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THE CURSE OF THE ECLIPSE; How disaster strikes when sun goes dark.

THERE are just four days to go before one of the most spectacular natural phenomena we're ever likely to witness in the UK.

The solar eclipse is an event which has terrified, mystified and inspired mankind through the ages.

Historically, those moments of darkness as the moon passes directly in front the sun have acted as the trigger for major worldwide events.

The Great War broke out at the time of an eclipse in August, 1914 and there was an eclipse just before the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Astrologers, historians and scientists have for centuries been aware of the dramatic significance of solar and lunar eclipses.

They have different theories on whether they could be the catalyst for natural disasters such as volcanoes erupting, earthquakes and tidal waves.

At the moment that a lunar eclipse occurred over Iran in 1978, a huge earthquake struck, killing thousands.

But eclipses have also heralded famines, the fall of governments and overthrow or assassination of world leaders.

Some dismiss these events as coincidence. Others believe strong astrological forces are at work which affect different star signs, depending at what time of the year the eclipse occurs.

OUR ancestors were convinced it foretold plagues, disasters and the death of kings. Even today, the superstitions linger.

For instance, during the moments of eclipse blackout Japanese people cover wells to prevent "poison" contaminating their water from the sky.

The path of Wednesday's eclipse - the last of the current millennium - will take it through some of the world's most densely-populated regions.

And, since an eclipse has the greatest impact on the countries it crosses, it will also affect more people than any other.

Many astrologers believe that because Iran will be under the path of totality, it may signal that the militant phase of Islam is coming to an end.

It may mean a change in government, causing Iran to become a non-Islamic country with enormous implications for the whole world.

The solar eclipse on August 10, 1980, fell in exactly the same place as Wednesday's.

The 1980 event came only a year or so after the Ayatollah overthrew the Shah of Iran and caused turmoil for Shah supporters.

Next week, in nearby Turkey, the possible execution of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan may have devastating consequences for that country.

Here we look at some of the beliefs and natural and political catastrophes linked to both solar and lunar eclipses.

BLAME IT ON A HUNGRY DRAGON

ECLIPSES have been interpreted in many different ways over the years by people from all parts of the globe.

In some countries, an eclipse is an omen of some natural disaster or the death or downfall of a ruler.

Other cultures have described an eclipse as a dragon or monster who eats the sun.

CHINA

IT boasts the earliest record of a solar eclipse - October 22, 2134 B.C. As recently as the last century, the Chinese Navy fired ceremonial guns to scare off the "invisible dragon devouring the sun".

INDIA

THE dragon theory also holds in India where many people immerse themselves in water, believing this act of worship will help the sun and moon defend themselves against the monster.

JAPAN

IN this country steeped in ancient customs, people in outlying areas still cover water wells during an eclipse to prevent poison from dropping into them from the darkened sky.

THAILAND

THIS nation has experienced more eclipses in the last 60 years than any other country in the world. Thai people still believe that a monster called Rahu causes the darkness by eating the sun.

ARCTIC

TO this day, the Eskimos, Aleuts and Tlingits believe an eclipse shows a divine providence: The sun and moon leave their places in the sky and check to see things are going right on Earth.

BRITAIN

MANY believe Druids built Stonehenge to predict eclipses. Druids thought the sun and moon were gods eaten in an eclipse by another invisible god. The myth recalls Christianity where people worship a holy trinity.

PHILIPPINES

PEOPLE hold to the Oriental myth that an eclipse represents a giant dragon eating the sun. They became particularly disturbed during the 1988 eclipse which occurred during the Year Of The Dragon.

TAHITI

NO dragons or monsters in this most romantic of islands. Instead the friendly people of Tahiti typically interpreted their eclipses as the lovemaking of the sun and the moon.
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Author:Ridley, Jane; Dunn, Barbara
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 7, 1999
Words:729
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