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The hordes of people who went out of their way to experience the Spring Equinox solar eclipse are not the first humans attracted to the sight. The solar eclipse is a phenomenon that has captured the attention of Earth’s inhabitants since the beginning of time. Naturally, early civilizations made their best effort to understand the craziness happening in the heavens above them. This longing for answers led to the development of urban legends all around the world that try to explain why the sun is regularly eclipsed by darkness.
According to E.C. Krupp, director of the Los Angeles Griffith Observatory, many of the myths believed by early populations involve themes based in the “disruption of established order.” The Vikings and Koreans, for instance, respectively believed that sky wolves and fire dogs would chase the sun throughout the year. An eclipse occurred when the celestial K-9s were able to catch and swallow the sun. The Vietnamese believed a similar myth, however, instead of dogs, a frog or toad with evil intentions gobbled up the day.
The Hindu believed a tale far more elaborate than hungry animals. According to traditional lore, an evil deity named Rahu disguised himself as a god and set his intentions on stealing a swig of an everlasting-life granting elixir. However, the sun and moon were on to his diabolical plan and informed Vishnu, Supreme God of Vaishnavism and Sustainer of life. Vishnu managed to catch Rahu as the elixir entered his mouth and cut off his head before he could swallow the magic solution. Rahu’s body died, but his head lives on forever, chasing the sun and the moon out of spite. Every so often, Rahu manages to catch and swallow the sun and cause a solar eclipse, however, the sun slides right out the bottom of his head since the Hindu demon has no throat.
Of course, early civilizations around the world are not the only people who maintain belief in superstitions about solar eclipses. Today, there are numerous urban legends that surround the dance between the sun and moon. According to Krupp, the Navajo maintain a belief that solar eclipses are a time to “reflect on the cosmic order.” They choose to stay inside during a solar eclipse, sing ceremonial songs with loved ones, and fast from food, drink, and sleep. The belief is that eating, sleeping, drinking, or looking at the sun during an eclipse knocks a soul out of balance with the universe, and causes problems in life down the road.
In another part of the world, the Batammaliba people of Africa believed the moon and the sun were fighting during times of eclipse and marked the day with celebration to encourage them to stop. To this day, the Batammaliba still “see it as a time of coming together and resolving old feuds and anger,” according to cultural astronomer, Jarita Holbrook.
Of all the documented myths, and urban legends around the world surrounding the solar eclipse, only one stands true against the test of time. No matter where spectators stand to view the next solar eclipse, coming in August, 2017, it is of vital importance that the eyes be protected from sun damage.
By Krystyna Hutson
About Religion: An Introduction to Lord Vishnu
National Geographic: Solar Eclipse Myths From Around the World
Time and Date: Myths and Superstitions Around Solar Eclipses
Image Courtesy of Romeo Durscher’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License