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Solar Eclipse 2015: Myths and Legends


Monday, March 16, 2015, 16:30 GMT - Solar eclipses have been observed throughout history. And although we here in the UK are excited about the 2015 solar eclipse, they were often seen as bad omens for many cultures and civilisations.

Ancient folk believed the Sun was being devoured by various monsters – demons in India, Dragons in China, frogs in Vietnam or even a vampire in Siberia! Here we look at some of those myths, legends and stories.

Rulers

Eclipses were believed to be a bad omen for kings. Babylonians put “stand-in” kings during solar eclipses so the real kings would avoid the bad luck.

In the UK, the eclipse in 1133 AD was known as King Henry’s Eclipse. Henry I died shortly after the eclipse reaffirming the belief amongst many people that it was a bad sign for rulers.

In ancient China eclipses were bad news for emperors, therefore predicting when they occurred was of high importance. So when two Chinese astrologers failed to predict the solar eclipse on 22 October 2134 BC the very predictable happened – they got their heads chopped off. It was one of the earliest eclipses recorded in history.

Religions

Gospels say the skies darkened during Jesus’ crucifixion and Christian historians saw it as a miracle and a sign of dark times to come. Historians are unsure which eclipse it refers to – either 29 AD or 33 AD.

In Hindu mythology, it was believed the serpent demons Rahu and Ketu caused eclipses by swallowing the sun. They were thought to suck away the light that gives life and poison the waters.

The eclipse of 27 January 632 AD coincided with the death of Prophet Muhammad’s son Ibrahim. Islamic scholars say people started to speculate that it was a Godly miracle to mark the death but Muhammad clarified that eclipses were not omens that signal the birth or death of anyone. 

Modern superstitions

Solar eclipse superstitions are still prominent in many cultures. A popular one is that it is dangerous to pregnant women or will result in babies being born deformed. Pregnant women are advised not to watch, stay indoors or even touch their bellies during an eclipse.

Abstaining from food and drink is another superstition that holds traction in certain quarters. People fast during eclipses while others fear food could become poisonous.

In some Asian countries people still greet eclipses with a throng of noise. Banging of pots and pans or lighting firework is common practice to scare evil spirits away.


Sources: Nasa, Time and Date.

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