Thursday, August 24, 2017

Eclipse Mythology

In ancient times when technology was not yet advanced enough to help the human race understand the reasons for a solar eclipse, mythology was created to provide people with an explanation. For the ancient Greeks, the word itself, ‘eclipse', comes from the word for ‘abandonment’ as if the sun was literally abandoning the earth. It was considered a bad omen, and that perhaps someone had done something to greatly displease the gods. 

In Norse mythology, an eclipse involves the two deities Sol, the goddess of the sun, and Mani, the god of the moon. These two are brother and sister and are responsible for traveling across the sky each day and night in their horse drawn chariots. The horses of these chariots, or at least of Sol’s, are named Árvakr (“Early Riser”) and Alsviðr (“Swift”), and for good reason. Both Sol and Mani are constantly being chased by two wolves known as Skoll and Hati, the ‘One Who Mocks’ and the ‘One Who Hates'. When they catch Sol and Mani, signaled by an eclipse, it is seen as a sign that Ragnarok, the end of the world in Norse mythology, would soon occur.


Several other ancient cultures, such as the Chinese, Korean, Hindu, and Egyptian, associate an eclipse with the sun being devoured by a being and then reinstated after being chased away, fought off, and other such means. Inuit lore tells of the moon god, Anningan, and the sun goddess, Malina, who are also brother and sister and rather quarrelsome.

After a particularly heated argument, Malina stormed off while Anningan chased after her. Because he is so intent on catching his sister (whether it is to apologize or continue the argument is unclear), he forgets to even take time to eat and becomes thinner and thinner until he must drop down to Earth to eat and regain his strength before continuing his pursuit.  When Anningan finally catches up to his sister, an eclipse occurs, until Malina runs away again. 


 For ancient Persians, an eclipse of the sun was considered to be prank by a peri. The peri were winged, fairy-like spirits that could be somewhat unpredictable, being anywhere from generous and helpful to humans to mischievous and even evil in intent. When an eclipse transpired, it was believed to be a peri covering, blotting out, or darkening the sun for fun.

While a solar eclipse is a well understood phenomenon in the modern era, it was a random and even ominous event to numerous cultures around the world in ancient times. Mythology involving the eclipse was a way for them to understand what was happening. If only they had had the eclipse glasses that we have today, then perhaps they would have considered it as much a spectacle as we do in the 21st century! 


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