Eclipse tales: EAT the Sun

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CHINA: Eat Sun

This painting depicts Zhang the Immortal shooting a pebble bow at a heavenly dog.

Over the millennia, there’ve been countless ways humans have tried to explain the unexplained. Phenomena such as a total solar eclipse is no exception.

One eclipse legend common to ancient cultures around the world is that of a predator chasing the Sun so to devour and extinguish its life-giving fire.

In China, one of the earliest words for eclipse is ri “SHI,” which means “to eat” the sun.

CHINA

The origins likely come from ancient Chinese folklore, where a heavenly black dog named Tian Gou was depicted as trying to devour the Sun.

Since eclipses were omens of great change, fending off sun-eating dogs was serious business. As such, royal astronomers at the emperor’s court were charged with shooting arrows, banging pots and making whatever noise they could to scare off this eclipsing canine.

Despite their efforts, the tale of the heavenly dog has persisted. 20th century Chinese poet Guo Moruo wrote on Tian Gou:

I am a heavenly dog! I eat up the Moon,
I eat up the Sun.
I eat up all the planets, I eat up the universe.
I become what I am!

HINDU

To be sure, there’s more than one way to lose your head over an eclipse.

HINDU: Eat the Sun

Rahu’s immortal head now chases the Sun and Moon in anger, occasionally swallowing them, causing the eclipse.

In Hindu mythology, the demon Rahu became a mortal enemy of both the Sun and the Moon after they caught him stealing a drink of immortality elixir reserved for the gods.

When the Sun and Moon reported this theft to supreme being Lord Vishnu, Vishnu chopped off Rahu’s head before the elixir reached his body.

Vishnu decapitates Rahu

(COURTESY: WIKIMEDIA)

As a result, Rahu’s head became a god while his dead body became the constellations.

Rahu’s immortal head now chases the Sun and Moon in anger, occasionally swallowing them, causing the eclipse. But since there is no body to digest the sun and moon, the heavenly orbs fall from his head and appear again.

VIKINGS

Fenrir wolf chases Sol

Fenrir wolf chases Sol during the Viking time of Ragnarok. (Illustration: A. Fleming)

For the Vikings, Norse mythology talks about the time of Ragnarok (or the Apocalypse), when the imprisoned god of mischief, Loki, and his son, the wolf Fenrir, escape their prison chains to wreak havoc.

While Loki plots an intricate revenge, Fenrir races over the landscape, jaws wide-open, swallowing everything between the heavens and Earth – including the Sun.

AND THERE’S MORE…

The world has many other eclipse tales, too:

  • In Vietnam, one creation myth says eclipses occur when a giant toad or frog swallows the sun.
  • The Chocktaw tribe of North America spoke of a naughty – and hungry – black squirrel taking nibbles of the Sun and
  • The Tatars of western Siberia even had stories of a vampire who tried to swallow the sun, but failed after repeatedly burning his tongue.

An occupational hazard of all sun eaters, for sure.

These are only a handful of eclipse stories from around the world, so please – if you have any of your own – share them with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Enjoy the eclipse.