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Lunar Eclipses Spawned Different Beliefs For Early Civilizations

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Lunar eclipses are rare celestial events that always excite people, whether they are space enthusiasts or not. On Sept. 27, a rare simultaneous occurrence of two of the most exciting lunar treats is set to happen - the supermoon eclipse.

A supermoon or "perigee" happens when the moon is at its closest distance to the Earth, resulting in the planet's seemingly abnormal large natural satellite. Lunar eclipse, on the other hand, occurs when the moon orbits pass the shadow of the Earth, which leads to the blocking of the light coming from the sun.

Much has been said about lunar eclipses. Majority of ancient communities have unique beliefs and subsequent actions employed during this cosmic event. For these ancestors, lunar eclipses signify that something is challenging the normal order of things, said E.C. Krupp, the director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

In pre-Columbian America, the Incas regarded eclipses as anything but good, said David Dearborn, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. According to him, letters from Spanish people in the New World record were able to document the practices of Incas toward eclipses. One of the beliefs said that lunar eclipses were caused by an angry jaguar that feasted on the moon. The big cat's attack was also said to explain the red color that the moon usually exudes after an eclipse.

The Incas also believed that the after feeding on the moon, the jaguar will go down to Earth and eat the people so the ancestors tried to avoid that by shaking sharp weapons at the moon and making their dogs bark through beating to drive away the predator.

For the Mesopotamians, lunar eclipses signal bad events but for them the culprits were seven demons. According to Krupp, early people associated their cultures with the events that happened in the sky. The lunar eclipse, for them, is an offensive attack on the king as it was he who represented the Mesopotamian culture. These ancestors possessed the ability to predict a lunar eclipse and when the anticipated cosmic event was about to happen, the people would install a new king and make the real one disguise as an ordinary citizen. After the eclipse, the temporary king usually disappears or is perhaps killed through poisoning.

As for the myth told by the Hupa, which is a Native American tribe that settled in Northern California, the lunar eclipse was caused by the attack of the moon's pets such as lions and snakes when it did not bring them food. The "bleeding" would only stop when the moon's 20 wives finally come, rescue it and restore it to its previous health condition.

In a Southern California tribe named Luiseño, an eclipse means that the moon is sick, says Krupp. The way to lift its ill condition is to offer prayers and sing chants.

Although eclipses are often regarded as a bad sign, not all cultures believe so, said cultural astronomer Jarita Holbrook from the University of the Western Cape. For the Batammaliba individuals in Africa, an eclipse signifies that the moon and the sun are fighting but then the people pushed them to resolve the problem. Hence, these people regard an eclipse as a time to make up and unify.

"It's a myth that has held to this day," added Holbrook.

Photo: Time Kelley | Flickr

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