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Solar Eclipse Myths and Superstitions

Solar and lunar eclipses have inspired a plethora of myths and legends from all over the world and throughout time. Early humans and indigenous peoples crafted explanations of this awe-inspiring event that aligned with their own cultural beliefs and stories, but there are contemporary myths and superstitions that persist. These stories aren’t always about fear and destruction. With a few exceptions they all tend to fall within the same theme — a disruption of the established order. All of them are wildly fascinating, but here are a few standouts compiled from a variety of sources.

Fire eaters                                                  viking legend

Vietnam: A frog or toad eats the moon or sun.

Scandinavia: Vikings believed the sun and moon were being chased by a pair of wolves and when one of them caught up with either the lunar or solar orb, an eclipse was the result. 

China: A celestial dragon devoured the sun. In fact, in Chinese the earliest word for eclipse, shih, means “to eat.”

Canada: According to the people of the Kwaikiutl tribe, on the western coast of Canada, the mouth of heaven consumes the sun or moon during an eclipse.

Make some noiiiiize!

In some cultures, it was believed noise would stop the devouring and scare the animals away. They banged pots and pans or played on drums.

Today, E.C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, has a little fun with this idea: He wears a wizard outfit and leads participants around the front lawn of the observatory while banging on pots and pans during lunar eclipses.

Beheading … ouch!

Hindu: According to ancient Hindu mythology, the sun and moon rat out the demon Rahu for drinking the nectar of the gods, and he is beheaded by the supreme deity Vishnu. His head flies across the sky and chases the sun and the moon. When he catches one, he eats it, but because he has no body the orb slips right through his throat and lands back into the sky.

It was common practice in this culture, too, for people to bang pots and pans and make loud noises during an eclipse to scare the demon away.

rahu devours the sun

The gods are unhappy (sniff, sniff)

Greece: The ancient Greeks believed that eclipses occurred when the gods became angry with humans. It was predicted that disaster and destruction would soon follow.

New Mexico: The Tewa Tribe believed that the sun became angry and decided to leave the skies for its home in the underworld. Thankfully, the sun always reconsidered its retreat and returned to the skies.

The Inuits: In this mythology, the sun goddess Malina walks away after a fight with her brother, the moon god Anningan. Anningan chases after her but becomes so obsessed with his pursuit that he forgets to eat. In the process, he becomes smaller and smaller (the waning phase), and eventually has to stop to replenish (the new moon). Occasionally, he catches up to Malina and everything goes dark, causing a solar eclipse.

All you need is love

Africa: Even today, the Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin see each eclipse as an opportunity to end old feuds. The myth is that an eclipse is caused by fighting between the sun and the moon. When an eclipse occurs, the Batammaliba come together as a community and try to end their own fighting as a way of encouraging the sun and moon to do the same. 

Stop, thief!

Korea: They believed a pack of fire dogs was ordered by the king to steal the sun. They only get close enough to take a nip out of the sun, which causes an eclipse.

What the what?!
Modern superstitions and myths that won’t let go

Many people in India fast during the day of a lunar or solar eclipse due to the belief that any cooked or processed food will become poisonous during that time. Some say even water is off limits. Others decide to fast for spiritual reasons and they pray for the release of the Sun god.

One of the most persistent myths is that an eclipse can harm pregnant women and unborn children. In some cultures, it's believed that unborn children will be deformed or killed by the eclipse, so pregnant women are told to stay indoors. According to E.C. Krupp, the director of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, the observatory still receives calls before each event about whether eclipses are harmful for pregnant women (spoiler alert: they're not).

Many others around the world still see eclipses as evil omens that bring death, destruction and disasters.

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As crazy-cool as it might seem to sit and stare at the sun with your bare eyeballs, it’s mostly crazy. Never directly view the sun through anything but a certified solar viewer or solar telescope.

Viewing the sun through binoculars, normal telescopes or bare eyes can lead to significant or permanent damage to your eyes.

For more information on how and why to protect your eyes during a solar eclipse, check out our safety tips.