Australian Aboriginal accounts of lunar and solar eclipses indicate many traditional communities understood the movement of the Sun, Earth and Moon.
The research by Duane Hamacher from Sydney’s Macquarie University and accepted for publication in the journal Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage and appearing on the website arXiv.org, indicates Aboriginal communities in different parts of Australia often have similar traditional stories to explain these events.
According to Hamacher, Aboriginal Australians were careful observers of the night sky, possessing a complex understanding of the motions of astronomical bodies and their correlation with terrestrial events.
This included the passage of time, the movement of tides, changing seasons, and the emergence of particular food sources.
“Aboriginal people used the sky for navigation, marriage and totem classes, as well as cultural mnemonics”, says Hamacher.
Moon Man and Sun Woman
According to Hamacher lunar eclipses are generally seen to have a fairly negative connotation around the world, and Aboriginal traditional culture is no different.
“Many viewed eclipses negatively, frequently associating them with bad omens, evil magic, disease and death,” says Hamacher. “In many communities, elders or medicine men were believed to have the ability to control or avert eclipses by magical means, solidifying their role as provider and protector within the community.”
“That’s often because of the reddish colour the Moon takes on during an eclipse is seen in some traditional culture as blood, meaning someone’s been killed or the ‘Moon Man’ is going into the graves of the diseased and emerging covered in the blood of the dead.”
Hamacher’s research reveals far more stories associated with solar eclipses than lunar ones, despite there being far more lunar eclipses taking place.
“Most solar eclipse stories describe the Moon covering the Sun,” according Hamacher. “Unless you were paying close attention you wouldn’t normally see that, because it happens in the new Moon phase when we can hardly see the Moon”.
“In northern and central Australia, it’s seen as the Moon Man and Sun Woman making love. Other parts of Australia see it as a black bird or possum fur covering the Sun, or the use of some magical means to make the Sun disappear.
Hamacher says some groups, especially in south eastern Australia see the sky as a canopy being held up by spirits.