This guest post is written by Kate Harveston, a writer and political activist from Pennsylvania. She blogs about culture and politics, and the various ways that those elements act upon each other. For more of her work, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.
On Monday, August 21st, the entire contiguous United States saw its first total solar eclipse in 99 years. While it lasted for only a few precious minutes, it was a moment of great anticipation that indeed did unite America’s 50 states, federal districts, territories, and islands for a brief and rare moment of community.
Of course the country — the world — saw the solar eclipse as an event to be celebrated, but more so for the phenomenon we understand it to be scientifically, as opposed to an overtly spiritual event. However, looking back at religious perceptions of solar eclipses, we learn of their major spiritual significance, both negative and positive, within different religions. The human’s fascination with solar eclipses is thousands of years old, and naturally the various interpretations of them have shaped religion’s appreciation of these events today.
The word eclipse comes from the Greek word ekleipsis, meaning “an abandonment,” which holds a clue to how certain groups of spiritual people have understood the solar eclipse.
Anthony Aveni documents how societies in the pre-modern world understood eclipses as the sun or moon being eaten. They would cause as much noise as possible to try and alert the sun – which they considered to be a living being — to its imminent fate. In Chinese folklore, the eclipse is caused by a dragon devouring the sun; whereas in Hindu mythology, the demon Rahu dines upon it.
In Norse mythology, Ragnorok — the apocalypse — would descend on earth if the two giant wolves, Skoll and Fenrir, swallowed the sun and the moon. In Mayan history, when a solar eclipse continued on for more than one day, it signified a return of the dead to Earth to consume all living bodies.
In several religions, we find this continued theme of an eclipse warning us of an impending apocalypse, or can at least identify tracings of that original position.
In Judaism, the eclipse initially signified a curse imposed following various apparent sins. In the Talmund, an eclipse could follow as punishment if notable rabbi had not received a substantial eulogy for example. Once there was confirmation that through scientific tools the eclipse could be predicted, these suspicions tended to die out.
Nevertheless, in Christianity it can still signify an end-of-time warning. Some Christians believe that the eclipse is a sign of God’s judgment against national sins in the US, such as legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, or an absence of God. However, there are other schools of thought in Christianity that view the eclipse as purely a declaration of God’s love for His people. Rev. James Kurzynski, a Roman Catholic, believes that religions should see the eclipse’s significance as a call to return to God’s mercy and love.
Islam suggests that Allah causes eclipses to happen to demonstrate that there are imperfections and transience within every created being. Through manipulating these two major celestial bodies, Allah also shows the extent of his ability and that he alone should be worshipped.
Within mainstream media, we see certain publications advising a more practical approach to how one should interpret or act leading up to and following on from the solar eclipse. Many other factions within the broad term of ‘spirituality’ advise a meditative solar eclipse with physical aides, such as paired crystals, to truly harness the multitude of energies released during the eclipse.
The solar eclipse truly has a rich and deep mythology, history and tapestry of modern day interpretations behind it, which makes it such a momentous occasion for almost every individual in the United States and across the world. What remains true is that regardless of backgrounds or religious beliefs, it’s important to have moments of positive togetherness and a cause for celebration that unites the entire country for at least brief few minutes.