Solar eclipses: What are the myths, legends and religious beliefs surrounding them?

(FOX40.COM) — A historic total solar eclipse will be visible from most parts of the United States on April 8 and with that comes an abundance of strongly held beliefs about what the rare wonder in the sky could symbolize.
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“Eclipses used to be very scary to a lot of cultures,” said Professor Kyle Watters, an astrophysicist who teaches physics and astronomy at California State University, Sacramento. Watters is also the planetarium coordinator on campus and instructs a course titled “Through Space and Time in the Planetarium” that looks at several different ancient cultures and astronomical practices and mythologies.

Will California see the solar eclipse?

“We’ve gotten incredibly good at predicting them – we know there’s going to be one next Monday, we know exactly when it’s going to start, we know exactly when it’s going to end, and we know exactly where to go in the country to get the best view,” Watters told FOX40.com. “We’ve got orbital dynamics down pretty well in 2024, but if you turn the clock back 2,000 years, no one knew these things were coming and they could be terrifying when they happened.”

Where can I get solar eclipse glasses?

Ancient beliefs

Chinese

Ancient Chinese cultures believed that a solar eclipse was a sign of doom. The ancient Chinese believed that during a solar eclipse, a dragon or demon devoured the sun. To combat the dragon or demons during an eclipse, the Chinese would cause a great commotion with pots and drums in hopes of frightening off the dragon.

“They would try to get the sun to come back by making loud noise and yelling,” Watters said. “It always seemed to work because eclipses only ever last a few minutes.”

Australian

Aboriginal Australian culture didn’t fear total solar eclipses but instead looked at them as a romantic event.

“In their mythology of the sky, the sun and the moon are star-crossed lovers who are always doomed to be separate,” Watters said. “On very rare occasions they get to come together.”

Watters said that ancient Australians believed that a total solar eclipse was an intimate event where the moon mounted the sun.

Where can I get solar eclipse glasses?

Greeks

Ancient Greeks had another take on the celestial event. Many ancient Greeks considered eclipses to be an omen or symbolic of their gods’ anger toward humans, according to worldtreasures.org. They believed that people on earth did something displeasing in the eyes of the gods and the darkening of the sun meant the sun abandoning the Earth to bring misery. The word “eclipse” actually comes from the Greek word meaning “abandonment.”

Current beliefs

Christians

For many Christians, the solar eclipse is a direct sign from God about judgment heading to the Earth for human sins and the end of times. Several passages from the Christian Bible state that in the last days, there will be signs from God shown in the sun, moon, and stars. Many people of the Christian faith believe that the upcoming eclipse is another tell-tale sign of their savior’s imminent return, judgment, and more.

Several key moments in biblical scripture were also believed to be marked by a total solar eclipse such as when the skies darkened after the crucifixion of Jesus who Christians believe to be the son of God. The celestial darkness symbolized the Earth in mourning over his death juxtaposed with a blessed new covenant between God and humanity.

Native American

The Navajo, which has the largest reservation in the U.S., has a more positive outlook on what a solar eclipse symbolizes. For them, the event is about reverence, not a spectacle, according to space.com. The Navajo view the solar eclipse as a sacred time of quiet and meditation. Some even refuse to view the eclipse because they believe it to be spiritual and not a show.

During an eclipse, the Navajo tribe tends to stay inside, abstain from food and drink, and reflect on life. Parks are often shut down to avoid disturbance from spectators and schools are even closed so eclipse traditions can be practiced. For the Navajo, the end of the eclipse marks a time of rebirth and renewal. It’s also a common Navajo practice to treat the solar eclipse as a new year and make resolutions.

On April 8, some portions of the Choctaw Nation Reservation will experience a total solar eclipse, according to the tribe’s website.

“When an eclipse occurred, legend has it that our ancestors believed hungry, large black squirrels would emerge and eat the sun to quell their hunger pains,” the Choctaw Nation said. “The tribe would yell, throw sticks and rocks, shoot arrows, and throw spears toward the darkened sun to scare away the hungry squirrels. Every tribal member was counted on to do their part to frighten away the squirrels and save the sun from being devoured.”

Today, some members of the tribe reenact the fight for the sun to keep the tradition alive.

“Don’t be surprised if you visit the Choctaw Nation and see a few tribal members re-enacting these ‘eclipse traditions’ by yelling and throwing sticks at the eclipse,” Choctaw Nation said. Some tribal members enjoy reliving our past by carrying on traditions, even those connecting to something as rare as an eclipse.”

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