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Superstitous Nonsense About Eclipses

In the old days, eclipses were thought of as a bad omen. But we know this is not true ... at least astrologically. For me, eclipses are a time of foggy thinking coupled with dramatic change. According to the almanac, some astrologers say eclipses are like “New or Full Moons on steroids.” They are unpredictable and wild. Often, they bring significant changes out of the blue. For example, a relationship may suddenly come to an end. If something occurs around an eclipse, it's best to go with the flow, even if you feel unprepared

As we prepare for the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, let's delve into the reasons why. Here is a short excerpt of one theory from Atlas Obscura.

Stephen King, Shakespeare, and Many Writers Agree: Eclipses Are Doom

One of the earliest attributions of the bad impact of eclipses comes from ancient Greece. Though it’s open to interpretation, Homer’s The Odyssey makes reference to a potential eclipse, predicted by a murderous soothsayer. “A dreadful sign / appears above: the sun is veiled in mist, / and darkness covers all the fertile earth,” reads a modern translation. To no surprise, the next chapters detail a bloody resolution between Odysseus and the many suitors, servants, and even a sheepherder who all took advantage of his absence during the Trojan War.

Jump ahead a few centuries, and eclipses harbinger the death of Christ, son of the Christian God. This “famous instance occurs in the Gospels at the death of Christ, as in Matthew 27:45,” says Martha Bayless, Director of the Department of Folklore and Public Culture at the University of Oregon. The text says “and there was darkness over the whole earth” in the middle of the afternoon. “This has long been interpreted as an eclipse,” she explains.

Bayless thinks this may be one of the first written associations between eclipses and misfortune in Western literature. Because European society in the following centuries was so heavily influenced by the word of the Bible, the idea may have become ingrained into society. “When an eclipse occurred in the Middle Ages,” says Bayless, “people similarly wondered whether it portended something great or something terrible. A wonderful sign, or God’s displeasure?”

Fast forward to the Renaissance and one of the most notable works of the 1600s: John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The poem treats eclipses the same way as the bible—as omens of literal evil. He writes of Satan (the “archangel ruined”) returning to lead troops from darkness at a time when the “new sun risen” is “shorn of his beams, or, from behind the moon, / In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds / On half the nations, and with fear of change.” This reinforces Milton’s not-so-subtle messaging that light is good and darkness is bad.

It’s all but impossible to write about literature without mentioning Shakespeare, partially as the Bard wrote nearly 40 plays. He was known to use direct language, and in King Lear he speaks to the common man on how one should feel about eclipses. “These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us,” speaks Gloucester, a loyal supporter of the king. “Though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects. In cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son and father.” Updated to modern parlance, he’s basically saying that despite understanding why eclipses happen, they still bring catastrophe.

Naturally, the eclipse is described as striking fear in the masses of King Arthur’s court. “With the falling of the first shadow of that darkness you shall see them go mad with fear,” writes Twain. “You could see the shudder sweep the mass like a wave.”

Bayless has a theory as to why. “Being reminded of how small and powerless we are can be humbling, even terrifying,” she says. “We may build huge buildings and plumb the ocean depths and split atoms, but nobody can stop an eclipse.”

 

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