Here and There in Yucatan/Superstition Concerning Eclipses

SUPERSTITIONS CONCERNING ECLIPSES.[1]

From time immemorial, most peculiar ideas have been and are entertained in different parts of the world concerning eclipses and their cause. The Hindoos believe that a black demon seizes the moon with its claws. As long as darkness prevails, the air is filled with lamentations, men, women, and children entering the rivers, where they remain up to their neck in water until the return of light.

The Siamese priests (Talapoins) believe that when the moon is eclipsed a great dragon is devouring it; in order to oblige him to let go his prey they make all sorts of abominable noises.

The Chinese, like the Laplanders, are convinced that an eclipse is the work of demons; and make a great hubbub to frighten them away.

The Romans believed the eclipses to be the work of magicians, and that a great noise could prevent them from hurting the moon. Plutarch says that Aglaonice, during an eclipse of the moon which she predicted, persuaded the women of Thessalica that by her magic songs she had not only the power to darken the moon, but to oblige it to descend upon the earth.

The Greeks, and the inhabitants of Asia Minor, stood in excessive awe of eclipses. According to Herodotus, in the year 610 B. C., while a battle was raging between the Lydians and the Medes, an eclipse of the sun, predicted by Phales of Millet, occurred. It not only put an end to the fight, but the contending parties hastened to make peace, cementing the treaty by the marriage of Aryenis to Astyages.

If we now turn to America, we find that the Peruvians, Mexicans, and others, were terrified by the phenomenon. The Peruvians particularly dreaded the eclipse of the moon; they imagined that Luna was suffering from one of the mysterious diseases to which she was supposed to be subject, and feared that the queen of night might burst open and fall upon them. To avoid such a terrible calamity, and awaken her from her lethargy, they would sound loud instruments, shout at the top of their voices, and beat the dogs to make them howl. This custom of making a racket during an eclipse still obtains all over Peru, even in Lima.

The Mexicans imagined that eclipses occurred in consequence of a family squabble between the sun and moon, and that the moon was wounded in the fray. The frightened men observed rigorous fasts, the women inflicted corporal punishment on themselves, and young girls drew blood from their arms.

In Yucatan, the descendants of the Mayas are convinced that when Luna is eclipsed she is sick in consequence of being bitten by some large American warlike ants called Xulabs, and that they will devour her if she is left without help. To frighten away her enemies they beat drums, blow shell trumpets, shout, beat their dogs, pinch the cats' tails, and fire rockets and guns towards the moon.

  1. Published in "Scientific American."