The frightening history of solar eclipses - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

The frightening history of solar eclipses

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WSIL -- Cultures have been mystified by eclipses for millennia, and the upcoming total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 is no different.

Conspiracy theorists have already began to predict that this eclipse signals the end.

Several people have made YouTube videos suggesting there may be more to the eclipse than science can explain.

It's not new behavior. 

While it is now known this is a regularly occurring solar phenomenon, eclipses were once much more frightening to ancient civilizations.

Brian Wilkes is the pastor of the Four Rivers Native American Church in Pinckneyville and has studied Native American and ancient cultures for decades.

"What is kind of an astronomical oddity and a fascination, at one time it was a life and death matter," he said. "The light had gone out of the world and it might or might not come back. In the old days it was believed the eclipse was caused by a giant creature in the sky mistaking the sun for an egg and eating it."

The lack of light would have been frightening to the people who would come out and conduct ceremonies with drums and dances to scare the creature into spitting out the sun, returning the light to Earth.

Wilkes said the fear of the sun not returning would have been terrifying to ancient cultures.

"It would be a time of great fear," he said. "The fear of massive die off. The crops would die. The animals would die. And soon after, the people would die."

Wilkes said many Native American cultures eventually developed astronomical systems to better understand what was actually was happening and were able to calculate when and where eclipses would occur.

Scientists said there's nothing to worry about, and eclipses remain a fascinating part of the universe.

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