Legends of the solar eclipse


The word "eclipse" comes from the Greek "ekleipsis," meaning "an abandonment." For ancient civilizations, it may well have seemed the sun -- the creator, the source of life -- had indeed abandoned them. To make sense of what must have been a terrifying event, humans around the world created stories and myths to explain the sun's disappearance. Here are six ways different cultures have sought to understand the solar eclipse.

Angry gods: The ancient Greeks apparently considered an eclipse to be a bad omen, a sign the gods were angry and disaster was imminent. In 2008, scholars reported that a reference to a solar eclipse on April 16, 1178 B.C, was found in Homer's Odyssey: "The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world".

Sun got bit by bear: The Pomo tribe of Native Americans tell the story of a bear who meets up with the sun while walking along the Milky Way. An argument over who will make way for the other leads to the bear taking a bite out of the sun.

Sky wolves: In the Norse myth of Skoll and Hati, two wolves are in hot pursuit of Sol and Mani, the sun and moon. They catch them at Ragnarok, when according to legend, the cosmos are destroyed and the sky and earth grow dark and collapse.

Sun eaters: Several cultures imagined that ravenous creatures were attempting to steal or eat the sun. For the Chinese, it was a dragon or demon. In Korea, it was fire dogs. For Yugoslavians, it was a werewolf called vukodlak. For the indigenous Serrano of California, it was spirits of the dead.

The demon's head: According to Hindu tradition, Rahu is the severed head of an asura, or lord being, who takes the form of a god in an attempt to steal an elixir that grants immortality. As he sips the potion, Vishnu cuts off his head, which continues to chase the sun. Rahu catches and swallows it, but because he has no body, the sun quickly reappears.

The peacemaker: To the Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin, Africa, fighting between the sun and moon are the cause of an eclipse. To put an end to the darkness, the Batammaliba come together as a community to make peace in hopes that the sun and moon will do the same.