Legends, Myths, and Stories Surrounding Solar and Lunar Eclipses
Before you begin reading, provide a definition for the following vocabulary words:
Introduction: Becoming an Adult
How high have you counted in one sitting? Have you ever counted to one thousand?
As a boy, I remember taking great pride in being able to count the numbers one through ten. I showed off my skills to anyone who would listen until I realized there was much more to learn. Next, I struggled my way through the teens, and then the recurring multiples of ten.
Eventually, I was able to count to one hundred. I would zip through the list as quickly as possible, usually in an inaudible slur. I felt like a math wizard. I could count a grand in under a minute, and proved this fact often. I could even count the numbers in reverse order. Was I the smartest child in the world? To me the answer was obviously yes.
Now, I know better. Numbers became increasingly abstract, and counting became more of a chore than a challenge. Instead of exploring the intangible, I found security in the concrete. Like most people, I turned my attention away from infinity and started becoming an “adult”.
Question 1: Adding and Removing Relevant Information
The author is considering adding the following information to the introduction of his article:
A man named Jeremy Harper from Birmingham, Alabama once counted aloud one to one million. It took him 89 days. Counting 16 hours a day, he started on June 18, 2007 and finished on the evening of September 14 of the same year.
Should the author add this information to the introduction of this article? Explain why or why not.
Question 2: Antonyms and Superlative Adjectives
In the fourth paragraph, the author writes, "Instead of exploring the intangible, I found security in the concrete."
Using complete, detailed sentences, explain what the author means when he writes this sentence.
Microcosms and Macrocosms
As adults, we get caught up in our own little worlds. We forget about the macrocosm and focus on microcosms such as becoming successful within society. Now, the only numbers we count are the ones in our bank account. Games are for Sunday afternoons. And abstract ideas are best left for philosophers. As we grow older, we look less at the stars and more at our phones, until eventually all that matters is life here, on Earth.
However, every now and then something happens that makes us look up and remember our place in the cosmos; something happens to remind us that we are just a speck in all of creation. Whether it’s as simple as stargazing, as childish as wishing upon a meteor, or as beautiful as watching an aurora borealis, we are hit with perspective. The Japanese call this epiphany “yugen,” an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words. For a moment, we come to an understanding of the truth of our existence. We are enlightened and humbled in the realization of the greater expanse of the universe. We understand our place amongst the stars.
Question 3: Author's Purpose
After reading the first two sections of the article, analyze the section "Introduction: Becoming an Adult" in relation to the author's purpose:
What purpose does the introduction serve for the rest of the article?
Perspective Facilitates Evolution
Alas, this realization rarely lasts. Like all events, perspectives pass and we go back to our day-to-day routine. To many people, it might seem like life has gone back to normal. However, I believe that nothing is further from the truth. To me, celestial events such as a solar eclipse help humans evolve. Our minds get a glimpse of truth and it reinvigorates our curiosity and humility for life.
Consider the many myths that have derived from such events and how they evolved our understanding of the world. See them as a quest to better understand our place in the universe. What follows are several examples of stories surrounding solar and lunar eclipses, and what they reveal to us about our humanity.
Using Myths as a Tool for Growth
Before the ideas of science spread across the earth, magic and religious dogma controlled the minds of the masses. Humans lived in the metaphorical dark, believing whole-heartedly in superstition and sorcery. Consider the medieval society in which Hank Morgan found himself in in Mark Twain’s . A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
In Twain's tale, a man named Hank Morgan gets knocked out so hard that he wakes up in the Medieval Ages. He finds himself in a society devoid of scientific fact. Pulling ideas from Thomas Malory’s LeMorte D’arthur, Twain places Hank in a world of knights, peasants, and ancient Camelot. After realizing he's not dreaming, Hank must decide what he should do with his newfound life in old England.
Magical Eclipses in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
After realizing he is, indeed, alive, Hank sets out to explore the medieval setting. As he does, he finds that everyone is completely devoid of common sense. For example, people believe his clothes are enchanted and that he is a magician.
Question 4: Word Choice
In the previous paragraph, the author uses the phrase "devoid of common sense." However, the author recently used the word "devoid" in the one of the previous paragraphs and wants to change one of the uses out for a synonym of "devoid."
A. What does the word "devoid" mean?
B. Which use of devoid should the author change?
C. What is a synonym the author could use to change the word but keep the intended meaning?
Question 5: Critical Thinking
Why would the people of medieval England think Hank's clothes are enchanted?
Over time, Hank finds that a man named Merlin is manipulating the peasants by telling them he has the power to cast spells. Merlin’s manipulation is something Hank cannot stand. He decides that if his experience is real, then he should do something to enlighten medieval England; releasing them from the shackles of ignorance.
Unable to reason with the people, Hank realizes that he has to fight fire with fire. He determines to use the peasant’s ignorance to make them believe that he too is a magician. He tells them that he has the power to blot out the sun from the sky, which is a level of magic that even Merlin cannot accomplish. If the people do not listen to him, Hank threatens that he will erase the day forever, casting Camelot into an era of perpetual darkness.
Question 6: Idiomatic Phrases and Context
What does the phrase "fight fire with fire" in the previous paragraph mean as it is used in the context of the text?
Obviously, this grabs everyone’s attention, including Merlin’s. Hank gains followers that are loyal to him, while Merlin sets up an army to kill Hank before he is able to extinguish the sun. Unbeknownst to the people of medieval England, Hank is aware of an upcoming solar eclipse. All he has to do is live long enough to be around when the eclipse happens. Then he can pretend that he has power to erase the sun, thus gaining full control over Camelot and the minds of the masses.
Ultimately, Hank is successful in tricking the kingdom into believing he has power over elements and stars. He becomes a celebrity and begins the arduous task of enlightening all of England. Over the next four years, Hank brings the kingdom into modern times. He establishes a military and naval academy, he strings wires for telegraphs and telephones, and he works to lessen the influence of the dogmatic ideals of the medieval Church across the lands.
Question 7: Polysemous Vocabulary
Provide three different definitions of the word "enlighten" or "enlightenment".
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
The following is an excerpt from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court:
“Apply the torch!”
“I forbid it!”
The one was from Merlin, the other from the king. Merlin started from his place—to apply the torch himself, I judged.
I said, “Stay where you are. If any man moves—even the king—before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!”
The multitude sank meekly into their seats, and I was just expecting they would. Merlin hesitated a moment or two, and I was on pins and needles during that little while. Then he sat down, and I took a good breath; for I knew I was master of the situation now.
The king said, “Be merciful, fair sir, and essay no further in this perilous matter, lest disaster follow. It was reported to us that your powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but—”
“Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie? It was a lie.”
That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhere, and the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed. The king was eager to comply.
He said, “Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!”
My fortune was made. I would have taken him up in a minute, but I couldn’t stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question. So I asked time to consider.
The king said, “How long—ah, how long, good sir? Be merciful; look, it groweth darker, moment by moment. Prithee how long?”
“Not long. Half an hour—maybe an hour.”
There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn’t shorten up any, for I couldn’t remember how long a total eclipse lasts. I was in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think. Something was wrong about that eclipse, and the fact was very unsettling. If this wasn’t the one I was after, how was I to tell whether this was the sixth century, or nothing but a dream? Dear me, if I could only prove it was the latter! Here was a glad new hope. If the boy was right about the date, and this was surely the 20th, it wasn’t the sixth century. I reached for the monk’s sleeve, in considerable excitement, and asked him what day of the month it was.
Hang him, he said it was the twenty-first ! It made me turn cold to hear him. I begged him not to make any mistake about it; but he was sure; he knew it was the 21st. So, that feather-headed boy had botched things again! The time of the day was right for the eclipse; I had seen that for myself, in the beginning, by the dial that was near by. Yes, I was in King Arthur’s court, and I might as well make the most out of it I could.
The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and more distressed.
I now said, “I have reflected, Sir King. For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you. These are the terms, to wit: You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state. If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift. Is it satisfactory?”
There was a prodigious roar of applause, and out of the midst of it the king’s voice rose, saying, “Away with his bonds, and set him free! and do him homage, high and low, rich and poor, for he is become the king’s right hand, is clothed with power and authority, and his seat is upon the highest step of the throne! Now sweep away this creeping night, and bring the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless thee.”
But I said, “That a common man should be shamed before the world, is nothing; but it were dishonor to the king if any that saw his minister naked should not also see him delivered from his shame. If I might ask that my clothes be brought again—”
“They are not meet,” the king broke in. “Fetch raiment of another sort; clothe him like a prince!”
My idea worked. I wanted to keep things as they were till the eclipse was total, otherwise they would be trying again to get me to dismiss the darkness, and of course I couldn’t do it. Sending for the clothes gained some delay, but not enough. So I had to make another excuse. I said it would be but natural if the king should change his mind and repent to some extent of what he had done under excitement; therefore I would let the darkness grow a while, and if at the end of a reasonable time the king had kept his mind the same, the darkness should be dismissed. Neither the king nor anybody else was satisfied with that arrangement, but I had to stick to my point.
It grew darker and darker and blacker and blacker, while I struggled with those awkward sixth-century clothes. It got to be pitch dark, at last, and the multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold uncanny night breezes fan through the place and see the stars come out and twinkle in the sky. At last the eclipse was total, and I was very glad of it, but everybody else was in misery; which was quite natural.
I said, “The king, by his silence, still stands to the terms.” Then I lifted up my hands—stood just so a moment—then I said, with the most awful solemnity: “Let the enchantment dissolve and pass harmless away!”
There was no response, for a moment, in that deep darkness and that graveyard hush. But when the silver rim of the sun pushed itself out, a moment or two later, the assemblage broke loose with a vast shout and came pouring down like a deluge to smother me with blessings and gratitude…
Question 8: Imagery
Good imagery creates a picture in the reader's head. As you reread the previous excerpt from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, explain:
A. What picture, image, or scene do you imagine as Hank deceives all of Camelot?
B. What diction (specific words) helped create this picture, image, or scene in your mind?
Recurring Motifs Surrounding Eclipses
As one analyzes Hank's story, it becomes evident that natural events (such solar eclipses) are catalysts for great change for humanity. While Hank does trick the people into believing he is a powerful magician, he does so in order to help advance the technology and education of his society. This theme is not unique. The themes revealed throughout A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court are much like the themes from other eclipse myths and stories from across the world.
Question 9: Synonyms
What does the author mean by the phrase "much like" when he says, "The themes revealed throughout A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court are 'much like' the themes from other eclipse myths and stories from across the world"?
- A. "much like" = "mad props"
- B. "much like" = "similar to"
- C. "much like" = "he likes"
- D. "much like" = "different than"
Each story reveals a level of ignorance in the societies that attempt to cope with and explain the natural events they are experiencing. As they attempt to explain the mysteries of the cosmos, they reveal a period of superstition and fear, followed by a period of great change (and oftentimes enlightenment). Regardless of the details of these stories and myths, there is one theme that seems be recurring: change for humanity.
Question 10: Examples to Enhance Comprehension
Provide an example of a superstition.
Eclipses in Ancient Greece
The etymological derivative of the English word “eclipse” comes from the Greek word 'ekleipo', which means disappearance or abandonment. It was a reference to the moment the sun disappeared from the sky, an event equal to that of gods forsaking the world. The Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was an act of abandonment and terrible crisis. To them, it signified the coming of disharmony in their lives. Whether it was the fall of a king, a plague defiling their lands, or some other misfortune, they recognized it as a period of great change.
However, the Greeks were not alone. Stories and myths from around the world reveal that other cultures saw eclipses in fearful and superstitious ways. Like the Greeks, they believed an eclipse was a harbinger of ill-fortune and great change. They believed the sun or moon could be stolen from the sky and that begging or pleading for mercy was the only way to return it to its natural place.
In Asian Cultures
The Chinese word for eclipse is shih, which means "to eat". This word comes from the many superstitions involving solar and lunar eclipses. Such stories tell of a creature or demon eating the sun or the moon from the sky. For example, the Vietnamese culture tells a story of a frog who eats the moon or the sun (depending on the type of eclipse). In order to save the planet from certain destruction, it was up to the people to make as much noise as possible in order to scare away the evil and save the day. People would bang pots, pans, and drums at whatever was swallowing the sun or moon to make it go away. Comically, researcher and director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angels, CA, E. C. Krupp, notes that their attempts to ward off the "evil" were always successful.
In Indian Cultures
Other cultures tell tales of an animal or deity that tries to steal the sun or the moon from the sky. One such story comes from Hinduism. In the story, a demon named Rahu disguises himself as a god in order to steal the sun and drink it as an elixir of immortality. The sun and the moon see what Rahu is up to, and they report his crime to the god Vishnu. Vishnu then slices off Rahu's head before the elixir can slide past his throat. The result is that Rahu's head turns immortal, but his body dies. After, the demon's head continues to move through the sky, chasing the sun and moon out of hatred.
In Viking (Norse) Culture
Although seemingly unconnected by culture, the Indian explanation of the eclipses parallels a Viking tale that tells of two wolves chasing the sun or the moon across the sky. When one of the wolves caught either of the shining celestial orbs, an eclipse would result.
In Mayan Culture
Mayan culture is filled with animal spirits and gods. The Mayan word for solar eclipse is hi’ ibal kin, or ‘to eat the sun'. In one story, they tell of the great cats that rule the underworld. One such cat is the jaguar. He is so powerful that he would rise from beneath the earth and eat the sun or moon. When this happened, the people would cry out for mercy, begging the jaguar to give back the celestial planet so that life on Earth could continue.
While each of these cultures feared the loss of the sun and moon, a deeper analysis shows that these events ultimately brought the people together. By working together, they were able to overcome the evil that was trying to wipe out humanity. Working together, they were able to save the day and continue living on Earth.
Question 11: Adding Subtitles
The author forgot to add a subtitle for the previous section. Reread the information available and create a subtitle that accurately reflects and reveals the information from this section of the text.
Eclipse as a Time for Unity
However, not every culture saw the solar and lunar eclipses in a fearful manner. Like the others, these celestial events brought people together during a time of a great change. Only, this time, the change was positive.
In African (Batammaliba) Culture
The people of West Africa used to believe that during times of war, a solar eclipse would occur as a sign that both sides should make peace. This idea came about because of the belief that the sun and moon were once the best of friends. For a long time, they lived side by side, happily working together in the sky. Their large families played together and life was good.
However, one day, they became competitive and jealous of each other. Sun wanted he and his family to shine the brightest in the sky, so created a plan to get rid of Moon and her family. He invited Moon and her family for a swim in a river. Moon said her family were the best swimmers in the sky, and Sun said he and his family would put them to the test. Moon and her family were to swim across the river and Sun would time them. After, Sun and his family would swim across the river and Moon could time them.
Moon and her family dove into the water unaware that there was a terrible storm the day before. The river was filled with all sorts of debris that crashed into Moon and her family as they swam. By the time they got to the other side, the debris had damaged Moon so bad that her once beautiful shine was now dim and almost gone. She looked at Sun, saw him smiling, and realized she had been tricked. So, she plotted her revenge against Sun and his family.
Moon invited Sun and his family to a meal. Throughout the course of the meal, she proceeded to complain about her children, how noisy and annoying they were. Sun fell for the conversation and started complaining about how noisy and annoying his children were too. By the end, they both declared that they wished they could get rid of their children. They decided to grind their children into tiny pebbles and toss them in the river. Watching them wash away, Sun and Moon would finally find some peace and quiet.
The next day, Moon and her children arrived at the river first. They walked carefully upstream and found fresh mud and flowers that they ground into pieces. They tipped the pieces into the water and the water turned red. The red water floated downstream where Sun was waiting. Sun saw the dyed water and assumed it was the blood of Moon's children. So, he picked up his mortar and pestle and ground his children into pieces. Then, he scattered their remains into the water and watched them float downstream.
After, Sun walked upstream to meet Moon. He saw her laughing with her children and realized he'd been tricked and swore his revenge. Since then, Sun and Moon have not been friends. Sometimes Moon is so filled with rage that she engulfs Sun (solar eclipse). Other times Sun is so made at Moon that he denies her light (lunar eclipse).
When this happens, the people of West Africa tell this story. They are reminded of the horrors of war and how innocent children can get caught up in the conflict. In this realization, they try to come to a peaceful resolution so that no more blood will be shed on the Earth and they can live peacefully across their lands.
Another eclipse story comes from the Navajo (Native American) culture.
In Navajo (Native American) Culture
The Navajo believe that the sun and moon were created in a sacred way. They are symbols of a cosmic order of balance. They believe that the two celestial objects contain a great spirit that should not be looked at directly. To look at one for too long could throw a person out of balance with the universe. They believe that during the time of a solar or lunar eclipse, the two spirits are in a sacred and intimate alignment. Like any intimate relationship, one should not watch as the couple comes together in passion and love.
To respect this communion between the sun and moon, the Navajo go indoors. They don't eat or drink water until the event passes. If someone did not recognize this moment properly, bad things were bound to happen. The Navajo believe that the sky is sacred, and that the place of stars is reserved for holy people. The sun shines during the day, but not without a price. Each day, people die to fuel the sun's power. However, during a solar eclipse, the sun's power is weakened. Evil is able to spread across the earth and if someone goes outside, they will likely inherit misfortune. The only way to protect against this darkness was to stay indoors. Doing so shows a sign of a respect to the great spirits in the sky. If they follow these rules, the sun will arrive once again and balance will be restored upon the earth.
While the Navajo tradition may be seen as fearful, many interpret it as a time of unity. By respecting the communion between the sun and moon, the people join together indoors. Doing so, they come to understand how they are similar as humans, and vastly different from the sun and the moon. No one is better than the other, because all humans are at the mercy of the universe.
Question 12: Providing an Objective Summary
Listen to one of the following solar or lunar eclipse myths from around the world in the "Other Eclipse Stories from Around the World" section. On your paper, provide an objective summary of the story (no more than seven sentences).
Other Eclipse Stories From Around the World
In Conclusion: Eclipses Reveal our Connection to Humanity
Truth can be scary, which is why we typically walk a fine line between illusion and reality. Our egos are sensitive and our minds are myopic. Yet, most people understand the importance of perspective. Like a slap to the face, it snaps us awake. It’s a medicine that temporarily cures our delusions. Unfortunately, there is no cure-all. Instead, we have different remedies for different ailments, which is good because humans can be very sick.
Events such death, hunger, and natural disasters help us realize our mortality, but fail to help us see our humanity. It’s the 21st century and we still have wars, borders, and prejudices that separate us from our brothers and sisters across the globe. We have not yet learned to live together or see each other as family. We tend to think of ourselves as citizens of a country, rather inhabitants of a planet. We are like children saying, “This is mine and that is yours.”
As a species we counted 1-100 and then got lost in the adult world. We got distracted and forgot infinity. We forgot that we are all humans who are at the mercy of nature and the cosmos. This is why, every now and then, we need to pay attention to the events that help us remember. This is why on Monday, August 21, 2017 Americans need to spend a moment remembering their place amongst the stars. Let the eclipse help you see that we are all together on planet Earth. Humans are family and we must work together in order to survive.
We are all part of a greater system. Let the solar eclipse bring you out of your microcosm and help you recognize the macrocosm of the universe. It is part of our existence. Don’t hide away from the truths it can reveal.
In our life everything matters, and every moment changes into something that it has never happened before. We are all together on this planet. No one can escape the influences of nature and the universe. Furthermore, humans are a composite of all experiences in life as we know it. Anything and everything that happens changes us. We grow a little bit from each and every experience.
So, how will you "see" the upcoming solar eclipse? Will you ignore its lessons and continue to live a life divided from others in ignorance and fear? Or will you use this moment as a means for reflection, helping you to better understand your connection to every other person across the planet? Life on planet Earth is more than bank accounts, sports, and social media. It is a training ground for humans to learn how to work together, and one day live as a family amidst the stars.
Question 13: Homonyms and Metaphors
Explain what the author means by "see" in the previous paragraph.
Question 14: Analyzing Theme
Explain one of the underlying themes (or recurring motifs) that is found in all of the solar and lunar eclipse stories from around the world.
“Eclipse Has Traditional Native Americans Heading Indoors.” KOB, 18 Aug. 2017, www.kob.com/new-mexico-news/eclipse-has-traditional-native-americans-heading-indoors/4578471/.
Grady, Constance. “When the Dragon Ate the Sun: How Ancient Peoples Interpreted Solar Eclipses.” Vox, Vox, 18 Aug. 2017, www.vox.com/culture/2017/8/18/16078886/total-solar-eclipse-folklore.
“Native American Eclipse Mythology.” Native American Indian Eclipse Legends from the Myths of Many Tribes, www.native-languages.org/legends-eclipse.htm.
“Solar Eclipse Myths From Around the World.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 25 July 2017, news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131101-solar-eclipse-myth-legend-space-science/.
“Solar Eclipse Myths.” Timeanddate.com, www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/solar-eclipse-myths.html.
“Yūgen (幽玄) – Deep Awareness of the Universe.” Creative by Nature, 13 Dec. 2014, creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/yugen-%E5%B9%BD%E7%8E%84-deep-awareness-of-the-universe/.