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When I was visiting The Museum of Fine Arts’ Shooting the Moon: Photographs from the Museum’s Collection 50 years After Apollo 11 this past weekend, I found a small art depiction of a native tribe gathering around outside during an eclipse and supposedly making noise. The exhibit label explained that they believed there was a giant animal in the sky trying to eat the sun—therefore everyone had to go outside and make noise to scare the animal away.

While a Google search didn’t pull up the art piece I referenced, another Google search did lead me down a rabbit hole of all the different beliefs tribes held around an eclipse. Some felt it a troubling time, some saw it as a time of transformation and others were told to stay inside and keep children away from windows, to wear something sharp.

The Diné Navajo culture specifically provided a detailed belief—

“In addition to the concept of death during an eclipse, it is also believed that during an eclipse, the Sun and the Moon are mating. After the passing of the eclipse, when the sun or moon becomes fully bright once again, it is believed that a birthing has just taken place. It is believed that the mating is to give birth to, or renew, the universe and all creation. During this birthing/renewal process, the universe and all creation are reborn, realigned, and there is growth and development amongst all of creation as well.

Due to the very sacredness of death and birth, the reverence required to be shown during an eclipse is very strict and comprehensive(ts’ídá yéego hodílzin). There is only one way to be reverent during an eclipse. No shortcuts exist. We cannot simply smudge ashes or corn pollen upon ourselves and exit our homes and carry on as if it is just another day. The following acts of reverence must be carried out during an eclipse: We must stay inside, preferably in our home; we cannot eat or drink anything, cannot be asleep, cannot brush or comb our hair or wash ourselves, cannot be in an intimate act with our spouse or anyone of the opposite sex, cannot needlessly move around, are required to remain calm and still, cannot look outside, cannot look at the sun while the eclipse is occurring—yes, it also means the shadow of the sun, through a pinhole or other apparatuses; and we cannot be using the restroom….

Our traditional Diné teachings instruct us that if a person does not observe the eclipse in accordance with the cultural protocols that have been outlined here, the nonobserver will certainly develop eye problems. Unexplained sunburns or rashes will develop, digestive problems and unexplained migraine headaches will develop. If a woman is pregnant and follows the proper required protocols, there should not be any problems. However, if the protocols are not followed, prenatal problems may develop, and when the child is born, the child will certainly develop digestive and skin problems. There are ceremonies to put people back in harmony. It requires a two-day ceremony, however, with an overnight portion and sand paintings.”

All this to say the different beliefs (or superstitions, whatever you want to call them) cultures hold and practice are interesting to say the least. Without realizing it, there’s so much we say or do, that we don’t question, that actually has an origin, a story to tell.

Some seem a bit wild, some don’t. Some we accept, some we reject. But they’re fascinating, an opportunity to ask why, practice open-mindedness, and understand different cultures and perspectives.

Why do we think a groom seeing the bride before his wedding is bad luck? It’s said to stem from times of arranged marriages—when fathers gave dowry to men so they’d marry the daughter. Since the couple wouldn’t meet until the day of, it ensured the groom would have to go through with it regardless of daughter’s appearance. 

During celebrations, like birthdays or weddings, when a lot of Indians gift cash, it’s always done so with an extra dollar added to the amount. Why? The number 1 symbolizes initiation, and in this case, it’s an initiation of luck and fortune.

Eating yogurt and sugar before going to a job interview, taking an exam or some big occasion? For the sake of the generational approach, kings would have this before leaving for war, and yogurt brings good luck. But those who sought to apply a bit more logic say it was done to manage hunger for a longer time and provide a bit more focus since yogurt neutralizes the stomach acids and sugar provides instant energy. 

What other cultural practices and origin stories have you got to contribute? Share one, share all—stories were meant to be passed on.

Niliza Ali

@niliza_firefox