On Monday 21 August, the moon will pass in front of the sun and cast darkness over a 60-mile-wide path across the United States of America, from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina to South Carolina, from 10:16 PDT to 14:48 EDT.

It's the first total solar eclipse in the US for 99 years, and a once in a lifetime experience for many.

However, people living hundreds or thousands of years ago would not have known the events were so common, with many believing they marked an impending apocalypse.

In a 2013 interview with National Geographic, E. C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, said: "If you do a worldwide survey of eclipse lore, the theme that constantly appears, with few exceptions, is it's always a disruption of the established order."

To mark the forthcoming eclipse, IBTimes UK looks at some of the different myths about total eclipses from ancient societies around the world.


Vikings believe that Ragnarok (the apocalypse) comes about from two wolves, Skoll and Hati, wanting to eat the Sun and the Moon. Skoll goes after the Sun, while Hati chases the Moon. When either celestial body is caught, an eclipse takes place. On Earth, people must rescue the Sun or Moon by making as much noise as possible to scare away the wolves.

Ancient Egyptians

Although Sun worship was extremely prevalent in ancient Egypt, surprisingly little is known of their beliefs surrounding eclipses – there is virtually no mention of solar eclipses.

However, because the Sun played such a prominent role in their society, some experts have suggested an eclipse would have been terrifying. One theory says the Ancient Egyptians were so scared of it, they regarded it as too evil of an omen to write about.


In 2013, researchers found evidence that ancient Maya could accurately predict solar eclipses.

An astronomical calendar from the 11<sup>th or 12<sup>th century predicted an eclipse that took place on 11 July, 1991. Solar eclipses were known as chi' ibal kin, or 'to eat the sun'. What they understood or believed about eclipses is unknown, however, with missionaries destroying almost all the written records in the 1600s.

Hindu mythology

In ancient Hindu mythology, the demon Rahu is beheaded by Vishnu for drinking the nectar of the gods. Rahu (or Kala Rau) had planned to achieve immortality by drinking the nectar and disguises himself as a woman to win a place at the god's banquet. When Vishnu realises the crime, he cuts of Rahu's head and it flies across the sky, swallowing the sun and causing an eclipse.

Ancient Greeks

In 2008, researchers said a reference to a total eclipse was found in Homer's Odyssey, with the lines "The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world". The Ancient Greeks believed a total eclipse to be a bad omen. They thought it signalled that the gods were angry, and that it marked the beginning of disasters and destruction.

Chinese mythology

In ancient China, solar eclipses were also seen as bad omens. People thought eclipses took place when a dragon ate the Sun. To stop it, people would chant, beat drums and fire cannons to scare the dragon away.

Predicting eclipses was the duty of astronomers and one of the earliest recordings of a total solar eclipse comes from 2,134 BC, when two astronomers failed to predict the eclipse – meaning people could not prepare. As a result, both had their heads chopped off.

<sup>Note: This article was updated to coincide with the 21 August 2017 eclipse.