Solar eclipses, interpretations in different cultures

Natural phenomena are expressed in various cultures differently depending on the available knowledge and the prevailing belief systems. One could perhaps say that this was more or less the case since Adam and Eve appeared on earth. The first humans dwelt in heaven like natural surroundings at ease and with plenty of leisure and happiness until one day the Devil tempted them to transgress God’s rules and instigating the sin that led to the fall of man. What is referred to in religious literature as “the forbidden fruit” was their undoing. This is at least what the Bible is teaching us in a nutshell.

The interaction between man and nature however continued since then and this relationship is nowadays defined as follows. “Nature is the whole of the physical world; it is also what exists outside of any human action. Man is in nature but he acts upon it, thereby emancipating himself of it. He is part and parcel of nature. The human-nature relationship is the object in western societies at least, of contradictory representations.”

Most of the times, man and nature live in harmony and without any major problems. However, this relationship is not always peaceful or harmonious. Man, although a conscious being, sometimes upsets the harmonious balance between the two knowingly or unknowingly. And this gives rise to natural calamities that affect man in return. This shows that man is not always in control of nature. Neither does he fully understand all natural phenomena. some of them are easy to understand while others are more complex.

Lunar eclipse is one of the natural phenomena that is easily understood although it continues to fascinate the public as well as astrologists. Why a lunar eclipse occurs? Well, science says that the eclipse can happen only during full Moon when Sun and moon are on opposite sides of planet earth. At that point, the Moon can move into the shadow cast by Earth, resulting in lunar eclipse.

Human being are said to have started to observe lunar eclipses a long time ago. According to available information, “Babylonians, Greeks and Romans considered solar eclipse an omen and the month in which the eclipse was recorded was considered important. Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin believe that Sun and Moon are fighting during an eclipse. The people encourage the sun and the moon to stop fighting.”

People were giving various interpretations to the eclipses depending on their cultures and the prevailing levels of scientific information at different times. This is expressed in different literatures. What does solar eclipse symbolize? “An eclipse feels like a moment where something is strong or different. so if you have a story that’s trying to comment on how, say, a certain set of political or social relationships are wrong or how it’s time for a change in your characters, an eclipse can be a symbol of that.”

There are also many historical beliefs about eclipses in relation to African culture. “The Zulu people for instance, believed that the eclipse occurred when a celestial being, known as “the great shake of the sky” swallowed the sun or moon. This belief reflected a harmony between the natural and spiritual worlds, with the eclipse serving as a reminder of the persistence and power of ancestral spirits.”

As we can see from the above, natural occurrences like solar eclipse can engender symbolic, social, emotional and energetic interpretations. These occurrences have also spiritual meanings. “In astrology, the spiritual aspects of the moon represent our deep emotional tides. Astrologists believe an eclipse is a life-changing time to seek change and usher in evolution.”

Even scientists who study solar eclipse are said to be moved by the phenomenon even though they now how and why it occurs.

As one observer said, “An eclipse can usher in endings for certain relationships and bring beginnings for others. It is a time of dynamic change.” We can remember perhaps add by saying that weddings that take place during an eclipse could be interpreted positively or negatively. It can be used as an unforgettable moment for the couples who, in their old age, may remember the eclipse as the moment they tied the knots saying, “Remember that day when the sun suddenly went off as the we were about to cut the wedding cake? We had the creeps!”

Apart from this, there is no registered scientific evidence of a solar eclipse that has damaged any part of the human body although there may be brief atmospheric shifts due to the fast changes during the eclipse that last a few seconds.

In literature, solar eclipse is used as a sign or symbol that something is wrong or different. “If you have a story that is trying to comment on how, say, a certain set of political or social relationships are wrong, or how it is time for a change in your characters, an eclipse can be a symbol of that.”

In ancient cultures, solar eclipses were considered signs of doom and destruction. Ancient Greeks saw a solar eclipse as a sign the gods were angry at the king. Others cultures had developed legends in order to explain why solar eclipse occurred. In one culture for instance, solar eclipse is explained as a moment when a deity or other entity was swallowing the sun.

Speaking of legends, it is important to note that solar eclipses had given rise to some odd mythological interpretations. The ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses occur when a celestial dragon devours the sun. They also believed that the same dragon attacks the moon during lunar eclipses. It was a tradition in ancient China to bang drums and pots and make loud noises during an eclipse to frighten that same dragon.

“The Egyptians, like most ancient cultures, also associated the observation of this solar phenomenon with the occurrence of misfortunes. It is also important to note that solar eclipse does trigger fear and foreboding that in turn trigger all kinds of concocted stories that circulate on social media these days. The majority of the stories are about doom and destruction taking the ongoing wars in the world as proof of the doomsday scenarios in the making. Most religions have their own interpretations.

To look at the solar eclipse from a more mundane perspective, we might perhaps indicate the major health hazard the eclipse has on our body. “Looking at the intense light from the sun even for just a few seconds can cause permanent damage to the retina (part of the eye directly responsible for our vision). Exposing your eyes to the sun without proper eye protection during a solar eclipse can cause retinal burns called solar retinopathy.” Scientists advise to look at the eclipse through safe solar view glasses or a safe, handheld solar viewer at all times.

For the last couple of weeks, the world’s attention was caught by predictions of the solar eclipse that took place on April 8, 2024. According to Wikipedia. “A total solar eclipse will take place across North America, dubbed the Great American Total Solar Eclipse by some media…This eclipse is the first total solar eclipse to be seen in Canada since February 26, 1979 and the first in the United States since July 11, 1991. This year’s eclipse will be the only total solar eclipse in the 21st century where totality will be visible in Mexico, the US and Canada. It will also be the last total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous United States until August 23, 2044.”

Predictions of solar eclipses in Ethiopia are as follows: Partial solar eclipse is expected to take place in Ethiopia in September 7, 2024. Partial lunar eclipse will take place in august 28, 2026.there will also be other partial and full solar eclipses in the following years up to 2029.

Many of us have never experienced solar eclipse in Ethiopia. And yet the very news of solar eclipses taking place elsewhere in the world are usually exciting so to most of us. What makes solar eclipse so exciting? First is the hype surrounding the event in the media. A natural phenomenon like a volcanic eruption is seldom reported in the media and hardly claim the headlines for so many days as solar eclipses do. The second reason may be the fear that is triggered by news and reports of solar eclipses in the media, some of which are alarming as if the world was to end during the eclipse.

There must be a global sigh of relief once the eclipse is over and life returns to normal. The longest lasting eclipse had lasted a little more than 4 minutes but these were minutes filled with excitements and expectations. Most of us must be wishing in our hearts that “the end of the world” pessimism to end as soon as possible. Imagine what would happen if the eclipse lasted for too long, say one hour? That would simply be horrifying enough to inspire a Steven King novel, if at all life continues afterwards.



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