We might be able to forecast exactly when the solar eclipse will pass above our skies (Friday morning from about 8.20am onwards) but it’s not always been so easy.
Throughout history, solar eclipses have been viewed with dread and associated with myths and superstitions. Even today, in the 21st century, some cultures consider them a bad omen and it can be seen as a spooky time as birds stop singing, confused by the apparent sudden transition from day to night.
To ancient people who relied so heavily on the life-giving Sun, it must have felt like the end of the world and it’s not too hard to see where these myths came from…
1. The sun is being eaten.
In Vietnam, people believed that a giant frog was devouring the Sun, while in ancient China, people thought a hungry celestial dragon was responsible. In Europe, the Vikings blamed wolves for consuming the Sun.
2. Heads will roll
According to ancient Hindu mythology, the demon Rahu is beheaded by the supreme deity Vishnu for drinking the nectar of the gods. His head flies across the sky and swallows the Sun.
To scare Rahu away, it was common practice for people to bang pots and pans and make loud noises during an eclipse to scare the demon away.
3. Stop! Thief!
The ancient Greeks believed a solar eclipse was a sign the gods were angry, and that it heralded disasters and destruction.
5. Settle differences
The Batammaliba people from Benin and Togo in West Africa have a legend that during an eclipse the Sun and Moon are fighting. The only way to stop the conflict, they believe, is for people on Earth to settle their differences.
6. Stay indoors
Among modern superstitions is the belief that solar eclipses can be a danger to pregnant women and unborn children. In some cultures, young children and expectant mothers are asked to stay indoors during an eclipse.
In parts of India, people still fast during a solar eclipse because of the fear that any food cooked during the event will be poisoned.
8. All is not lost
A few superstitions offer a positive slant on eclipses. In Italy some believe that flowers planted during a solar eclipse will be brighter and more colourful than at any other time. Get planting!