top of page
  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 98 - Brian Blessed's All Ketchup Diet (Skies Week)

Tom's Notes:

The Skies

Superstitions regarding the moon.

This is going to be a nice one for Robert who likes the phrase etymology stuff I’ve occasionally done. My contributions this week isn’t strictly phrase etymology, but it’s a quick fire look at a number of moon superstitions. It’s quite similar.

This is a big topic. You could spend a life time studying the relationship between humans and the moon. Humans will have been telling stories about the moon since the dawn of time. I’m going to keep my contribution very Anglo-centric for a few reasons, firstly it narrows things down, secondly, it’s easier for me to research and thirdly, I’m an imperialist bastard who looks down his long, beaky English nose at other cultures. All the better to smell stinky aboriginal peoples with. POSH ENGLISH VOICE “I think I’ll have those artefacts, I think I’ll have those sculptures, I think I’ll have those children. Put them all on display in London.”


To warm us up, some quotes from the Bond Film of the same name from 1979;

Hugo Drax: Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.

Bond: Bollinger? If it's '69, you were expecting me.

Dr. Goodhead: Hang on!

Bond: The thought had occurred to me.

Dr. Goodhead: This evening I'm giving my address.

Bond: Then can you think of a reason why we can't go for a drink afterwards?

Dr. Goodhead: Not immediately. But I'm sure I shall.

Sir Gray: My God, what's Bond doing?

Q: I think he's attempting re-entry, sir.

This is a British colloquialism for someone from Wiltshire (West Country). It has an odd etymology. There are a number of similar stories from different areas of the UK. They are first recorded in the late 18th century.

The most thorough explanation I discovered is as follows: Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Dutch and Flemish merchants had a headquarters in Swindon where they organised the export of British wool to Europe. However, these merchants loved the gin of their homeland but it was burdened with a huge import duty. So, a complex smuggling network was set up that brought gin in barrels from the Hampshire coast to Swindon. The gin was moved by night and stored in ponds or church crypts during the day.

On one occasion, excisemen, so people concerned with levying tax, not exercisemen, i.e. Instagram posers with six packs, ran into smugglers during the night and ask them what they are doing in the middle of the night by the pond. “Your ruining our midnight AMRAP, burpee ‘till you vomit! Yeah! Followed by fake tans and the full body wax.” The smugglers act dumb, put on a West Country accent and say that they are raking the moon out of the pond (it’s the reflection of the moon obviously).

A variation of the story involves a man staggering home drunk one evening and thinking that the reflection of the moon in a pond is a cheese. He staggers home to get a rake to pull the cheese out of the pond. Soon, the whole village is trying to get the cheese. A cloud then drifts in front of the moon and they villagers realise that they have been idiots. STUPID VOICE “Not again! We spend the whole of last night trying to clear up all that spilt milk and yesterday we had no success catching that big, shiny bowl of pumpkin soup that was surrounded by floating marshmellows.”

There are variations of this story throughout human cultures; people or animals trying to capture the moons reflection.

It’s possible that the word Moonraker is older than these stories, and the word has been used as a synonym for idiot for a long time. The fact that the story is told in many different counties supports this idea. I can’t find any connection between the word and the James Bond film starring Roger Moore based on Ian Fleming’s third Bond book.

One last point here, it would appear that this is the origin of the idea that the moon is made of cheese. Which was originally green cheese.

Moon as a repository for things wasted on earth

I really like this one.

There’s a legend that is from at least the early 16th century that the moon treasured things wasted on earth. Things like misspent time, unfulfilled desires and unanswered prayers. I say the 16th century because the Italian poet Ariosto refers to this idea in his poem Orlando Furioso.

In the early 18th century, British poet Alexander Pope wrote the Rape of the Lock in which he writes:

Some thought it mounted to the Lunar sphere,

Since all things lost on earth are treasur'd there.

There Hero's wits are kept in pond'rous vases,

And beau's in snuff-boxes and tweezer-cases.

There broken vows and death-bed alms are found,

And lovers' hearts with ends of riband bound,

The courtier's promises, and sick man's pray'rs,

The smiles of harlots, and the tears of heirs,

Cages for gnats, and chains to yoke a flea,

Dry'd butterflies, and tomes of casuistry.

The Man on the Moon

The concept of the Man on the Moon is widely thought to come the following passage in the Old Testament. Although it’s worth pointing out that people have been seeing people, rabbits, or animals on the moon since the dawn of time. This is Anglo-centric again.

Numbers 15, 32:36.

32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.

We love you Yahweh, you’re the loving god.

There is no reference to the moon in this passage, but in the Middle Ages it was thought that this man was banished to the moon.

There is a slightly different tradition coming from the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Cain was the first human born, son of Adam and Eve. He got jealous of his brother Abel and murdered him because God liked his crops better. He was banished from paradise and ended up stuck on the moon with a bunch of sticks. There are a couple of references to this in Dante’s Disco Inferno from the 14th Century. However, I’ve seen other interpretations of this story that state that it is an old Dutch story about someone caught stealing vegetables, the thief just happens to be called Cain.

Chaucer also makes a passing reference to a man who stole something being banished to the moon. There are a number of different variations of this story told in different parts of Northern Europe.

There are also a number of variations of the Cain story, i.e. someone doing something naughty on a Sunday and being banished with their bundle of sticks or bundle of thorns.

The Man on the Moon is also quite a popular pub name and there’s a long tradition of the moon being worshipped by drunkards. I think this is rather tongue and cheek because drunkards are often stumbling home late at night talking to themselves. Here are a few old rhymes:

“Our man in the moon drinks clarret,

With powder-beef, turnep, and carret.

If he doth so, why should not you

Drink until the sky looks blew?”

The man on the moon often seems to be on his way to Norwich in a variety of old nursery rhymes;

“The Man in the Moon

Came down too soon,

And asked his way to Norwich;”

I couldn’t find out why. Maybe he likes English Mustard.

Full Moon

From the 16th century onwards, there are record customs around the UK related to the full moon. Largely related to it being luck. You should greet it. You should count your money and spit on it in the hope that it will grow make a wish. You can also make a wish. But, and I would like you to pay attention here, don’t view the full moon obstructed, for example, with tree branches in the way, that’s dreadful luck. It’s also preferable to see it for the first time on your right. Pointing at the moon is a bad idea too because it offends the man on the moon. The full moon can also cure warts, so give the full moon the full moon if you’re suffering downstairs.

While I’m at it, there’s also lots of easy to interpret associations with the waxing and waning moons; the waning moon is associated with things getting less or worse, the waxing moon is associated with the other. This is probably as old as time too.

Here’s a quote from John Aubrey, and English antiquarian from the 17th century:

In Scotland (especially among the Highlanders) the woemen

doe make a Curtsey to the New-moon ; I have known one in

England doe it, and our English woemen in the Country doe

retaine (some of them) a touch of this Gentilisme still, e. g.

"All haile to thee Moon, all haile to thee!

I prithee good Moon, declare to me,

This night, who my Husband must be."

This they doe sitting astride on a gate or stile the first evening

This final bit alludes to another theme, which is that the full moon can be good for women who want a lover. I read somewhere about a belief that if a young women wished on a full moon for a lover, she would go to sleep and wake up with his hair between her big and second toe. Bit weird.


Moonstruck; possibly coined by Milton in Paradise Lost; 1667.

Convulsions, epilepsies, fierce catarrhs,

Intestine stone and ulcer, colick-pangs,

Demoniack phrenzy, moaping melancholy,

And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy,

Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence,

Dropsies, and asthmas, and joint-racking rheums.

“It is the very error of the moon.

She comes more near the earth

than she was wont. And makes

men mad.”

—William Shakespeare, Othello, 1603.

As you have explained before on this podcast, the word ‘lunacy’ derives from ‘luna’, i.e. moony. As far back as Aristotle the moon was thought to make people bonkers. Classical intellectuals believed it was something to do with the moistness of the brain. The connection between the moon and tides is clear here.

Apparently in 2007 Brighton police force increased the number of police offices on shift for full moons.

But apparently it’s all nonsense! Meta-analyses have been done and the results have been inconclusive. There are studies out there that have seemed to indicate a connection, here’s an example, a US one that indicated that there were more car crashes on nights where there was a full moon. Unfortunately, under closer scrutiny, it was clear that the reason for this was that during the period studied, full moons fell on weekends.

It would appear that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; we expect to see odd behaviour during a full moon, so we do. What’s more, we remember full moons and events that take place during full moons because they are notable. The myth probably started at the dawn of time when full moons probably affected sleep (so not very relevant now with houses, curtains etc.). Back then, you know, in the olde times, there were no street lights or anything like that either, so a light night was very different to a dark night. And of course, lack of sleep affects people’s behaviour.

bottom of page