August 18, 2007

I See the Moon, Does the Moon See Me?

I can't tell you when I first knew for certain, but as long as I can remember, my personal symbol has been the moon. In my maternal line, acquiring a personal symbol is more usual than not.
Four generations of us have sky symbols: mine is the moon, my mother's was a comet, her mother's was a lightening bolt, and her mother's was the North Star.

None of these women could recount the moment when they chose their symbol: they said it felt as if their symbols chose them. Perhaps they did.

For myself, I find it curious to both belong to the moon and to have E., since s
o much about epilepsy links to that soft and cyclical orb.

To the Greeks, Selene was Goddess of the Moon.
Any well-behaved and cultured Greek understood that you "got epilepsy" by offending Selene. In her anger at your offense, she would lash out and strike you.

eleniazesthai is the Greek verb meaning to be struck with epilepsy, according to the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1910). One cure to undo Selene's pique was mistletoe, picked without using a sickle or blade, during the time the moon is smallest in the sky. The mistletoe must not touch the ground or it would be rendered useless against the "falling sickness", for it would have fallen itself.

The moon is routinely considered a female entity, owing to the monthly cycling of its phases. But, it would be a mistake not to mention that many cultures have regarded the moon as male. The moon of Babylon was male, and named Sin. And Sin had a direct connection with E.

As I understand it, one needed to be careful exiting one's house when the moon rose in the night sky. A minion of Sin might be waiting on the edge of the roof to pounce upon the unwary and if one was prey to such an attack, the residual evidence would be epilepsy.

Thus, it would be better not to be seen by the moon or his minion.

The connections between the moon and E. are not limited to ancient Babylon. Indeed, the magical and religious connections between the moon and illness can be located in a variety of human groups, across time and around the world.

Because it is true that many of us spring from culture groups that at one time or another made the connection between the moon and epilepsy, it is not unusual for us to encounter present-day individuals who still strongly argue for the moon's effect on persons with E.. Those who make such arguments are not limited to individuals with E. or their families. Health professionals, too, often believe in the moon's direct influence on the seizure patterns of their patients.

Senior Science Writer, Robert Roy Britt, in "Full Moon Not to Blame for Epileptic Seizures" explores the question with nationally known epilepsy specialist and researcher, Selim Benbadis,
associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the University of South Florida's College of Medicine. "Patients were claiming their seizures were triggered or worsened by the Full Moon" and "even some health care professionals believe this, but it's never been scientifically tested" (, 26 May 2004).

Until now.

Dr. Benbadis and his colleagues analyzed 770 seizures, recorded over three years at Tampa General Hospital. They sorted these medical records into classifications: epileptic seizures and other types. Of the epileptic seizures, 152 occurred during the Moon's Last Quarter and 94 when the Moon was full. Britt
quotes Dr. Benbadis on his recent findings, now published in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior:
Contrary to the myth, epileptic seizures are not more common during a Full Moon. In fact, we found the numbers of epileptic seizures were lowest during the Full Moon and highest in the Moon's Last Quarter... But, myths die hard---Some people still seem to like poetic, mysterious and irrational explanations for puzzling diseases like epilepsy.
Old time explanations and cures for E. will probably remain with us for a time. It is even possible to suggest that people will create new lore as we move toward the future. Until the E. community insists that everyone have accurate knowledge of our condition, people without good information about E. will use their own logic to make up explanations and treatments for us.

I just can't think of a time, historically, when that has been good for epileptics.


Philip. said...

A really interesting post!

I wish I could be bothered to write posts such as this. I'm just too lazy and usually rely on 1-liners :-)

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