While modern science and astronomy can easily explain what happens during a solar or a lunar eclipse, many ancient cultures had to come up with their own explanations for such peculiar natural phenomena. Below, you'll find five of the most exciting and fantastical eclipse-inspired myths and legends that are bound to tickle your imagination.
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1. The Sun-Eating Dogs & Dragons of Ancient China
One of the earliest-ever accounts of a solar eclipse, even though some people believe that it may just be an old wives' tale, dates all the way back to 2136 B.C. According to a popular legend, the Chinese Emperor Chung K'ang once sentenced his royal astronomers, Hi and Ho, to death for their inability to predict a solar eclipse.
Interestingly, the most widely-accepted Chinese interpretation of a solar eclipse was that gigantic dragons or dogs were quickly devouring the sun. As a matter of fact, the Chinese word for eclipse contains the character 'shi,' which literally means 'to eat.' In order to frighten the beast away from the sun, the people of China used to bang on drums and make other loud noises in order to make it go elsewhere.
2. The Vikings & the Star-Hunting Wolves
Just like the Ancient Chinese did, the Vikings also believed that the sun was being devoured throughout an eclipse. Their legends mention two wolves, Skoll and Hati, who go around the universe eating celestial bodies. When they approach our planet, Hati is said to seek out the sun, while Skoll goes for the moon.
They believed that an eclipse was the sign that one of these predators had caught up with their prey, and if the other one also succeeded then the apocalypse, known by them as Ragnarok, would take place. To prevent this from happening, as soon as an eclipse began, the Vikings would try and scare the wolves away and return the sun or moon's light by making music and loud noises.
3. The Inuits & the Pursuit of the Siblings
The indigenous Inuits of the Arctic, Alaska, and Greenland explain both the lunar cycle and eclipses in general by creating legends about a couple of celestial beings, Anningan the moon god and his sister, Malina the sun god.
The story starts when Malina was chased away by Anningan after a quarrel. As he repeatedly chased her, he kept forgetting to eat and ended up losing weight (symbolized by the waning of the moon), eventually vanishing when he paused to regain his strength - thereby turning into the new moon. A solar eclipse takes place when Anningan finally catches up with Malina, just as the moon reaches the sun.
4. The Batammaliba & Earth's First Women
The Batammaliba population of Togo and Benin feel that eclipses offer people the chance to make peace with neighbors, friends, and family members. One of their greatest legends tells of the world's first two women, Puka Puka and Kuiyecoke, who eventually became the village's matriarchs. As their village began to grow in size and numbers, the villagers started to become more quarrelsome, and the seeds of discontent started to be sown.
Puka Puka and Kuiyecoke attempted to intervene, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. They then resorted to more drastic measures, so they darkened the moon and the sun in order to terrify the villagers. Their plan worked like clockwork, and the villagers made peace offerings to each other in order for the light to be returned. This is a tradition which still takes place during eclipses today.
5. The Hindus & the Decapitated Demon
One of the most vibrant depictions of an eclipse is found within Hindu mythology, where demons and gods worked hand-in-hand to construct an elixir of immortality. However, one of the demons, called Rahu, was determined to make use of the elixir himself. Just as Rahu had taken his first sip, the god Vishnu, who had been informed of Rahu's plans by the sun and moon god, beheaded him.
Since the elixir hadn't had time to travel down Rahu's throat, his head remained immortal while the rest of his body died. Legend has it that Rahu's head continually chases after the sun and moon god out of anger, occasionally eating them when he catches up with them. However, because he has no body to keep them contained, they always quickly end up re-emerging, restarting the chase once again.