The total solar eclipse that will be viewable all across the United States is this coming Monday (August 21st)! Do you know where you’re watching it?
Anyway, we figured while we’re on the subject, we’d offer up a little information on the folklore, myths, and superstitions that have come along with solar eclipses for centuries!
Solar Eclipses Caused Fear Around the World – And Still Do!
For centuries, we couldn’t explain what was going on during a solar eclipse and so they tended to generate fear in cultures all around the world. Many ancient peoples thought solar eclipses signaled the end of the sun and, thus, the end of the world. Myths cropped up everywhere involving a beast trying to destroy the sun or a Sun-god becoming angry, sad, or sick to explain eclipses:
- The Chippewa people shot flaming arrows into the sky in an attempt to rekindle the sun.
- Peruvians also shot flaming arrows hoping to scare off the beast attacking the sun.
- In Norse culture, an evil enchanter named Loki sought revenge against the gods by creating wolf-like giants, one of which swallowed the sun.
- In India, the demon spirit Rahu was beheaded by the gods for stealing and consuming the nectar of immortality. The sun and moon were the ones to alert the gods of his theft, so he tried to swallow them but couldn’t because he had no body.
- In Transylvanian folklore, the sun became angry with men’s bad behavior and turned away, covering herself with darkness. They also believed eclipses could cause plague.
- In many cultures, fog, dew, or other precipitation resulting from an eclipse was considered dangers. The Japanese even believed poison would fall from the sky so they covered their wells.
In a true testament to how closely our cultures are influenced by our folklore, many people today fear solar eclipses or view them as a bad omen. In Cambodia in 1995, soldiers shot into the air at a solar eclipse “to scare the mythic dragon from the sky.” And as recently as 2010, during a near annular eclipse, many people stayed home out of fear while restaurants and hotels saw a dip in business as a result.
The Celestial Lovers
Folklore and myths from other cultures developed a different idea surrounding solar eclipses: that the event was a special meeting of the sun and moon as lovers.
- In Aboriginal Australian cultures, the sun was seen as a woman carrying a torch and the moon represented her male companion. Because the moon was also associated with the female menstrual cycle and fertility, a solar eclipse was interpreted as the Moon-man and Sun-woman uniting.
- In German and certain Native American mythologies, the solar eclipse was considered a meeting of the rulers of day and night when one or the other sought companionship.
- According to Tahitian myths, the sun and moon are lovers who join up during an eclipse. Getting lost in the moment, it’s said they created the stars to light their return to normalcy.
Solar Eclipses & Pregnancy
There are quite a few superstitions surrounding solar eclipses and pregnancy, even today. Ancient peoples worried eclipses could cause pregnancy issues like blindness, cleft lips, and birthmarks. Some say this dates back to Aztec superstitions, which said a celestial beast was biting the sun and the same would happen to a baby if the pregnant mother watched. Still today, pregnant women are sometimes cautioned not to eat cooked food from before the eclipse, to stay inside, and to not carry sharp objects.
And Now for the Solar Eclipse Science
Of course, now we know what’s really going on during a solar eclipse: the moon is passing between the sun and the Earth as each follows its own orbital path. Still, there’s a certain magic to the whole experience, isn’t there? And for all the excitement that comes with it, we owe the folklore and mythologies of the peoples who came before us.