Of course, these are just superstitions — some people scoff in disbelief in these old wives tales while others take them to heart (I come from a science/medical background yet still feel the occasional compunction to knock on wood when the situation arises). Even though there’s no scientific proof for any supernatural occurrences during the solar event, it still makes many who do believe in them cautious — even avoidant — of the eclipse.
We wondered if any Asian cultures had superstitions or myths surrounding solar eclipses; we were not disappointed:
China: The Chinese have been hailed as some of the best astronomers and most detailed record-keepers; they would meticulously chart the courses of the celestial bodies and, in fact, did it so well that we refer to their records to this very day. In ancient times before taking on this arduous task, however, they believed eclipses to be caused by a dragon who would suddenly awaken amongst the stars and begin devouring the sun. To fight him off, people would make loud noises, banging on pots, pans, and drums until they chased him away. In fact, the word for eclipse closely resembles the word that means “eat”, and it’s likely that this myth is the reason why.
Vietnam: Perhaps it’s because Vietnam and China are neighbors that they share similar superstitions; the ancient Vietnamese also believed that the sun was vulnerable enough to be swallowed up by a mythological sky being, but they replaced a dragon with a giant toad or frog.
Korea: It’s only been for the past six decades that the notion of two Koreas, South and North, exists; before the Korean war, the Korean peninsula was one country with one people and one history. As such, they have many similar legends that they share and treasure. With this being the case, the superstitious explanation of the eclipse is likely owned by both countries. Koreans believed that Bulgae, or fire dogs from the dark realm, were the forces behind eclipses — a solar eclipse was caused by the dogs trying to bite the sun, and a lunar eclipse occurred when they tried to chomp on the moon. They found both celestial bodies too hot/cold for their liking and would retreat back to their realm after this realization.
Japan: The land of the rising sun has no shortage of folklore surrounding this bright star; the Godddess of the sun, Amaterasu, is said to retreat into a cave during an eclipse and can only be lured out again if she is shown a mirror of herself. Once she sees her own dazzling beauty, she once again takes her place in the sky so that all may enjoy her warmth.
India: If you know one thing about Hinduism, you know that there are many deities and demons to become accustomed with. One such demon is named Rahu, who attempted to sneak a sip of the elixir of immortality. The sun and moon, omnipresent and ever watching, saw Rahu’s secret crime and reported this to Vishnu. This angered Vishnu, so he waited until Rahu started drinking the elixir and cut his head off after he had taken a few gulps. Head and body now separated, the effects of the elixir became immediately clear — Rahu’s head, which had tasted the drink, had indeed become immortal, but his body quickly perished. Angry at the sun and moon for telling Vishnu of his plans, Rahu targeted the sun and moon, chasing them across the sky and swallowing them whole whenever he caught up with them. Of course, because he had no body, the sun and moon would soon emerge from his severed neck, surviving the attack to shine brightly upon the Earth forevermore.
Are there any myths, superstitions, or legends surrounding solar eclipses in your culture? Let us know in the comments!
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