Apr 7, 2024 - World

Why some will stay inside during Monday's eclipse

Illustration of an engraved sun, moon, and stars against clouds in the form of a thought bubble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Instead of going outside and looking to the sky during the total solar eclipse on April 8, some will stay inside with the curtains closed.

The big picture: For centuries, people have turned to rituals and mythology to honor and make sense of the solar eclipse.

Zoom in: Members of the Navajo Nation traditionally treat the solar eclipse as a sacred time to stay inside and quietly meditate, Henry Fowler, a math educator at Navajo Technical University, tells Axios.

  • He says that when the solar eclipse happens, it's believed that the sun is dead, "but it's going to rejuvenate, rebirth itself in the cycle so that we're able to live in harmony with the natural laws again."
  • To "honor the order of the cosmos," Fowler says Navajos don't drink water, eat, sleep or use the restroom during an eclipse.

The Navajo don't look at an eclipse out of respect and because they worry the powerful event could lead to "unbalance in that individual," Fowler says.

Context: In other cultures, there are stories that the solar eclipse is caused by a supernatural creature or monster swallowing the sun, James Deutsch, curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, tells Axios.

  • The Apapocúva-Guaraní people of eastern Paraguay and northern Brazil say eclipses are caused by a bat or jaguar chewing on the sun or moon.
  • In Norse culture, mischievous Loki is to blame for the darkness, because he lets his giant wolves swallow the sun and then the moon.
  • In Choctaw legend, it's a black squirrel trying to eat the sun.
  • The Pomo, an indigenous group in the northwestern United States, have a story about a bear taking a bite out of the moon.
  • In Hindu mythology, Rahu gets his head cut off after stealing and drinking the elixir of immortality. Then his body-less head tries to swallow the sun.

Zoom out: The solar eclipse is a major international event.

  • Although we now know the science behind it, the total solar eclipse remains a multisensory phenomenon where the light suddenly turns to darkness and the temperature plummets.
  • Experiencing one feels like "the most unnatural natural thing you'll ever see in the sky," astronomer and artist Tyler Nordgren tells Axios.
  • Many people make loud noises when they view the event, just like people did hundreds or even thousands of years ago when they tried to scare mythical creatures away, Deutsch says.
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