The Chinese believed that an eclipse happened when a mythical dragon tried to eat up the sun in the sky. The Chinese for solar eclipse is 日食 (re shi), meaning “sun eat”. When the eclipse occurred, the Chinese would make a lot of noise, by banging pots and drums, bursting crackers, hoping that the noise created by them would drive away the dragon and spare the sun, and sure enough, the sun was soon spared and it would come out in full visibility – most probably by the noise created!
The idea of monsters, etc. eating up the sun or the moon during eclipses is quite common. The Incas believed that the sun or the moon was being eaten up a cat by the name of K’owa, and like the Chinese they too tried to scare away the cat by making a noise.
The Egyptians had a similar belief where the sun god Ra was being eaten up the goddess of darkness, Apep who was in the form of a serpent. However, some myths also referred to this phenomenon, due to a hawk trying to eat the sun.
Similar myths are found in Siberia with a vampire, a three legged toad in
Vietnam and a jaguar in . In Paraguay Scandinavia, two wolves are supposed to be responsible for this, one devoured the sun and the other the moon.
According to Japanese mythology, an eclipse occured due to a spat between two siblings! Amaterasu is the Sun goddess (rare portrayal of Sun as a goddess) who has a brother, Susano-o, a Storm deity. Once Susano-o misbehaved with Amaterasu, and she got so upset that she went into a cave. But this led to a world sans light and warmth. The other gods then pleaded to Amaterasu who would just not agree, till the gods tricked her to come out and that’s how, there was light again. Since then it is said that an eclipse happens when Amaterasu gets upset with her bother Susano-o, and goes inside a cave, and the goddess shows up only on the request of the other gods!
A common theme across all myths is of one eating the other, violence, etc. But a Tahitian myth talks of love and is very different from the others. According to the Tahitian myth, Laa, the Sun god and Marama, the Moon goddess were in love. But whenever the two came together, the Sun would get very hot (I am not sure if there is a pun here!). So Laa and Marama decided to separate, but also decided to meet once a year. According to the myth, an eclipse occurs whenever the two meet!
Thus we see that nearly every civilization had its own version of an eclipse. Its sinister connotations and the suddenness of it all were the reason, why majority of the myths had eating, biting and devouring as the theme behind the phenomenon, till of course Science stepped in.