Superstition: A full moon brings out the crazies
The backstory: Ever wonder where the word lunatic came from? Look no further than luna, the Latin word for the moon. Many Greeks knew that the moon and its goddess, Luna, held the tides in their thrall, and Aristotle considered the human brain—the “moistest” organ—particularly susceptible to Luna’s pull. Ancient physician Hippocrates agreed, writing, “One who is seized with terror, fright, and madness during the night is being visited by the goddess of the moon.” Today, some emergency room workers still believe the full moon means trouble.
Superstition: Say “God bless you” after a sneeze or risk something worse than a cold
The backstory: You’ve probably heard the myth that a sneeze stops the heart (it doesn’t) or separates body from soul (science declines to comment there). But to explain the ritual of post-sneeze “blessing,” we can look to another pope. During the first recorded plague pandemic, in the sixth century, severe sneezing often portended sudden death. As a desperate precaution, Pope Gregory I supposedly asked followers to say “God bless you” every time someone sneezed. Today, it’s just polite.