The longest lunar eclipse of the century occurs on July 27th 2018. Cutting a path over Australia and parts of Africa, this total lunar eclipse of the moon will have a full phase lasting 1 hour and 43 minutes, turning the moon red and giving amateur and professional astronomers alike a true celestial treat. Most people of this century approach the lunar eclipse as a bit of fun science and a minor curiosity but it wasn’t always so. Many civilizations feared the lunar eclipse and stories and legends are ripe with stories about this strange and fascinating night sky event.
These ancient people feared the lunar eclipse. Incan mythology believed that a giant jaguar in the sky devoured the moon and the blood-red color of the total phase was the result of the moon being eaten. The Incas worried that the moon would not be enough to appease the appetite of the beast and it would fall to earth to continue its feast on the Incan people.
The Ancient Hindu
During the creation myths of Hinduism, there was a demon who stole a special elixir from the Gods. He was caught and punished by having his head cut off. Despite this, the demon still sought revenge and would chase the sun and moon, attempting to swallow them. He occasionally catches them, thus explaining the darkening and blood red color. However, because the demon is just a head, the moon slips right back through and the chase continues.
Christopher Columbus and Jamaica
By all accounts Christopher Columbus was not the nicest explorer in the world and one of his most famous bad deeds was conning the native people of Jamaica. Back in the early 1500s, European explorers had the ability to predict eclipses and knowing one was coming, Christopher Columbus used it to con the Jamaican native people into supplying his crew with needed supplies and food. Legend has it, when the moon turned red, the famous explorer told the Jamaicans that if they agreed to help the sailors, he would ask God to turn it back. So of course, he appeared to have God’s ear and the people fulfilled his wishes to their own detriment.
The Hupa have a dark myth about the lunar eclipse, where the moon is a diety with several wives and dozens of animal pets. The legend goes, that the moon diety does not always feed his troupe enough and every once in a while he comes under attack, until he starts feeding them again. The blood red moon is of course, the blood spilled during the assault.
Not every lunar eclipse myth has a dark side, the Tinglit people of the Pacific Southwest believed that the Sun and Moon were lovers and the total lunar eclipse was simply when they cloaked themselves to have some alone time and get their Moonglow on.
Even with today’s science and technology, eclipses still have an awe factor. To see this event at its best, find a place with no light pollution and set up on comfy lawn chairs with a great set of binoculars. No need for special glasses for the lunar eclipse, just bring your love of the stars, the moon and the earth.