The fascination with eclipses is something that stems from ancient times, when the causes of the mid-day “blackouts” were not fully understood. It appears that even after the eclipse was explained by scientific means as the overlapping of the Moon and Sun, the mystical aura surrounding this planetary phenomenon refuses to fade. The propensity towards attributing supernatural explanations to a rather common occurrence is easy to elucidate, considering that most ancient religions worshipped astral bodies as gods. And, nowadays those irrational beliefs still permeate the folds of time, making their way into our societies, some more than others. Let’s find out more about the effects of solar eclipses and some of the superstitions that prevail today.
1. The animal’s sleep patterns are disturbed
The disturbance is mostly visible on wide scale during the major version of the solar eclipse, for both animals and insects. To put it simply, because their senses associate the eclipse with nighttime (considering that animals most likely don’t have an actual sense of time) they begin acting accordingly. The nocturnal animals wake up suddenly from their naps and engage in their normal routine, whereas the daytime ones appear ready for some shuteye. Fortunately, this effect only occurs during the darkest period of the eclipse and the normal behavior is resumed when the sun is once again shining in the sky. However, it is necessary to note that the vast majority of them will still act “confused” for a while longer, until the sleep/wake cycle is resumed.
2. The appearance of shadow bands on the ground
A rather “freaky” phenomenon, the shadow bands essentially constitute dark strips aligned on the grown in rows in equidistant positions. The shadow bands are visible at the beginning and near the end of the solar eclipse. During these times the dark strips are motionless, but as the Moon continues its journey across the surface of the sun, they will appear to advance towards the viewer. The generally accepted theory regarding this phenomenon, according to Dr. Stuart Eves, is that the shadow bands stem from infrasounds generated by the velocity of the moon’s shadow that generates low frequency noises that cannot be perceived by the human ear. Basically, it’s like a shockwave that precedes the actual shadow, causing the ripples we refer to as shadow bands.
3. Sexuality is at an all time low
The concept that children conceived during the eclipse – also referred to as “moon children” – will come with a free demon inside may have been abandoned since the Middle Ages, but somehow on an unconscious level people still remember it. As a direct consequence, statistics indicate that an individual is less interested in sexual relationships during the period of the eclipse, irrespective of whether it has conception purposes or the sex is purely for entertainment. Or, maybe the lower interest in sex is associated with the fascinating phenomenon going on outside your window. You can have sex any day, but you only get to see an eclipse every few years!
4. Eclipses and newborns
Another category of superstitions related to sex, procreation and pregnancy, many women still believe the astronomical phenomenon has a direct effect on the health and appearance of the fetus. For example, even in assumedly educated first world countries some expecting mothers think that touching the belly when the eclipse is in full swing will leave a birthmark. In less “secular” communities, women tell stories about how cutting an apple during the eclipse made their children be born without fingers. In many of the superstitious communities, the Aztec practice of wearing bright red panties pierced by a safety pin is still law.
5. Christopher Columbus’ famous “prank”
Christopher Columbus may be held in the highest respect for his navigator skills, but he was definitely a jerk when it came to negotiating with the natives. Because his overall rude behavior towards the Jamaicans determined them to refuse his requests for supplies, he tricked them into believing the upcoming eclipse was a demonstration of his power and that the sun would never return if they did not cooperate. Needless to say, the tribe chiefs were “swayed” by his powers when the eclipse actually occurred.
6. Eskimos who fall sick if they don’t respect a ritual
It is relatively easy for Eskimos to avert the alleged “specific eclipse illness” considering that all they have to do is turn the cooking utensils upside down. The roots of this superstition stem from the idea that the eclipse represents a period of sickness for the two astral bodies and the only way to avoid contagion is to shine the poisoned beams off repositioned cutlery.
7. Thailand’s demon-frightening noise routine
The concept that during the eclipse a certain evil entity is feasting on the Sun has been shared by many cultures including the Vikings who attributed the deed to a gigantic feral spirit. In Thailand, a similar superstition manifests since the ancient times, when the villagers thought evil spirits were eating away the Sun and, in order to prevent the end of days, making as much noise as possible via banging on pots and lighting fireworks was mandatory.
8. The alternative “face wash” in India
There are many superstitious beliefs related to the eclipse in India, like for instance that going to sleep during the eclipse with wet hair will transform you into a “lunatic”. However, the one that takes the cake is probably the concept that “cleaning” your eyes and face with urine will prevent any future eyesores. Except probably if this practice leads to an infection, of course!
9. Like storm chasers, but with eclipses
There are people – not few actually – who love to be in the vantage point whenever the eclipse unfolds in order to get the best view possible. This tradition was started back in 1972, when Marcy Sigler commissioned a boat with over 800 people on board just to travel the waters from New York to Nova Scotia, where the eclipse was most visible.
10. Addicted to eclipses
Umbraphiles – shadow lovers – are probably the most likely people to take part in an eclipse chasing expedition. Call them eccentric if you like, but they are very keen on not missing any eclipse, even if that implies travelling several thousand miles every one or two years.