The culture surrounding an eclipse

By Amelia Morton, Dutch Fork HS (Irmo, South Carolina)

Fiery dogs, gods eating the moon, and a fight between the celestial bodies are just a few of the culturally diverse explanations throughout history rationalizing a solar eclipse. In the Western World, many of the original interpretations have fallen to science, transforming this once horrifying event for patrons who didn’t understand into a once in a lifetime opportunity.

On August 21, 2017, Columbia, South Carolina will experience a Total Solar Eclipse, lasting for 2 minutes and 36 seconds, this being the first time this event has been visible in the same area since 1785. Columbia will have the longest viewing period of the eclipse, even though it will span across the entire United States, making Columbia the perfect tourist destination with the predicted housing of one million visitors.

“Columbia has been touted as being one of the best places to watch the total solar eclipse because of the duration of totality, meaning that is when the shadow of the moon completely blocks out the sun’s rays,” Kelly Barbrey, the Vice President of Marketing for Tourism in Columbia, one of the planners for the historic event, said.

But what makes eclipses so unique, essentially drawing viewers to their mystery each time it’s visible?

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Throughout time, cultures and religions around the world have created stories and rituals surrounding eclipses.

According to National Geographic, during the time of the Vikings, it was believed that a pair of sky wolves were seen chasing either the sun in a solar eclipse, or the moon in a lunar eclipse. The eclipse would come as a result of one of the wolves catching either of the orbs.

In ancient China, eclipses were seen as a holy sign from gods to portend the future of the emperor. They also believed that solar eclipses took place as a “legendary celestial dragon” devoured the sun. This dragon also attacked the moon during lunar eclipses.

One ritual in ancient China was to beat drums and bang on pots to make loud sounds during an eclipse to frighten away the dragon.

In the nineteenth century, the Chinese navy fired cannons during a lunar eclipse to scare the dragon that was “eating” the moon. One of the first words to mean eclipse was chih, meaning “to eat,” showing that the people of China truly believed that the sun and moon were being consumed.

A modern misconception in India surrounding eclipses is that they are a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children. Pregnant Indian women are told to stay inside for the duration of an eclipse, and not look at the event for both their child’s safety, as well as their own.

National Geographic claims that Korean beliefs included fire dogs that were ordered by a king to try and steal the moon or the sun. Even though they always failed, resulting in the reappearance of the sun or moon, an eclipse took place when they bit into either celestial body.

The Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin, Africa believe that the sun and moon fight each other during an eclipse. Even today, the people see eclipses as a time to unite and resolve old disputes or anger. They persuade the sun and moon to stop fighting, ultimately ending an eclipse.

Here in Columbia, rituals and traditions no longer exist. Instead the people are focused on enjoying themselves and taking advantage of this opportunity that many won’t experience again.

Activities and events have been planned from Thursday through Monday, the day of the eclipse, to keep the residents and expected tourists occupied and content during their stay.

“[We have] live music, sporting events, wonderful outdoor opportunities, festivals. We have so many cool festivals,” Barbrey said.

Tourism is a major focus for Barbrey and her team.

“We do feel like this is a great way to introduce Columbia as an option for future travel. Even if somebody can’t make it for the eclipse but they see our ads and they see all of the communication, Columbia will be in the back of their mind as a place that they may want to come the next time they’re looking for a getaway to do something cool with their family,” Barbrey said.

[To view a Pinterest board on the Total Solar Eclipse, click here.]

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