Cultures from around the world each have their own explanations for the cause of a solar eclipse, each spiritual or supernatural in nature. Below are some of the more interesting ones, with an accompanying video.
In old German mythology, the hot female Sun and cold male Moon were married. The Sun ruled the day while the sleepy Moon ruled the night. Seeking companionship one day, the Moon was drawn to his wife and they came together, and their union created a solar eclipse.
Likewise, Australian Aborigines, considered the Sun as a woman who carries a torch. Again, the moon was considered a male. Because they associated the lunar cycle with the female cycle, the Moon was linked with fertility. A solar eclipse was was believed to be the Moon and the Sun coming together as man and woman.
The ancient Aztecs believed that a solar eclipse is dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn children. It was believed that since an eclipse was a bite on the face of the sun the unborn child could develop deformities, usually a cleft lip. Therefore, pregnant women were forbidden to go outside during an eclipse. Many times the Aztecs would perform human sacrifices during solar eclipses in order to appease the gods.
In Transylvanian folklore, people believed an eclipse was caused by the sun turning its back on the sins of humanity, most notably the bad behavior of men. Evil demons would wreak havoc upon the Earth during this time, and simultaneously, the eclipse would create a poisonous dew (scientifically, an eclipse can produce a dew, but it’s not poisonous). This dew would be the onset of some sort of plague.
7. Water Protection
In certain parts of ancient India, many believed that when an eclipse (either solar or lunar) occurs a dragon is trying to capture one of the two celestial bodies. People immersed themselves in rivers up to their neck as an act of worship to help aid the Sun and Moon defend themselves against the dragon.
6. Sun Swallowers
In ancient China, the earliest word for eclipse, shih, meant to eat, and eclipses were believed to be caused by a dragon eating the sun. Instead of immersing themselves in water they would bang on pots and drums to scare away the dragon. If the dragon left (which it always did, of course), this would mean good fortune was on its was for their emperors.
In Vietnam, the sun swallower was a giant frog trying to escape his master, the Lord of Hahn, and the Lord is the only one who can convince the frog to release the sun.
The Tatars of western Siberia claimed that a vampire tried to swallow the sun, but he spat it out when it burned his tongue.
The Pomo, a Native American tribe in northern California, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is “Sun got bit by a bear.” According to the Pomo myth, solar eclipses occur when a bear, wandering along the Milky Way, crossed paths with the sun. The two began to argue about who should move out of the other’s was, and when the sun refused to step aside, the bear challenged the sun to a fight. After taking a bite of the Sun and winning the fight, the bear continued on until it encountered the Moon, the Sun’s sister. When the bear also took a bite out of the Moon this caused a lunar eclipse. It’s possible this story may be the Pomo explanation as the why a solar eclipse usually occurs about two weeks before or after a lunar eclipse.
4. Preventing Ragnarok
The Vikings believed that the apocalypse would be inspired by the actions of two wolves — Skoll and Hati who are endlessly chasing the sun and the moon, waiting for Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. They thought the wolves wanted to eat the sun and the moon; Skoll would go after the moon, while Hati would go after the sun. An eclipse was the result of one of the wolves finally catching the sun or moon. The people on Earth would scream and shout and make as much noise as they could in order to scare off the wolves and stave off Ragnarok, which would begin if both the sun and the moon were caught.
A long time ago among the many heavenly kingdoms was Gamangnara (Dark World), whose king, concerned about the darkness surrounding his kingdom, ordered a fierce fire dog that belonged to one of his subjects to steal the sun and the moon. The fire dog tried to carry the sun in his mouth, but it was too hot and the dog could not hold on to it, and gave up. The failed attempt made the king angry, and he ordered a more ferocious dog the steal the moon. But when the dog tried to carry the moon in its mouth, the moon was so cold that its mouth froze. The dog tried many more times to bite the moon with its teeth, but in the end it gave up and came back. The king did not give up, however, and continued to send more fire dogs, but they all failed every time. It’s believed that a solar or lunar eclipse is when the fire dogs from Gamangnara are biting the sun or the moon.
2. Cherokee Cardinal Legend
Long ago, the sun’s daughter was killed. The sun was so distraught over the loss of her daughter that the sun went dark.
People knew they could not live without the sun, so they sent seven men with magical powers to bring the daughter back from the ghost land. She was brought back in a box, but the people were instructed not to open the box. The daughter pleaded and begged to be let out, so they succumbed to her pleas and lifted the lid. When they did there was a flash of red, and instead of the daughter a bird flew out. This was the first red bird, a cardinal, and it is the reason people can’t be brought back from the dead.
Still trying to resolve their problem and bring back the sun, young dancers were sent to the sun instead. As they began dancing, the sun was please, showed her face, and balance was finally restored between the upper and lower worlds.
1. Hindu Demon Rahu
A group of gods desired to create an elixir of immortality, so they enlisted the help of some demons to help them churn the cosmic ocean, using a mountain for a churning stick. The ambrosia eventually emerged like curds in milk. In the process the sun and the moon were also created along with many other enchanted things. The gods promised to share the elixir with the demons, but when the task was complete, the god Vishnu disguised himself as a woman, enchanted the demons and stole their portion of the elixir.
Upset and wanting what he was owed, the demon Rahu sneaked into the camp of the gods and stole a swallow of the elixir. The sun and the moon spotted him, however, and immediately told Vishnu. Vishnu got to Rahu just as he was drinking the elixir and cut off Rahu’s head before it could slide past his throat. Thus, Rahu’s body died but his head remained immortal. Rahu was angry at the sun and the moon for telling Vishnu, so he began chasing the two objects through the sky. Every once in a while, he catches up with one of his betrayers and swallows it, but because since he’s just a severed head, the sun or the moon slips back out through his open throat. Nonetheless, the demon continues his pursuit indefinitely.