Ancient People’s Best Guesses at What Solar Eclipses Were

Look, all I know is that demons are involved
Ancient People’s Best Guesses at What Solar Eclipses Were

We are, at least in theory, a scientifically enlightened society. Most of us have a base level of understanding of the physical laws of the universe, even if we couldnt lay them out on a blackboard without prior notice.

But even with all that knowledge, we still consider solar eclipses pretty wild. So its easy to see why more ancient civilizations, who hadnt cracked almost any kind of interstellar question, basically went to DEFCON 1 when they started seeing the sun disappear. For simple sanity, they cooked up all sorts of non-scientific explanations for what the hell was going on, and a lot of them fell into similar categories. 

Here are some of the most popular…

Something Ate the Sun


No! Bad! Put the sun down!

Probably the most popular, if highly inaccurate explanation, is that some manner of celestial figure, human or animal, made the sun a momentary snack. This might have been partly due to the very bite-mark-esque overlap leading into the eclipse. As to what in particular made a lunch of the sun (a sunch?) theres a delightful amount of variety. The Vikings point to a wolf named Skoll, China blames a celestial dragon, Vietnam lays responsibility with a hungry giant frog. The Choctaws have an especially cute one that says a squirrel gnaws it away. Perhaps the most metal explanation comes from the Hindu religion, which says that the immortal disembodied head of the demon Rahu swallows the sun, which, luckily, pops back out the end of his severed throat. Sick.

The Gods Are Angry


The tie-dye god disapproves!

If you think the sun is controlled by the gods, a solar eclipse certainly seems like a message. Not a particularly positive one, either. Bad vibes all around when the giant glowing life-giver goes dark. The Incas considered a solar eclipse the godly equivalent of a final warning, and would put some time into figuring out what they did that pissed the sun god off and what sacrifices needed to be made to chill him back out. The Greeks also took it as a sign of divine disapproval — that the Gods were taking away the sun the way a parent might take away an iPad.

The Sun and Moon Are Lovers


A little celestial PDA.

A much more romantic way to look at the moment of darkness is that its not something negative, but a moment of intimacy between the sun and the moon. After all, lack of astronomical knowledge means they had no idea of the horrifying size implications of that relationship, like some sort of celestial version of Shaq and his tiny wife. Aboriginal tribes, German mythology and certain Native American tribes all see it as a happy meeting of the two. In Benin, West Africa, they get a little more R-rated, and suggest that the light goes out for the purpose of a little privacy for such interstellar heavy petting.

The Sun and Moon Are Fighting


Serious difference in weight class.

Love and hate are two sides of the same coin, or whatever those graphics from toxic relationship advice accounts on Instagram keep saying. Some cultures believed that the sun and moon were, in fact, duking it out, which does make its own weird sort of sense. Every once in a while the moon has to pin the sun down and make it say uncle, just so it doesnt get too big for its space-britches. The Inuit thought they were two fighting siblings, and the Battamliba people of Africa believed their own human anger had spread to the skies, and that those of us here on Earth should take it as a sign to quash any festering beef. 

My personal favorite? That belongs to the Kalina people of Suriname, who think the sun goes dark because the moon knocked it the fuck out.

The Sun Is Sick


Hmm, looks like Im still a billion degrees.

Even with my knowledge that this is absolutely not how things work, it still makes me sad. Which leads to sweet gestures attempting to cure it. The Aymara would light fires to try to cover for the sun's time out-of-office. The Chippewa people would fire flaming arrows into the sky to try to relight the ailing orb. Silly ancient people, the sun isnt dying! 

Well, it sort of is, in the long run. Not much we can do about that one.

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