Solar Eclipse in Tahiti, French Polynesia, July 11, 2010

Countdown to Eclipse


Eclipse and “orality” in mythological stories

Eclipses have been the support of many religious beliefs or mythological stories in most of the ancient civilisations or cultures.

In many of them, we can find this following scene: one’s star being swallowed, by another star, by a god, a malefic demon or an extraordinary animal.

“For many people, eclipses of the Moon or the Sun were explained by the extraordinary appetite of a wild or mythic animal, which devours one of the star.” (Source: CNES)

The first registered eclipse happened in China, around 2000 BC. Subjects of the Emperor used to consider it as the manifestation of the appetite of a dog or a wolf, wandering into the mythical heaven to devour the stars.

“This popular belief that still remains in the remotest areas of the country urged residents outside with gongs, rattles and other instruments in order to drive out the celestial animal, which was trying to eat the Sun or the Moon. Until the end of the last imperial dynasty (the Qing, 1911), this ritual din was nearly compulsory. For weeks earlier, the mandarins recommended to the population to attend this ceremony based on their calculations on the Imperial calendar (lunar). Posters entitled “Saving the Sun and the Moon” were stuck to the Yamen (office of imperial prefects). Whole regiments of the army also took part to the ritual noise. The effectiveness of this bedlam was inevitably confirmed by the fact that the “heavenly dog” let escape his prey once the eclipse was accomplished. By this way, the authority of the emperor, the “son of heaven”, was confirmed. (Source: Libération)


In Chinese language, the word eclipse is said “shi” which also means “eat“. In China and in several other Asian countries, the “eater” shows as a dragon. Indeed, most often the animal that eats the Sun or the Moon is frightening or fascinating in these people myths.”

Thus, the same story is found in Siberia with a vampire, a jaguar in Paraguay and giant frog in Vietnam. In Scandinavia, two wolves devoured the Sun for the one and the moon for the other. (Source: CNES)

In other civilizations

For the Polynesian people an eclipse of the sun or the moon was attributed to the wrath of the god Ra’a Mau-riri who would then swallow the star. (Teuira Henry, Tahiti in ancient times).

The Incas used to devote a cult to the Sun, with many rituals, and for them eclipses were truly a source of terror.

According to popular culture, lunar eclipses occur when the sun, plunged into a deep sleep, deviates from his usual path and risk falling, getting lost or being eaten by a hungry monster. To avoid such a catastrophe, Incas make as much noise as possible, with beating dogs, children, pans or drums, to get the Moon wake-up. During a solar eclipse, Int, Sun God and son of Viracocha, would be devoured by a celestial monster: a Puma. (Source: wikipedia)

For the Maya, the jaguar is a feline called “Black Sun”.

Oral Tradition and the eclipse in African stories

Some of the stories of oral tradition use the frequency and the duration of the eclipse as the main subject of the story. The phenomenon is more than a symbolic interpretation, but also a narrative tool for the storyteller. This African legend underneath explains the process of the phenomenon in its frequency and duration:

In the Zambezi area, man said that the Moon was trying desperately to be the most beautiful star in Heaven. She was however jealous of the sun which could be more beautiful with its golden feathers. So she decided to steal his golden feathers during the night. Unfortunately three little stars were witnessed the scene and in the early morning, went to warn the Sun. The latter, very upset, went to the moon and threw a handful of mud in her face, before he recovered its feathers. The moon hardly washed and scrubbed herself, she could not remove the marks of mud and remained stained forever. Ten years later, she took revenge by throwing mud on the face on the Sun, which took two hours to completely get vanished. Since then, the Moon continues to watch the sun with mud and manage to surprise him every ten years. Since then, African of this area are worried, thinking each time the golden orb is lost forever, but fortunately, each time it reappears. (Source: wikipedia)