It’s not easy to obtain information about astronomy from the Navajo this time of year; such things belong to storytelling season, during the winter months, said Rudy Begay, a Navajo cultural resource specialist consulting with various federal programs.
“The moon and the sun are sacred the way they were created, and you are not supposed to watch the moon or look at, stare at it for a long time,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. “It affects your mind and your body. Especially for a woman that’s carrying a baby. Because when there is an eclipse either lunar or solar, this is a sacred time where the sun, the moon and the earth is kind of like in an intimate position when they line up, so it’s such a sacred thing that’s happening, you don’t look at those things that are happening out in the sky.”
If a pregnant woman sees an eclipse of any kind, be it solar or lunar, it might “affect the mind of the woman or also in the future it will affect the health of the baby,” Begay said, and a special ceremony must be conducted to rid them of the influence.
During an eclipse, “every man, woman and child—they have to show reverence, and they don’t eat, they don’t drink water, they just go into the house until it passes,” Begay said. “And then they show respect for the moon and the sun.”
The Maya too, found eclipses to be disturbing. Although many representations of eclipses appear in Mayan art, such events were generally understood to portend bad tidings.
“Solar eclipses, known as chi’ ibal kin, or ‘to eat the sun,’ were a particular cause for distress among the Maya people,” the website Starteach.com notes. Mayan priests went to great lengths to predict eclipses and calculate all manner of astronomical phenomena.
By Cindy Yurth
People hurried to corral their livestock, ran inside, woke up sleeping relatives, built a fire and prayed.
No food was consumed, and even the livestock were prevented from eating or drinking, as it could contaminate their flesh and make them unfit for human consumption when they were eventually slaughtered.
When an annular solar eclipse is visible from the Navajo Nation Sunday, May 20, "it will be interesting to see how many people still observe the old ways," said Johnson, now the cultural specialist at the Navajo Nation Museum. "I doubt there are many."
If only a minority of Navajos observe what was one of the strictest taboos in the old religion, "I'm afraid our culture is already gone," Johnson said.
Carletta Tilousi of the Havasupai Tribe has no plans to go out of her way to watch it. Even if she did, it would be nothing more than a glance, she said.
"In our tradition they tell us as children not to look at the moon because it's such a powerful energy that if you gaze upon it too long, it can bring bad dreams," she said.
In the Hualapai culture, blocking out the sun could be interpreted as a bad omen, said tribal member Wilfred Whatoname Sr.
"We may have done something wrong to make that happen," he said. "That doesn't happen often, so people are led to believe that maybe we should take care of our lives a lot better."
Staring at the eclipsed sun can indeed cause a serious eye injury, and some Navajos have linked exposure to it to birth defects, or other physical and mental ailments. Whitethorne's grandfather covered the food and water outside their hogan decades ago to keep anything the livestock could eat or drink from being exposed to the eclipse as well, he said.
Below: "These Mexican ceramic ornaments are typical of the prevalence of eclipses in indigenous art."