9 Creepy Myths About Solar Eclipses That Hopefully Won't Come True On Monday
There’s nothing like an astonishing celestial event to strike fear and awe into the hearts of human beings everywhere — so it should be no surprise that a huge number of creepy myths and superstitions about solar eclipses exists. And, to be fair, the upcoming total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 is certainly going to be an event to remember; we haven’t seen a total solar eclipse take place in the contiguous United States since 1979, and the last time one was visible coast to coast was in 1918. So, in honor of this momentous occasion, let’s take a look at a few particularly spooky solar eclipse old wives’ tales, shall we?
Interestingly, a lot of solar eclipse superstitions seem to center around the “eclipse’s rays” — but honestly, that’s bunkum. While it’s true that looking directly at an eclipse without eye protection does damage your eyes — as pediatric ophthalmologist Vike Vicente explained to the Washington Post, “You can stare at the sun during an eclipse for 10 minutes, and it doesn’t hurt. You can just look at it, and it’s really cool to look at it, but that whole time you’re literally burning the cells off your retina. And once they’re burned, there’s no repair, there’s no fix for it” — your eyes are also the only thing an eclipse can damage. It can’t harm a pregnancy, or the food you’re eating, or anything else, so rest easy — and don’t feel like you have to sequester yourself inside to escape these dreaded rays, either.
Then again, maybe it’s not entirely surprising that we’d put such stock in such a weird idea (“Oh no! Eclipse rays! RUN!”); when humans don’t understand something, we often try to come up with an explanation so as to avoid falling into the limbo of uncertainty. We’re not always right — and, in fact, we’re often wrong — but maybe we can be forgiven for our flights of fancy… as long as we’re willing to learn from our mistakes. Science is a wonderful thing.
1. MYTH: Solar Eclipses Are A Sign That The Gods Are Angry
In fact, this ancient belief was responsible for the end of a war that had raged on for about 10 years. In 585 BCE, the Medes and Lydians ceased fighting after a total solar eclipse occurred; they were afraid that it meant that the gods didn’t approve of the war, and subsequently stopped. The final battle became known as the Battle of the Eclipse.
2. MYTH: Solar Eclipses Cause Terrible Things To Happen
According to TIME, these superstitions stretch back a long, long way: After an eclipse in 59 CE, Roman writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder posited that it had something to do with a number of towns that were struck by lightning later on. It was also once believed that the Great Plague and Great Fire of London were the result of an eclipse. Fun times.
3. MYTH: Solar Eclipses Are Harbingers Of Death
When King Henry I died in 1133, his death occurred shortly after a total solar eclipse, leading many to believe that the eclipse had acted as a harbinger. The same was true when Muhammad’s infant son, Ibrahim, died in 632 CE — an eclipse occurring around that time was believed by many to have been a sort of messenger of death. For his part, though, Muhammad didn’t buy it; he’s recorded as saying, “The Sun and Moon are signs of God and do not eclipse for the death or birth of any man.”
4. MYTH: Solar Eclipses Are Caused By Demons Or Other Evil Beings Eating Or Stealing The Sun
Cultures all over the world developed myths to explain what was going on during an eclipse — and usually, they involved a demon or some other beastie either eating or stealing the sun. In Vietnam, a giant frog was said to have eaten the sun when an eclipse happened; in Norway, it was wolves; in ancient China, it was a dragon; and in Hindu mythology, it was Rahu, who had been beheaded by the gods after he drank the gods’ nectar, Amrita. (It was said that when he was beheaded, his head sailed off and swallowed the sun.) In Korea, they go the stealing route: Dogs are said to have stolen the sun, causing its disappearance from the sky. And in a few cultures — for example, Inuit folklore, as well as the folklore of the Batammaliba of Benin and Togo — the eclipse is a result of the Sun and the Moon fighting.
5. MYTH: Banging Pots And Pans Together Will Scare Away The Demons Causing An Eclipse
So, those things that are causing the eclipse by eating or stealing the sun? Apparently the best way to get rid of them is to make a ton of noise by banging together all of your kitchenware — or at least, that’s what a lot of eclipse myths say. Since that’s not actually what’s causing the eclipse, making noise won’t actually make it go away — but it can be fun to do anyway. According to National Geographic, Griffith Observatory director E.C. Krupp demonstrates it in action during some eclipses, putting on wizard’s robes and leading a march on the observatory’s front lawn. Said Krupps to NatGeo, “We’re always successful.”
6. MYTH: You Shouldn’t Eat During A Solar Eclipse
In some parts of India, it’s apparently traditional to fast during a solar eclipse; the belief is that any food prepared or stored during such an event will become poisoned or contaminated due to the eclipse’s rays. (Again, here’s your reminder that the only thing that can be harmed by an eclipse are your eyes, and then only if you look directly at it without proper protection. And on that note...)
7. MYTH: It’s Not Safe To Look At The Sun In Any Way During An Eclipse
Space.com traces the persistence of this relatively modern myth back to a “Peanuts” strip Charles Schultz produced to commemorate the 1963 total solar eclipse that was visible in Alaska and Maine. Linus says in the strip, “There is no safe method for looking directly at any eclipse. And it is especially dangerous when it is a total eclipse.”
However, this isn’t entirely true. If you’ve got solar viewing glasses, you’ll be A-OK to look at the eclipse while wearing them. If you're in the path of totality, it's also OK to take your glasses off for the few minutes the moon has completely eclipsed the sun (although honestly the idea of doing that kind of freaks me out a little, so do with that what you will).
8. MYTH: Pregnant People Shouldn’t Go Outside During A Solar Eclipse
The ways in which solar eclipses are said to be bad for pregnancies are many: According to some stories, they’ll cause your baby to have “crooked joints”; according to others, eating during an eclipse will poison your fetus; some believe that if you don’t stay inside, the eclipse rays (there they are again) will cause things like cleft palates; others, that eclipses can cause miscarriages; and so on and so forth. The myths are persistent, too; Imagination Station Toledo reports that Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory often receives phone calls and messages prior to eclipses asking if the events could cause harm to pregnancies, according to E.C. Krupp. But they’re just that — myths. If you’re currently pregnant, the upcoming solar eclipse won’t harm your baby in any way, shape, or form, so feel free to go outside during the event.
9. MYTH: Solar Eclipses Are A Sign That The End Is Nigh
Doomsday theories abound when it comes to eclipses — and not all of them have died out over the centuries, either: As the BBC notes, a number of evangelist groups across the United States believe the total solar eclipse to be the signal that the apocalypse is about to occur. According to one such group, the eclipse will mark the beginning of an event they’re calling “Tribulation”; this event is supposed to last for seven years and result in the destruction of three-quarters of the world’s population.
I think that’s pretty unlikely, personally, but maybe that’s just me. If I'm wrong... well, I probably won't be around to care anymore, will I?
Happy eclipse viewing!