Total solar eclipses are a natural occurrence that once caused fear among superstitious people. They used to think that one of the gods was angry with them or that the earth was going to end. They were generally thought to be a very bad omen.
Ancient Hindus believed that their two serpent demons Rahu and Ketu were eating and swallowing the sun in their attempt to stop the light that gave life to everything. In some Hindu areas, it is customary to take to the streets and bang pots and pans and shoot off fireworks to scare off the serpent demons and prevent them from swallowing the sun or to force them to regurgitate it back up.
In some cultures where superstitions are common, it is believed that solar eclipses are dangerous for pregnant women and the child they are carrying. At the start of a solar eclipse, they make sure that all pregnant women stay indoors and away from windows.
Have you ever heard of King Henry’s Eclipse? In 1133 AD, Britain’s King Henry I died shortly after a solar eclipse. For years the British, as have many other cultures, would use a person as a substitute for the king or queen, to sit on the throne during an eclipse to insure the safety of the real monarch. When astronomers failed to predict a solar eclipse in ancient China, they were beheaded for failing to properly warn the Chinese emperor.
In some parts of the world, they believe that a solar eclipse can poison food prepared or eaten during the solar eclipse. Consequently, these superstitious people will fast during an eclipse.
In 632 AD, the Islamic prophet Mohammed’s son Ibrahim died at the time of a solar eclipse. Many believed the solar eclipse was either an omen of his death or a miracle to mark his death. Mohammed disagreed, but some Muslims still believe that a solar eclipse is an omen of a birth or death.
Ancient Koreans used to believe that some mythical dogs had taken the sun out of the sky during a solar eclipse.
Total solar eclipses over the United States occurred in December 2001, June 2002, April 2005 and the last one was in May 2012. The next one is scheduled to happen on Monday, August 21 of this year. The next ones after that will take place in 2024 and 2025.
You would think that most Americans are beyond such superstitions, but evidently, they’re not.
Victor Skinner reports:
“Schools in several states are canceling classes for the total solar eclipse next month, opting to send students home for ‘inclement weather’ instead of using the rare phenomenon as a teaching moment.”
“Officials in Edwardsville District 7 in the St. Louis metro area canceled classes for Aug. 21 because of safety concerns with monitoring students during the once in a lifetime event. Many folks in the U.S. will witness the moon completely block the sun for almost three minutes around 1:18 p.m. and those in the St. Louis area can witness the eclipse from about noon to 2:30 p.m., KTVI reports.”
“‘Experts say safety classes must be worn when looking at the sun during the eclipse,’ according to the news site. ‘Edwardsville District 7 is taking the stance that like any other environmental hazard, including snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, the eclipse poses a hazard to students’.”
“Edwardsville officials contend they cannot safely dismiss students from school during the eclipse, so they canceled classes for the entire day and plan to make up the lost time at the end of the year.”
What safety concerns are there surrounding a solar eclipse that would warrant cancellation of classes? Evidently, superstitions are not dead in America’s public schools.