Solar eclipses have been seen as having religious significance for thousands of years throughout our history. Some see this natural phenomenon as a sign or a divine warning; while others see eclipses as an omen or a type of punishment.
The meaning seems to vary depending on which religious beliefs a person has, and different religions each have their own thoughts and understandings that come along with the occurrence the celestial event.
The word “eclipse,” comes from the Greek term for “abandonment.” Ancient beliefs include the thought that the sun was literally abandoning the earth and leaving its people in the dark. It was also once believed that a solar eclipse and the sudden disappearance of the sun was something that could only be explained by the gods.
Of course, today we understand the scientific reasons we have an eclipse, and we can even predict down to the second when one will occur. However, even with everything we know about the sun, moon, and planets, there are still strong religious views on eclipses that have led some to question whether the solar event is actually an instrument of divine communication.
According to Anthony Aveni, a professor at Colgate University who teaches anthropology and of astronomy, and author of “In the Shadow of The Moon,” the most ancient belief is that the sun was considered to be a living thing. It was thought that during a solar eclipse, the sun was actually being eaten and people needed to warn it against the danger it faced.
Modern Religious Beliefs
The most recent solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 was the first total solar eclipse to be visible in the US in almost a century. This event brought forth many different thoughts and beliefs from people from a variety of religions and cultures and in fact, many religious groups see it as a sign of great spiritual significance.
Here are some beliefs about eclipses from different religions around the world:
Just as there are many different denominations of Christianity, there are also many different modern Christian interpretations of the solar eclipse. One belief is that while God created the heavens and they operate according to his design, solar eclipses do not indicate the end of the world or a negative event.
Roman Catholic Reverend James Kurzynski had this to say about the eclipse, “The term ‘fake news’ is very in vogue and overused these days. The end times stuff is kind of like ‘fake religion,’” he said. “It’s just the kind of stuff that’s spun in a way to try to get Christians scared when there’s nothing to fear.”
Others believe that while the upcoming eclipse does not indicate it is the end of the world, it does reveal a reminder and warning about the latter days of history as we know it. According to Gary Ray, a Christian writer, “We simply believe that God may be communicating a message through this eclipse about the general nearness of the rapture of the Church and Christ’s return. In other words, we believe that these prophetic events will occur soon, but we don’t know the day or hour on which they will occur.”
It has been noted that the timing of this eclipse and the alignment (just 33 days later) of the constellation Virgo and Leo with the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter, is the sign referenced in the book of Revelation, chapter 12, verses one through five, which seemingly announces the Second Coming of Christ.
Hindu tradition indicates that eclipses are bad omens, and are a reflection of the demon Rahu. According to Festivals of India, the Vedas must follow certain rules and take part in rituals before, during, and after an eclipse so that they can be safe from any negative effects. Such rituals include fasting, refraining from sleep, and chanting purifying mantras throughout the day of the eclipse.
Other rituals include bathing in their clothes and contributing to charities immediately following the eclipse.
Muslims believe eclipses are a sign from Allah to remind them of the approaching Day of Judgment. The Hadith indicates that Muslims should take part in two cycles of specifically designed prayers that are intended just for the occurrence of an eclipse. Muslims are encouraged to join a congregation to take part in these prayers during the event.
Jews traditionally thought the solar eclipse was due to people sinning. According to the Babylonian Talmud, they thought God was angry and chose to hide the sun as a warning to the people.
While ancient Hebrews were aware that solar eclipses could be predicted, they still believed they were intended to be a sign. The Talmud states that lunar eclipses are considered to be ill omens for Israel, since Jews follow the lunar calendar. They consider solar eclipses to be ill omens for non-Jews, as they followed solar calendars. How one views the solar eclipse, varies by their interpretation of the Jewish faith.
For the most part, modern Jewish interpretations vary, but are still viewed as a negative thing or in some cases, it is at least a time for contemplation of one’s place in the universe.
The different views on the eclipse are just as different as the many types of religion we have in the world today. While no two views are alike, the difference in beliefs is what we recognize and celebrate as religious freedom in America.
~ 1776 Christian