of death.

The October hunting moon. (Photo by Donald Donaldson/NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/A. Carmona/MSFC/A. Tanis/M. Romero)

Historical Quotation: There is also a quote from July 6, 1769, in the English Dictionary, which reads: Quod non semper tyrannis, out of many, one. It refers to the idea that half of all things in the universe are a mere part of the whole. Such a statement would seem to suggest that a previous addition to the collected works of Shakespeare, Matthew Arnold, has been deemed of little value.

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