Millions of people have the opportunity to see a lunar eclipse – an event known in the media as the "Bloodmoon" – on Friday, July 27th. Visible to most of the world – only North America and Greenland are missing It's the longest in this century so there's plenty of time to take a look.
During such darkness, the full moon moves into the shadow of the earth cast by the sun and is temporarily obscured. Some sunlight still reaches the moon, broken by the earth's atmosphere, but illuminates it with an ash to dark red glow, the color depending on the atmospheric conditions.
As a communicator of astronomy, the term "blood moon" is a big thorn in my side as it suggests something other than a lunar eclipse and conjures up images of a moon shimmering in crimson colors that are not exactly accurate. But as a cultural astronomer, the term shows some of the interesting ways in which modern society creates its celestial histories.
Lunar eclipses have fascinated cultures around the world, inspiring several striking myths and legends, many of which portray the event as an omen. This is not surprising, because if something interrupts the regular rhythms of the sun or the moon, it has a strong effect on us and our lives.
For many ancient civilizations, the Blood Moon came with malicious intent. The ancient Incas interpreted the deep red color as a jaguar attacking and eating the moon. They believed that the jaguar could then turn their attention to the earth so that people would shout, shake their spears and bark and howl their dogs, hoping to make enough noise to drive the jaguar away.
In ancient Mesopotamia, a lunar eclipse was considered a direct attack on the king. Given their ability to predict a solar eclipse with sufficient accuracy, they would appoint a Deputy King for their duration. Someone considered dispensable (it was not a popular job) would pretend to be a monarch while the true king would hide and wait for the solar eclipse. The proxy king would then conveniently disappear and the old king be reinstated.
For many people in India, a lunar eclipse is unfortunate. Food and water are covered and cleaning rituals performed. In particular, pregnant women should not eat or do housework to protect their unborn child.
A kinder face
But not all the Dark Myths are beset by such malevolence. The Indian Hupa and Luiseño tribes from California believed that the moon was injured or sick. After the solar eclipse, the moon would have to be healed either by the wives of the moon or by tribesmen. The Luiseño, for example, sang and sang healing songs to the dark moon.
Overall, the legend of Batammaliba in Togo and Benin in Africa is more uplifting. Traditionally, they see a lunar eclipse as a conflict between the sun and the moon – a conflict that people must encourage to resolve. It is therefore a time to rest old feuds, a practice that continues to this day.
In Islamic cultures, eclipses are often interpreted without superstition. In Islam, the sun and the moon express deep respect for Allah, so special prayers are sung during a solar eclipse, including a Salat al-Khusuf, a "prayer on a lunar eclipse". It demands Allah's forgiveness and reaffirms Allah's greatness.
A Misleading Story
Christianity has equated the lunar eclipses with the wrath of God and often associates them with the crucifixion of Jesus. It is noteworthy that Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, which ensures that a solar eclipse can never fall on Easter Sunday, a potential sign of the Last Judgment.
Indeed, in 2013, the term "Bloodmoon" became popular after the publication of Four Blood Moons by Christian Minister John Hagee. He propagates an apocalyptic belief known as "Blood Moon Prophecy" which highlights a lunar sequence of four total eclipses that occurred in 2014/15. Hagee notes that all four fell on Jewish holidays, which happened only three times before – each marked by bad events.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.