On January 31st we’ll have not only the first eclipse of 2018, but also the first total lunar eclipse in over 2 years. And while today, many of us celebrate eclipses with viewing parties and observatory visits, this wasn’t always the case. Eclipses were often feared. In looking at the mythology, superstitions, and lore surrounding lunar eclipses, it’s clear – our ancient ancestors considered them to be bad omens.
What Is A Lunar Eclipse?
A lunar eclipse (also called a total eclipse of the Moon) occurs when the Earth is sandwiched between the Sun and the Moon, so it blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon. Indirect light still spills around Earth’s edges though, illuminating the Moon somewhat. But because this light must first pass through Earth’s atmosphere (which filters out blue and green colored light), the light cast onto the Moon takes on an unsettling reddish-brown or blood red color. This, in turn, tinges the shadow this color, and is why you’ll hear total lunar eclipses sometimes called “Blood Moons.”
Cause For Chaos Or Celebration?
Here’s a look at some of the stories, beliefs, myths, and superstitions about lunar eclipses from around the world:
- Pay it forward: Tibetan Buddhists believe that the good (and bad) deeds you do during a lunar eclipse are multiplied tenfold.
- A time to forgive: According to South African myth, the Sun and Moon fight during an eclipse. It’s up to the people to come together and encourage the celestial bodies to resolve their feud.
- Coming changes: Many Native American tribes say lunar eclipses are a sign of a transformation to come here on Earth (based on their belief that the moon controls and regulates our planet).
- A sign of the apocalypse: One of the most widely shared sayings here in the U.S. about total lunar eclipses comes from the Bible. According to Joel 2:31: “The Sun will turn to darkness, and the Moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”
- Avoid eating? In India, people avoid cooking, eating, and drinking during lunar and solar eclipses. They believe food spoils faster in the absence of the Sun’s light, and may bring on indigestion.
- Relax, moms! In several cultures, expectant mothers are advised to stay indoors when the Moon turns dark for fear it may curse their unborn child. They should also rest from housework, since using a knife or other sharp object is believed to cause birthmarks.
- Make some noise! Incan civilizations believed that Blood Moons occurred when a mythological jaguar attacked and ate the Moon. To drive it away and stop its slaughter, the people would shake spears at it and make their dogs bark at the night sky. Today’s sky watchers still give a nod to this ritual by watching lunar eclipses with noisemakers in hand to “scare off” whatever is swallowing the Moon.
Whether you believe lunar eclipses are spooky or spectacular, you can’t deny they’re a fascinating sight to see. This year’s show will be extra special since the Moon will be considered a “Blue Moon” (the second full moon of the month). What’s more, you’ll be able to watch the eclipse with the naked eye — no special glasses or filters are needed. Here’s hoping for clear skies!