Let’s face it, when that bright thing in the sky skedaddles in the middle of the day, it’s a pretty big deal.
Nowadays, we all (or mostly, at least) know that a solar eclipse happens when the moon’s orbit passes in front of the sun and the moon blocks some of the sun from view. In a total solar eclipse, like the one coming Monday across a swath of the U.S., the moon fully blocks the sun.
Of course, there are modern-day flat earthers, who reject not just the globe but most of modern astronomy. Does the looming eclipse challenge their belief that the sun revolves around the Earth? Not so much, found Philly Voice. In fact, some say the eclipse proves they’re correct, arguing that an Earth-centric model explains what we see during an eclipse much better than the heliocentric model favored by science.
But modern flat-earth theories on the eclipse seem positively tame compared to some of the explanations people came up with in the past. Here are five.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
1. A dog ate my homework. Also, the sun. In Korean folklore, eclipses are said to be caused by fire dogs biting the sun and moon in failed attempts to steal the celestial bodies.
As you might expect, legends attributing eclipses to animals trying to eat the sun are quite common. Vietnamese legends blamed a giant frog or toad, while Vikings said wolves were at fault and Chinese folklore ascribed eclipses to a hungry dragon.
2. Anger management issues, much? Stories told by the Pomo tribe in California say a bear brushed up against the sun while wandering about one day, sparking a fight that temporarily blotted out part of the sun. The angry bear then took a bite out of the moon for good measure, also providing a handy explanation for lunar eclipses.
The ancient Greeks blamed eclipses on angry gods pushing mankind for various transgressions, while the Tewa tribe of New Mexico said they took place when an enraged sun beat feet to the underworld to cool down.
3. This one’s complicated. And gory. In India, ancient Hindu beliefs blamed eclipses on a giant phantom decapitated head. There’s something you don’t see every day.
It seems that a demon named Rahu once tried to drink an immortality nectar reserved for the gods. The god Vishnu hurled a blade at Rahu, slicing off his head before the elixir could slide down his throat, leaving only the demon’s now-severed head immortal. Bummer.
Now Rahu’s ghostly floating head roams around the sky, occasionally gobbling up the sun or moon out of hatred. But, since the demon has no body, they slide right back out again. Double bummer.
4. Peace out. The Batammaliba in modern Togo and Benin in West Africa blamed eclipses on a fight between the sun and moon. The people would come together and resolve old feuds to try to convince the squabbling celestial bodies to chill out. The Navajo likewise attributed eclipses to an imbalance in the universe.
5. Oh, man. Omens. Not surprisingly, many early cultures saw the disappearance of the sun or moon as an omen, and usually not a good one. Ancient Babylonians thought an eclipse could foretell the death of a king, making astronomy a risky hobby for royal advisers.
In ancient China, on the other hand, a king of the Zhou dynasty took a lunar eclipse as a sign to challenge and overthrow his Shang overlord. And Christopher Columbus reportedly used a predicted lunar eclipse to blackmail what he considered to be uncooperative Jamaicans into aiding his expedition.