Throughout history, people from all over the world have come up with explanations for solar eclipses. Now we know the science behind things like a total solar eclipse -- the next of which will happen on August 21st -- but a long time ago, people explained the celestial phenomenon through stories, fables, and legends passed down from generation to generation. Here are a few myths people believed about eclipses.
In Viking lore, two wolves named Skoll and Hati wanting to devour the sun and the moon. Skoll hunts the sun while Hati chases the moon. If Skoll or Hati end up catching their celestial prey, an eclipse takes place. The only way for people on Earth to rescue the sun or the moon is by making as much noise as possible to scare the beasts away.
In ancient China, the sun was a symbol of royalty, so when it went missing, the people took that as a warning. The emperor would prepare himself by eating vegetarian meals and performing rituals while the Chinese people would bang drums and pots to frighten the celestial dragon they believed responsible for swallowing the sun.
Many ancient peoples believed an eclipse served as a bad omen and the Babylonians were no different. They thought the event predicted the death of their ruler, which caused them to take extra precautions to keep their leader safe. During the period of time when a solar or lunar eclipse was predicted, the king would be replaced by a substitute who would pretend to rule, be dressed and fed like the king, in the hopes that if anything bad did happen, it wouldn’t happen to their true ruler.
The Pomo tribe in the northwestern US explained the eclipse with a story about a bear who goes for a stroll along the Milky Way. The Bear encountered the sun and the two argued about who would move out of the other’s way before they began fighting. That fight was represented by the eclipse.
A Vietnamese legend claims the eclipse occurs because a giant frog trying to escape his master, Lord Hanh, and eats the sun. The oversized amphibian, tied to the pool of Hanh by a golden chain, sometimes tried to escape his master while he was sleeping. The frog would try to swallow the moon and could only be forced to cough it back up by the Lord of Hanh himself. The ladies of the moon would rush to wake the Lord of Hanh from his slumber, which is why young Vietnamese women would beat rice bowls with pestles to summon him when eclipses occurred.
Not all myths about the eclipse are bad. Some Italians believe that if you plant flowers during a solar eclipse they bloom brighter than flowers planted at other times of the year.
The Batammaliba people from Benin and Togo in West Africa have a legend that during an eclipse the sun and moon are fighting. The only way to stop the conflict, they believe, is for people on Earth to settle their differences.
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