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Solar and Lunar Eclipses always elicit special responses and feelings around the world. The scientific explanations are fine, but it has not stopped people from keeping their own ideas and myths even now. Even the educated people would pause for a while and consider the folklore. One thing is common across all beliefs; it is an abnormal, out of ordinary, not-so-good event and it should be guarded against. Muslims offer collective prayers during this time. Others do what they consider appropriate to ward off evils at this time.

Here is a roundup of several myths from various cultures, without comment.

Chinese considered that a celestial dragon devoured the sun. Dragon is supreme in Chinese anyway. It is also said that the earliest word for eclipse in Chinese language was ‘shih’ which literally meant to eat.

Vietnamese have been under Chinese influence for hundreds of years and considered that a frog or toad ate the sun thus causing eclipse which physically showed as partial or complete disappearance of sun or moon.

Koreans believed that a pack of fire dogs was ordered by the king to steal the sun. They only get close enough to take a bite out of the sun which caused eclipse.

Scandinavian Vikings believed that sun and moon were being chased by a pair of wolves. When one of them caught up with solar or lunar orb, an eclipse resulted.

Kwakiutl tribe on the western coast of Canada considered that the mouth of heaven consumed the sun or moon during an eclipse.

The concept of demons and evil creatures attacking the sun and moon and causing eclipse is common in several cultures. The commonly used remedy was to make noise with whatever they could lay their hands on to make the demons run away.

Hindus have a more elaborate notion about eclipse. It is about the demon Rahu who was beheaded by the supreme deity Vishnu. The head of Rahu is flying across the skies and keeps chasing sun and moon. When he catches on, he swallows it, but it slips out from the end of his head and goes back to sky. They also believed in making noises to make the demon run away.

Ancient Greeks believed that the eclipses occurred when gods became angry with human beings. They predicted that disaster and destruction would follow the eclipse soon.

The Tewa Tribe in New Mexico believed that the sun became angry and decided to leave the skies and go to its home in the underworld. Thankfully enough, the sun always got generous and returned to skies.

In the Inuit mythology, the sun goddess Malina walks away after a fight with her brother, the moon god Anningan. He chases after her but becomes so engrossed in his effort that he forgets to eat. Therefore, he becomes smaller and smaller and disappears to replenish itself and come out as new moon. If Anningan catches up to Malina, then everything goes dark which is solar eclipse.

In Africa, the Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin have a rather positive outlook. They see each eclipse as an opportunity to end old feuds. Their myth says that the eclipse is caused when sun and moon fight together. The tribal people therefore come together as a community and try to end their own fights in order to encourage the sun and moon to do the same.

Apart from myths, several superstitions also go around which relate to food, drinks, sleeping, cutting with knife, pregnancy, unborn children etc. We can only say superstitions are unverified information transferred from one generation to the next.

Solar and Lunar Eclipses generate scientific inquiry and interest among those who wish to study the phenomena. For general public, it is a matter of concern, fear and apprehension. Science has not been able to assure public that it is merely an astronomical fact which can now be predicted also based on the movement of sun, moon and earth.

The only change I have seen over the years that more and more people want to see the eclipse. There are serious warnings about looking at solar eclipse with naked eye or directly or with ordinary sunglasses. These warnings must be heeded to avoid serious eye damage.


Eclipse Image courtesy

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