Many cultures have developed myths and legends about eclipses, most believe that it is a portent of disaster and take great measures and loud noise to drive away the dragon, wolf or crocodile that is devouring the sun. One can only imagine how the ancients felt when the sky became dark and the sun disappeared – the Greek origin of the word eclipse means ‘abandonment’.
The Pharaohs of Egypt believed that they were the embodiment of the sun, and when an eclipse occurred they had to keep moving around the temple of Osiris till the eclipse was over, thus ensuring the regular motion in the sky. Other traditions believe that they have to replace the brilliance of the sun like the Shinto in Japan who hang precious stone necklaces on the branches of sacred trees, or the Native Americans shoot burning arrows towards the sun to reignite its fire.
However in some traditions eclipses have been interpreted as a sign of love. In South Africa there is a legend of finding true love at the time of an eclipse.
A beautiful young princess and a brave hunter, were deeply in love. Her father the king could not allow this liaison as he had promised her to the son of his life long friend, a neighbouring king. The prince to whom she was promised was well known in the community for his cruelty and brutality.
Fearing that his daughter would elope, the king kept her heavily guarded with his best men.
A lavish celebration was held to honour the princess on the morning of the wedding ceremony. When masked dancers appeared before the king, the princess recognised her lover among them and realised that this would be her opportunity to escape. She only needed a moment of darkness and confusion to succeed in her bid.
Mother moon, well known for her romantic inclination, cast her shadow over the face of the sun, timing it just long enough for the young princess to take off her cloak and disappear into the crowd, hiding behind the mask of her lover.
Legend has it that when a solar eclipse takes place, all you have to do is close your eyes and wish for true love and this wish will be granted.