The Meaning of an Eclipse to Cultures Throughout History

total solar eclipse meaning
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total solar eclipse meaning

A blessing? A curse? A sign of good things to come, or doom on the horizon? Throughout the course of history, total solar eclipses have been observed in awe, as astounding astronomical events. And before modern science was able to offer us a better explanation of what was actually happening during a solar eclipse, ancient cultures developed their own solar eclipse meanings and interpretations

Let’s take a look at a few of the most fascinating ways that cultures have explained solar eclipses over time.

1. The Norse

In the Norse mythology ascribed, the Vikings of Northern Europe believed that, during a total solar eclipse, the Sun was being eaten by two wolves known as Skoll and Hati. According to legend, these two wolves were hungry for celestial bodies, with Skoll having an acquired taste for the Moon and Hati partial to the Sun. During an eclipse, they believed that the wolves had caught up to their prey. Back on earth, the Vikings would hoot and holler in an effort to scare Skoll and Hati away –– and allow the Moon to pass by the Sun. It’s a good thing it worked, too, because the Vikings also believed that if Skoll and Hati were ever able to successfully eat the Moon and the Sun, it would indicate the pending apocalypse, known as Ragnarok.

2. The Chinese

neon chinese dragon

“The Sun has been eaten.” So says a recording of a solar eclipse from thousands of years ago. In fact, the Chinese have been tracking solar eclipses for over 4,000 years! And similar to the Norse legend, in ancient China it was believed that an eclipse was the result of a dragon consuming the Sun. And, like the Vikings, the Chinese would bang on drums and make loud noises to scare the dragon away and save the Sun from being chomped on.

3. The Hindu

In ancient Hindu mythology, a rather gruesome tale explained the solar eclipse. According to legend, gods and demons worked together to concoct an elixir of life that would give anyone who consumed it immortality. When the demon Rahu decided he was going to drink the potion himself, things didn’t turn out exactly as planned. The powerful god Vishnu discovered Rahu’s scheme and had Rahu beheaded – but not before Rahu was able to take a sip of the elixir.

As the legend goes, Rahu now chases the Sun and the Moon in a fit of rage, and every so often, he catches them with the intention of –– you guessed it –– eating them! However, because he’s only a head and has no arms, he cannot hold onto them, and they pass by one another unscathed.

4. The Inca

The Inca people of South America believed that a total solar eclipse was a bad sign from the mighty sun god, Inti. According to Incan culture, the meaning of an eclipse was Inti’s anger and displeasure, and something needed to be done to appease their god. Incan leaders would gather and determine what they had done to make their god upset and make sacrifices accordingly. Human sacrifice may have been practiced on occasion. However, less extreme atonement were more common, such as animal sacrifice, fasting, or withdrawing from public events.

5. The Egyptians

ancient egypt pyramid sun

The ancient Egyptians are famous for their incredible skills as astronomers; the Egyptians are believed to be the first people to create a solar calendar with 365 days! They also worshipped the Sun and its god, Ra. So you would expect the ancient Egyptians to keep detailed records of total solar eclipses, right?

Well, as it turns out, archeologists and historians have not been able to dig up many records of the Egyptians and their reflections on eclipses. While these records may have simply been lost or yet undiscovered, another interpretation is that the brief disappearance of the sun was so terrifying to the sun-obsessed Egyptians that they refused to track them at all for fear of giving the event more permanence. We may never know...

6. The Native Americans

There have been hundreds of Native American tribes, each with their own unique cultures. But some tribes share some common mythologies about the meaning of a solar eclipse. For the Ojibwa and Cree peoples, a solar eclipse is the result of a small boy known as Tcikabis taking his revenge on the Sun for scorching him by laying out a trap with a rope. Once ensnared by Tcikabis, the animals come to the Sun’s rescue, but it’s the smallest of animals –– the mouse –– that is able to chew through the rope of the snare and set the Sun free.

Like the Chinese and the Norse, the Choctaw people believed that during a total solar eclipse, the Sun was being devoured by a celestial creature. In the case of the Choctaw, it was a hungry black squirrel. And like those cultures the Choctaw also believed that, in order to frighten him off, they need to make loud noises and beat their drums! What’s more fascinating is the fact that these cultures rarely, if ever, encountered one another; they drew similar conclusions from different corners of the world at different periods of history.

Create Your Own Mythology

Today, we have hard science to explain a solar eclipse to us. But that doesn’t have to stop you from using your imagination to give a solar eclipse meaning! The best way to do that is to experience a solar eclipse for yourself, and to do so safely, you’ll need protective eclipse eyewear.

At Rainbow Symphony, we want to be your one-stop-shop resource for everything eclipse, including educational materials and solar eclipse shades. All of our eclipse eyewear is CE certified so that you can safely observe an eclipse. Explore all of our eclipse glasses and viewers so you’re ready to create your own mythology during the next solar eclipse!