These Ancient Civilizations Had Strange Explanations For The Solar Eclipse
The coming solar eclipse is an exciting time for many, bringing people together to celebrate a cosmic phenomenon. Many will travel for miles in North America to view the totality of the eclipse, in all of its beauty. But before we understood exactly what was happening during one of these events, our ancient ancestors were a little freaked out.
Across a number of civilizations, many people were frightened by the obfuscation of the sun when the moon crossed it path, despite its brief duration. Folklore and myths were created to explain the rare and seemingly bizarre event, and often with some overlap in different culture’s theories about what was really going on. But until modern science was able to explain the occurrence, most perceived the event to be ominous and cause for panic.
Devouring the Sun and Moon
Several cultures believed that a solar eclipse was the result of famished creatures trying to eat the sun or moon. Every time this happened the creatures failed, but everyone still worried that they would succeed at some point and the sun might disappear forever. For more primitive cultures this was a valid cause for concern, considering their dependence on the cyclical nature of night and day, so a disruption in that process must have been frightening.
Up until the 19th century, ancient Chinese cultures believed that a celestial dragon would devour the sun during an eclipse. The emperor in China was closely linked with the Sun, and therefore it was important for his astronomers to correctly predict when a solar eclipse would occur. Fear for the safety of the king was also shared by the ancient Babylonians, who would place a substitute ruler on the throne during an eclipse to deal with the wrath of the gods. This fear was perpetuated by the death of King Henry I in England, shortly after a solar eclipse. Legend has it that two astronomers were killed for an incorrect prediction because it did not leave people time to prepare for the event. During an eclipse, the ancient Chinese would make a lot of noise by beating drums, chanting and firing cannons, in an attempt to scare off the dragon. This practice of attempting to scare off these ravenous creatures was a recurring theme amongst ancient cultures.
Not too far away, in Korea, it was thought that two fire dogs, known as Bul-Gae, would chase the sun and the moon in an attempt to eat them. When they caught them, the sun would be too hot and the moon too cold, so the dogs would release them until next time. The Vikings also believed that two wolves, Skoll and Hati, caused the eclipse when they would chase the sun and moon across the sky in an attempt to eat them. The day that the wolves finally catch the celestial bodies will be the day of Ragnarök, the Viking apocalypse.
In India, mythology held that a solar eclipse occurred when a demon, named Rahu, attempted to drink an elixir of the gods that provided immortality. The Hindu god, Vishnu, would catch Rahu drinking the potion and cut off his head before the liquid made it down his throat. The demon’s head briefly devours the sun, until it is cut off and rolls away. During this time, Indians would bang pots and pans and make other loud noises to scare away Rahu. Fasting is common during the eclipse as it is thought that the air becomes poisonous and can contaminate food and water. Superstition is common in India to this day, to the point where some will not leave their houses and take part in ceremonies to protect against the evils of an eclipse.
Positive Belief in Eclipses
In some ancient cultures, eclipses were not feared nearly as much. These people understood the eclipse to be a natural phenomenon that was to be revered or appreciated. The Navajo fell somewhere in between, not quite fearful, but cautiously revering the event and staying inside to reflect upon it. They believed in the cosmic order of the universe and understood it to be representative of balance.
In Islam, the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s son, Ibrahim, coincided with a solar eclipse, but Muhammad saw it as a natural event. At the time Muslims believed it to be a divine response to the death of Ibrahim, but Muhammad did not ascribe human significance to it. He said that the sun and moon do not eclipse for man, although he said it was to be revered as a special event and a time to remember God. Muslims even have a special prayer in addition to the daily five, that is said during the eclipse.
The Mayans, known for their advanced astronomy, had an eclipse table in the Dresden Codex that has accurately predicted eclipses into the modern era. Unfortunately, that was one of few texts from the ancient Mayans that wasn’t destroyed by Spanish conquistadores, so it is hard to tell exactly what the Mayans believed about eclipses. It is thought that they might have perceived the Sun and Moon to be a disputing couple, but probably also understood the phenomena as we do now.
Despite, some unfounded modern beliefs that a solar eclipse can be harmful to pregnant woman, the only real danger comes from staring directly at the sun. While we now know the true, more mundane nature of an eclipse, it is still thought of as a special and sometimes spiritual event, or at least one to be revered for its cosmic beauty. How will you be observing the solar eclipse?
The Transformational Power of the Viking's Runes
The Birth of Runes
The Viking runes came into being when Odin brought them forth from another world. Historians from the National Museum of Denmark explain that Odin ruled over Asgard, which contains Valhalla, “the hall of the slain.” Half the warriors who died in battle were collected by his female handmaidens, the valkyries, who belonged to him. As such, Odin was the object of worship by kings, warrior chieftains, and their people.
In a mythic Viking tale, Odin wounds himself with his own spear before hanging himself from the Yggdrasil—the world tree in Norse culture—for nine nights, drawing wisdom from the Depths of Urd, just below it. From there, Odin sees the runes that existed even before his own coming into being, “a time before time.”
Just as he’s about to die, Odin gathers up the runes and shares them with all of creation and an array of supernatural entities and human beings. Eventually, the runes were given their shapes and phonetic values by subsequent tribal elders. They were carved on weapons, tools, jewelry, amulets, bones, pieces of wood, memorial stones, church walls, and other hard surfaces.
Ancient peoples of the Germanic lands knew the runes to be beyond the time and space with which most people are familiar. Some experts suggest that they were never really “invented,” but are instead eternal, pre-existent forces that Odin discovered through his aforementioned superhuman ordeal.
Historians have linked the runes to areas with a history of Germanic-speaking peoples, including from Iceland to Scandinavia, throughout England, and into Central Europe. Even Constantinople is home to the runes, showing that ancient seafaring cultures had made their way into what is now modern-day Turkey.
Reading the Runes
We may use the metaphor of a tree to assess how the runes are read. Historian Emma Groeneveld noted that “they are generally made up of vertical lines — one or more — with ‘branches’ or ‘twigs’ jutting out diagonally (and very occasionally horizontally) upwards, downwards or in a curve from them. They can be written both from left to right and from right to left, with asymmetrical characters being flipped depending on the direction of writing.
Each rune represents a phoneme (a speech sound) and had a name, made up of a noun, that started (and in one case, ended) with the sound the rune was mainly associated with. Lots of regional and temporal variation existed in the shapes of the letters.”
Experts of Norse mythology explain that, on the surface, runes seem to be letters. However, they are much more, because each one is a symbol of a cosmological principle or power. The very act of writing a rune called upon unseen spiritual forces. In every Germanic language, wrote historian Daniel McCoy, the word rune comes from the Proto-Germanic word that means both “letter” and “mystery.”
The Eternal Magic of the Runes
The runes have been used to link the natural and supernatural worlds, and this gives them the power to enact spells for protection or success. Still, said Olsen in an exclusive Gaia interview, according to archaeological and historical evidence, runes were used as magical tools for healing, transformation, building wealth, and for making the world a better place.
The power of the runes is in their sound vibrations, teaches Olsen. Each runic character represents a letter so that it can be combined with others to form words. The runes are also magical symbols, and each character has its own name and symbolic meaning.
Norwegian historian Marit Synnøve Vea explained that runes are not limited to their carved signs, but are also applied in certain songs, magical formulas, secret skills, and for secrets hidden in Skaldic (Old Norse) poetry. Vea noted that runic magic was used to foretell the future, as a form of protection, to cast spells, to cure illness, to bestow love, and much more.
But where there is power, there is a warning. In the wrong hands and minds, runes carved by unskilled persons could represent risky business. Vea cites a poem from the Old Norse Egil Saga that serves as an ancient warning for the modern generation:
Runes none should grave ever
Who knows not to read them;
Of dark spell full many
The meaning may miss.
Ten spell-words writ wrongly
On whale-bone were graven:
Whence to leek-tending maiden,
Long sorrow and pain
The history of the runes is the history of timelessness, a paradox among paradoxes. Often regarded as tools for parlor games, serious historians have found the deeper meaning in ways the runes can be read and applied for the betterment of life on this planet and the invisible worlds.