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If you hit wood, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the phase and position of the moon. The old ones still knew about it; a study has now confirmed this knowledge.

The question is obvious: In the forestry there is a large number of rules from the age, with which the time is determined at which a tree is felled. These rules have been handed down as labels from one generation to the next. For a long time, it was a matter of course that the forester kept to the rules and he supplied his customers with wood, which was beaten according to the rules.

All these so-called peasant rules were related to the moon. “To work firewood, that it regrows well, should be in October, in the first quarter of the receiving moon,” says a rule that was first recorded in writing in the Tyrol at the beginning of the twentieth century, but certainly goes back to earlier times. A rule from the Bernese Diemtigtal states: “Cut the wood in the “Märzenwädel Fish”, then it will stay as it is.”

These traditions, it is said in folklore, have their origins in Celtic times. From the Celts we have preserved several stone calendars, which allow a very precise dating by month, moon status in the zodiac and moon phases. But not only from the Alpine region, but from all over the world are wooden rules handed down. Ethnologists have come across similar traditions in the Far East, South America, Africa, and even in Polynesia.

Not all advice points in the same direction. There are also rules that contradict each other. Apart from that, however, one clear statement can be made: days in the cold season around the waning moon and shortly before the new moon are generally considered favorable for felling trees. The wood, which is beaten in these periods, should be particularly durable.

Superstition or facts?

If you once gave yourself to such considerations before you hew down a tree, was that superstition or did it have a deeper meaning? With modern scientific methods, the question should actually be easy to clarify. For a long time, hardly anyone has ever dealt with it. Probably quite simply because the claim that there is a connection between the moon’s position and the growth of trees seemed too abstruse to the scientifically educated – not to say, too esoteric. Modern forestry obeys other rules than those of the moon, it follows the laws of the economy.

It is precisely the market that is warming up again today for the old rules. “Moon wood” is trendy. A growing number of customers today want to know when buying wood from the provider, whether this was beaten at a time, which corresponds to the later intended use. The timber trade is in the process of adjusting to this new demand. What criteria are actually used to obtain moon wood is again another question. It is essential that knowledge handed down from previous generations, which can not be acquired by foresters as part of their education, has been preserved and kept alive.

The Salzburg forester Erwin Thoma was made aware of these connections by the grandfather of his wife, a sprightly carpenter with an almost mystical relationship to the wood. Thoma began to experiment with the felling point and found that there was a lot to do with the old rules. Through his experiences, he wrote two books that brought the topic back to the people. Today, Thoma manages its own research center and collects innovation prizes for the wooden building system “Holz 100” developed by him.

According to Erwin Thomas’ findings, the old rules can be summarized in two main principles: Winter is to be liked, with the winter of the trees starting at the end of August and only until the beginning of February, when the juices start to flow again. In the months of this biological winter, the 14 days between full moon and empty moon are the best time.

The breath of the trees

A simple attempt is to apply a cuff to a tree, with the help of which changes in the trunk diameter can be determined to the hundredth of a millimeter. In two, in the containers under constant darkness in the greenhouse standing young spruce showed such a measurement in the summer of 1988, significant variations in the trunk diameter. The curve of both trees ran parallel, and a comparison with the then acting tidal forces shows that the fluctuations are in sync with the tide and high tide. Therefore, it does not seem exaggerated to speak of tides even in trees. Poetically speaking, trees breathe in the rhythm of ebb and flow.

In the true sense a tree does not even need to be alive. In an experiment at the University of Florence, the stem diameter of a normally growing Douglas fir was compared with the diameter of a Douglas tribe separated from its root system and its crown in watertight and airtight insulation. The experimental tree was felt on the first day of spring 1977. Also three months later, the supposedly dead tree trunk showed the same fluctuations as normal growing. Again, the curves of both trees ran parallel to the action of the tidal forces.

Physically, the force that makes the level of the ocean rise and fall naturally long since determined. Ebb and tide arise from the interaction of the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon on the water mass of the earth, which as it approaches the earth’s moon, almost swirls on it. The fact that the same force has a much more subtle effect on the cells of trees – the fluctuations in the felled tree trunk can not be explained otherwise – had to be proven beyond doubt before a serious scientist could set out to explore the area.

It depends on the use

Ernst Zürcher has been researching the phenomenon of moon wood for decades. At a symposium this spring at ETH Zurich, the Swiss forestry engineer and professor at the University of Architecture, Construction and Wood in Biel gave first insights into the results of a new large-scale study, which was conducted under his direction. In autumn and winter 2003/2004, trees were felled at five representative locations in Switzerland week after week. The wood was tested for density, compressive strength, shrinkage, water absorption and weathering behavior. The felling and surveying of the 621 spruce, sweet chestnut and silver fir trees should allow conclusions to be drawn as to the validity of the traditional rules with regard to the moon status of the respective date of compilation.

Before Ernst Zürcher presented the results of his new study at the ETH in spring, the professor made it clear to his audience that foresters from the past kept their eye on the moon, not least because they had to satisfy a highly differentiated demand with their products. Before plastic, concrete and light metal existed, wood was the material par excellence. Not all wood landed in the fire before, and where a fire was burning in the house, not infrequently a wooden chimney led the smoke into the open air. Ideally, such a fireplace was made of larch wood; in which phase of the moon the tree had to be hit, so that its wood withstood the soot and the heat of the fire, there were, of course, rules.

Should wood be turned into a gutter, a well, a cartwheel, a bridge, a roof beam, a draw bar, a tobacco pipe, a barrel, a musical instrument, a parquet floor, or the handle of an ax – for every purpose there is the best type of wood, and at least in the past there was at least one rule for the time of the precipitation. The Quechua Indians in Bolivia are known to use these plows made from the wood of the Thago algarrobo tree. The tree for the particularly hard plow wood is felled today in the first waning moon after the spring point.

And when wood is used to pick up and amplify sound waves, as is the case with the construction of musical instruments, quite different qualities are needed. The violins to be built from the wood, guitars and grand pianos, must be particularly stable and must not warp in fluctuating humidity. A storage and drying time of several decades is usual. If then the factor moon is added, for many instrument makers the non-plus-ultra is reached.

The St. Gallen instrument maker Chistopher Lee Lüthi has only been working with moon wood for six years. On average, only three new instruments leave his workshop in Sevelen every year. The skilled violin maker produces all the pieces himself and uses around 250 man hours per instrument. He prefers the moon wood, as it is easier to process and proves to be extremely sound stable from day one.

Influence of the moon proved

Even so differentiated Ernst Zürcher has not considered the intended use in his study. The samples of the more than 600 felled trees were examined for water loss, shrinkage and density. These are three components that significantly influence the quality of wood. They play a role in every kind of use. From each tree, a sample was taken before the experiment and used as a reference in the analysis.

The influence of the moon on the wood was scientifically proven. That is the most important result of the new investigation. For the first time it was scientifically possible to prove what earlier generations knew from experience. However, the proof comes with one limitation: “The participation of the factor Moon in the total variations is real, but weak.” According to Zürcher’s findings, the statistically relevant agreement between the moon and the quality of the wood ranges in a percentage range which, although significant, is hardly worthwhile in its practical implementation. Here further studies are needed, for example, with which it is examined whether wood from certain phases of the moon has different sound properties, or whether moon wood is less susceptible to infestation with fungi or beetles.

Other findings of the new study are just as noticeable as the generally positive finding: Strangely enough, the influence of the moon affects not only the living sapwood of a tree trunk, but also its heartwood, which is commonly considered dead. This finding complements the results of the previously mentioned study by the University of Florence, where the mysterious fluctuations of the wood in the felled trunk under air and water tight conditions could be demonstrated.

Moon in Capricorn

When talking about the influence of the moon, it is important to note three different rhythms. At least. Ernst Zürcher knows that. The tall, gray-haired professor is an extraordinarily alert, open mind feller. He included all three rhythms in his investigation, and that led to the discovery of yet another small sensation. In addition to the apparent moon phase of the increase and decrease moon, there is the harder-to-observe rhythm of the rising and falling moon, popularly called “Nidsigänd” and “Obsigänd”, which plays a vital role in peasant rules.

Often the old rules also deal with sidereal lunar rhythms. But this has no place in the science of our time, because this rhythm refers to the position of the moon in the zodiac. “Ladies and gentlemen, of course it sounds pretty frivolous when we talk about the moon in the sign of Capricorn,” admitted Ernst Zürcher at the presentation of his study and reassured his audience: “but everything can be calculated exactly.” And that’s exactly what he did in the study. The precipitation time of the 621 trees studied was also determined by the position of the moon in the zodiac.

Ironically, when compared with the sidereal lunar rhythm, the study showed the highest agreement. In other words, even though astrology and its calculations are not valid in science, trees seem to be subject to the influence of the forces associated with the stars. How exactly this works and why, neither science nor astrology provide the reasons. The trees probably do not believe that. Yet, the archetypal forces of the constellations seem to subtly influence them. Instrument maker Lüthi speaks of a “phenomenon that I and my customers gratefully accept.”

Following the presentation of his study, Ernst Zürcher was approached by one of the listeners as to whether the effects of the various lunar rhythms could not be summed up, as some of the farmers’ rules suggest. The professor seemed to have been waiting for the question. Such a study, he frankly said, was a dream of his. This could be done by cutting the trees with the stopwatch. Benjamin Stöckli, the questioner, had further targeted his suggestion. The dream of this freelance forest ranger from Winterthur would be to include the human factor in a later study: How is the woodcutter on it when he gets to work, with what purpose does he fell the tree and how does he deal with the wood? We are looking forward to the measurements.

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