Scientific measurement and observation have educated the public about the dangers of ultraviolet light and soft x-rays from the sun’s corona during a total eclipse for decades; however, millions from around the planet still believe in solar myth. These convictions lead to fear, superstition and violence. Passed from one generation to the next, certain beliefs permeate many parts of the world in a continuing chain.
Fear and Superstition
In Ward Keeler’s 1988 report to the Indonesian government, Sharp Rays: Javanese Responses to a Solar Eclipse (Journal Storage) he says, “People stayed inside their houses…thoroughly intimidated….Sleeping late… is not a Javanese form of luxury. It is instead a rather common response to fear….People felt no compunction about saying that they had lain in bed because they felt afraid.”
Dennis Mathew wrote in the October 4th, 2005 issue of The Hindu that on the last eclipse from Hyderabad, India, “Housewives were busy before the eclipse placing darbas and tulsi leaves on food items….Pregnant women too were tense, sitting tight for fear of hurting their babies. Some grandmas prevented them from scratching for the fear that the newborn would have scars!”
Dr. T. V. Venkateswaran of the Dept of Science and Technology at the National Centre For Medium Range Weather Forecasting (India) said in his article The Inauspicious Eclipse, “Superstition about Eclipses is a worldwide phenomenon. Many cultures believed that a demon or dragon swallowed the sun…. superstitions cut across cultures and countries.”
Two of those cultures are China and Ancient Greece. Feng Shui master Peter So told Polly Hui in Hong Kong during an Agence France-Presse (AFP) article interview on July 29th, 2008, “In ancient times, Chinese people believed that a celestial dragon or dog was devouring the sun during an eclipse.” In the Odyssey, Homer states that, “the Sun vanished out of heaven and an evil gloom covered all things about the hour of the midday meal.”
In March 2006 Alli Hakeem of Monsters & Critics Africa News reported, “Against the backdrop of dangerous superstitious beliefs, the Nigerian government has embarked on massive public enlightenment…to educate Nigerians about the upcoming solar eclipse…A partial eclipse in 1989 led to massive violence…where buildings were set ablaze by fanatics to ‘atone for the sins of infidels’… 28 persons were killed in the mayhem….”
Mak Ling-ling, one of the most renowned Feng Shui and astrology experts told Polly Hui in the AFP article, the Chinese Olympic Solar Eclipse, “might bring small-scale political turbulence. Protests and chaos on the street are very likely…” she said.
In India, the July 30th, 2008 headline of The Hindu magazine shouted, “8,000 Security Personnel for Solar Eclipse Fair…to ensure the event passes off smoothly” without violence.
Regardless of these beliefs, science says a solar eclipse is an awe inspiring event. “It’s so rare and unusual; it’s unfortunate to pass up any chance ” says NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak to Fox News on July 28th. Nevertheless the power of myth exists in many societies with millions of people responding by fear, superstition or violence.
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