Lunar Eclipse 2018: 3 Ancient and Modern Rituals Tied to the Heavenly Event

Some ancient people believed lunar eclipses were bad news.

by Josie Rhodes Cook

A total lunar eclipse, when the whole moon enters Earth’s shadow, will arrive on July 27. The full moon eclipse will also be a blood moon and will be the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century, making it a pretty exciting event to see in this month’s night sky.

When the moon passes through Earth’s shadow at the end of July, it will create an eclipse that will last for 102 minutes. The lunar eclipse won’t be visible here in the United States, unfortunately, but it will be completely visible in other places around the world like Eastern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Those in West Africa, South America, Europe, and Australia will be able to partially see the celestial event as well.

Nowadays, people may celebrate the lunar eclipse with star parties or lunar eclipse parties, although August 2017’s solar eclipse. But what sort of rituals or events did people use to celebrate lunar eclipses in ancient times? And does anyone celebrate with specific rituals to this day?

A Great Battle

A tribe in Benin, Africa, views the lunar eclipse as a time of battle between the sun and the moon, according to a 2017 report from According to Jarita Holbrook, a cultural astronomer at the University of the Western Cape in Bellville, South Africa, the Batammaliba people encourage the celestial bodies to stop fighting. They view a lunar eclipse as an opportunity to come together and resolve old feuds, National Geographic reported in April 2014.

The Inca believed this big cat attacked the moon.

Unsplash / Andy Brunner

Inca Spear Shaking

One myth the Inca seemed to believe about eclipses is a story about a jaguar that attacked and ate the moon, according to National Geographic. Accounts written by Spanish settlers suggested that they believed the jaguar’s attack explained the blood-red color of the moon during a total lunar eclipse.

The Inca were apparently afraid that after it attacked the moon, the jaguar would fall to Earth and start eating people instead, David Dearborn, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, told the magazine. So they would try to drive the big cat away by shaking spears at the moon and would generally make a ton of noise in an attempt to keep the jaguar at bay.

Lunar eclipse in progress.


False Kings

The ancient Mesopotamians reportedly also saw lunar eclipses as an attack on the moon and their king made by seven demons, Tech Times reported in 2015. They were able to predict when a lunar eclipse would occur, and just beforehand, the people would put a new “king” in place and hide the real one away as an ordinary citizen.

The false king was apparently treated pretty great during the eclipse period, but when the eclipse passed, the substitute king usually disappeared — and was possibly killed by poisoning. Not the best temporary gig in the ancient world.

Different civilizations had different beliefs about lunar eclipses. The Norse, for instance, believed that either a solar or lunar eclipse could be a sign of Ragnarok.

Today, fewer people seem to have special events or rituals surrounding lunar eclipses, but it doesn’t make the heavenly event any less stunning.