A look at beliefs of lunar eclipses.
THE BLOOD MOON
Millions of people will have the opportunity to see a lunar eclipse – an event popularly known as a “blood moon” – on November 8th 2022. It will be visible for most of the world, including Australia.
During such an eclipse, the full moon moves into the shadow of the Earth cast by the sun, and is momentarily darkened. Some sunlight still reaches the moon, illuminating it with an ashen, dark red glow.
For many people, the sight of the moon turning deep red during a lunar eclipse is a wonderful sight. And that’s precisely what many millions will be able to see tomorrow, depending on their location.
But for a few, this is a sign of something much more terrifying: nothing less than the apocalypse itself.
The term “blood moon” was popularised in 2013 following the release of the book Four Blood Moons by Christian minister, John Hagee. He promotes as the “blood moon prophecy”, highlighting a lunar sequence of four total eclipses that occurred in 2014/15. Hagee notes that all four fell on Jewish holidays.
Similarly, lunar eclipses have fascinated cultures across the world, and inspired several striking myths and legends, many of which portray the event as an omen.
This is not surprising, since if anything interrupts the regular rhythms of the sun or moon, it impacts strongly upon us and our lives.
In addition, as seen from parts of Asia and Alaska, this year’s event will see the moon move across and black-out Uranus, in what astronomers call an “occultation.”
Let’s take a look at the cultural significance and mythology of this phenomenon.
For many ‘ancient civilisations’, the “blood moon” came with evil intent.
The Inca people interpreted the deep red colouring as a jaguar attacking and eating the moon.
They believed that the jaguar might then turn its attention to Earth, so the people would shout, shake their spears and make their dogs bark and howl, hoping to make enough noise to drive the jaguar away.
In Mesopotamia, a lunar eclipse was considered a direct assault on the king. Given their ability to predict an eclipse with reasonable accuracy, they would put in place a proxy king for its duration.
Someone considered to be expendable (it was not a popular job), would pose as the monarch, while the real king would go into hiding and wait for the eclipse to pass.
The proxy king would then conveniently disappear, and the old king be reinstated.
Some Hindu folktales interpret lunar eclipses as the result of the demon Rahu drinking the elixir of immortality. Twin deities the sun and moon promptly decapitate Rahu, but having consumed the elixir, Rahu’s head remains immortal.
Seeking revenge, Rahu’s head chases the sun and moon to devour them. If he catches them we have an eclipse – Rahu swallows the moon, which reappears out of his severed neck.
For many people in India, a lunar eclipse bears ill fortune. Food and water are covered and cleansing rituals performed.
Pregnant women especially should not eat or carry out household work, in order to protect their unborn child.
Christianity has also equated lunar eclipses with the wrath of God, and often associates them with the crucifixion of Jesus.
It is notable that Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, ensuring that an eclipse can never fall on Easter Sunday, a potential mark of Judgement Day.
But not all eclipse myths are beset by such malevolence.
The Native American Hupa and Luiseño tribes from California believed that the moon was wounded or ill. After the eclipse, the moon would then need healing, either by the moon’s wives or by tribesmen.
The Luiseño, for example, would sing and chant healing songs towards the darkened moon.
More uplifting is the legend of the Batammaliba people in Togo and Benin in Africa.
Traditionally, they view a lunar eclipse as a conflict between sun and moon – a conflict that the people must encourage them to resolve. It is therefore a time for old feuds to be laid to rest, a practice that has remained until this day.
In Islamic cultures, eclipses tend to be interpreted without superstition. In Islam, the sun and moon represent deep respect for Allah, so during an eclipse special prayers are chanted including a Salat-al-khusuf, a “prayer on a lunar eclipse”.
It both asks Allah’s forgiveness, and reaffirms Allah’s greatness.
So, there are tales on both sides of the good, both good and evil.
Either way, we are set to live through yet another crossing of these two ‘lights in the sky’.
READY TO APPEAR
Everyone on the night side of Earth will experience the lunar eclipse simultaneously. But what time that is for you will depend on your timezone.
Across Australia, the eclipse will happen around moonrise. So the moon will be much lower in the sky and battling against the twilight glow during the eclipse’s early stages.
Eastern Australia will see the eclipse shortly after the full moon rises. The further north you are, the longer you’ll need to wait before the eclipse begins.
For Brisbane, it will start more than an hour after moonrise, so the moon will be higher in the sky. In Hobart the eclipse begins just 15 minutes after moonrise.
Interestingly, the coming total lunar eclipse will be on Election Day in the U.S.
The worldwide event will happen simultaneously around the world with lunar totality at 10:16 through 11:42 Universal Time on 8 November 2022.
This will be the final total lunar eclipse until 2025 and it won’t be equalled in length until 2029.
If you want to watch the ‘occultation’ live, then visit the YouTube channel of the Hong Kong Space Museum, which will stream it on there.
What are your thoughts on the “blood moon”?
What do you think it signifies?
Be sure to leave your comments below!
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