The Myth and Legends of Eclipses


The Pomo

The Pomo tribe of Native Americans are from the northwestern US. The Pomo name for a solar eclipse was "sun got bit bear." They tell a story about a bear who goes out for a stroll along the Milky Way. Soon Bear met up with the Sun and the two began to argue about who would move out of the other's path. The argument turned into a fight, which was represented by an eclipse of the Sun. Eventually the Bear continued along his way, but soon met up with the Moon, the Sun's sister. Again, an argument ensue about who would move over and again the argument turned into a fight. Now there was an eclipse of the Moon. After the eclipse Bear continued on his way along the Milky Way and the cycle repeated.

Eclipses according to the Ge'

The Ge' are among the Amazonian tribes of Brazil. They also believe that eclipses are a result of a fight between Sun and Moon. They say the eye of the Sun or Moon is pierced by a small boy who shoots them with an arrow. The wound bleeds symbolized by the Moon turning reddish and dimming. A shaman removes the arrow and the wound heals.



Hupa Indians of northern California

The Moon is a man who has twenty wives and a house full of pets consisting of mountain lions, bears and snakes. To feed his pets, the man goes out to hunt. After the hunt he carries all the game back to his house for his pets, but they are not satisfied with what he has brought them. In anger, the pets attack the man, who begins to bleed. This is represented by the Moon turning a reddish colour during a lunar eclipse. One of the Moon's wives is Frog and when she sees the predicament her husband is in, she rushes to help him. Frog beats away the pets. Then she and the other wives collect up the Moon's blood and he can then recover.




Skoll the wolf who shall scare the Moon

Till he flies to the Wood-of-Woe:
Hati the wolf, Hridvitnir's kin,
Who shall pursue the Sun.
              Grimnismal, The Elder Edda

The Vikings tell a tale about two wolves who wish to eat the Sun and Moon. Skoll (repulsion) goes after the Sun and Hati, running ahead of the Sun, goes after the Moon. When either are caught, there is an eclipse. When this happens, the people on Earth rush to rescue the Sun or Moon by making as much noise as they can in hopes of scaring off the wolves.



Serrano Indians

The Serrano Indians of California believe an eclipse is the spirits of the dead trying to eat the Sun or Moon. So during an eclipse, the shamans and ceremonial assistants sing and dance to appease the dead spirits while everyone else shouts to try and scare the spirits away. Meanwhile, everyone avoids eating food with the idea that it would starve the spirits out.




The Moon was represented by a mirror in China. During an eclipse, people beating on mirrors is a very old tradition. It was believed that a dragon swallowed the Moon during an eclipse and beating the mirrors would cause the dragon to cough it up and return it to the sky.




According to the Vietnamese legend, eclipses of the Moon were the result of an enormouse frog determined to swallow it. The giant amphibian, tied to the pool of Hanh by a a golden chain, sometimes tried to escape when the neighbouring lord was sleeping. The ladies of the Moon would then rush to wake the lord of Hanh, who alone was able to make the frog disgorge the Moon. Young girls still beat their rice-grinding bowls with pestles to help the ladies wake the lord.



Indonesians on the island of Bali

It was inspired by the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. The malevolent Kala Rau (Rahu in the Indian version) is jealous of the immortal and the omniscient gods inhabiting Nirvana. Kala Rau lays his plans to achieve immortality. Disguised as a woman, he connives to be present at the gods' banquet, serving their magical elixir. Taking advantage of a disturbance, he furtively takes a mouthful of the drink, but Vishnu, aware of the crime, cuts off his head immediately after he has committed it. Kala Rau's decapitated body dies, but his head has been made immortal by the potion. Ever since, the head has chased the Moon and the Sun through the sky in an attempt to catch and eat them, but when it succeeds they reappear, after a brief absence, through his open throat.


In the same ancient Hindu text - the Mahabharata - there is a reference to an eclipse of the Sun, refering to the great battle of Kurukshetra, fought on the day of the eclipse, when the supreme god Vishnu revealed himself.