Eclipses in mythology

mythologyBefore science enlightened mankind, natural events were explained by supernatural beliefs, folklore and legends. Volcanoes rumbled when the mountain god was angry. Droughts were remedied with prayers to the rain god. You get the idea.

Solar eclipses were no different.

The ancient Chinese believed eclipses were caused by a mystical dragon in the sky eating up the Sun. (Though one superstition has it as a celestial dog eating up the Sun.) Which explains the Chinese word for a solar eclipse, which is 日食 (re shi), meaning “sun eat”.

When solar eclipses occurred in ancient China, people would come out and make a great noise and create a commotion by banging on pots and drums, lighting firecrackers to create a ruckus, or even shooting arrows into the sky, all in an effort to frighten away the dragon.

The idea of a monster, beast or demon devouring the Sun is a recurring one and can also be found in other cultures.

The Incas believed that a mythical feline called the Ccoa or K’owa whose tail swept the clouds producing hail, storm and rain. It was an active, angry spirit that caused solar eclipses, or Inti Jiwaña, and lunar eclipses as well. Like the Chinese, the Incas tried to intimidate the feline to prevent it from eating the Sun.

According to Hindu mythology, a solar eclipse represented the demons Rahu and Ketu locked in combat. As the legend goes, Rahu had slipped among the gods as they drank the divine nectar that granted immortality. However, before the nectar passed down his throat, Mohini, an avatar of Vishnu, cut off Rahu’s head, which continued to be immortal.

Astronomically, Rahu and Ketu represent the two points of intersection of the paths of the Sun and the Moon as the move through the celestial sphere. This leads to the belief that when the sun “disappears”, Rahu is believed to have swallowed it.

Ra in the form of a cat, battling ApepIn ancient Egypt, sun cults refer to the myth of the serpent Apep swallowing the Sun God, Ra. However, some Egyptian legends also make reference to an eclipse occurring when a great hawk tries to steal Ra’s glory.


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