A partial Lunar Eclipse just ended, and I'll share with you a few things that crossed my mind about the way the Eclipse was reflected in Vedic mythology and in ancient Romanian (Dacian) folklore.
The word Eclipse comes from the Greek noun ékleipsis which means disappearance. Astronomically, this disappearance of the Moon or a part of the Moon (because I'm referring to the recent Lunar eclipse) happens when Earth, Sun and Moon align into space, the Earth getting sandwiched between the two luminaries. Earth's orbital plane is called the Ecliptic, and twice a month, the Moon intersects this Ecliptic at points called Nodes. When the Moon is full and it gets close to one of the two nodes (Ascending/North or Descending/South), then an eclipse happens. Also, it's interesting to note that solar and lunar eclipses come in pairs, like for instance the partial lunar one on August 7/8, where the South Node was involved, will echo in the total solar eclipse of August 21, where the North Node will be the 'culprit'.
Drawing of the Lunar Eclipse on August 7 as seen in Romania,
courtesy of the National Observatory 'Admiral Vasile Urseanu'
OK, so now that we got that part covered, let's look at the fun stuff.
In Ancient India, they knew quite a bit about astronomy and astrology. They were aware of the ecliptic and nodes, and mythologically, the North Node was called Rahu, and the South Node Ketu.
These two characters emerge from an asura (demon) named Svarbhānu.
Svarbhānu was the only one who noticed the nectar of immortality (amrita) was being distributed to the Devas (gods) only, while the asuras were distracted by a beautiful woman named Mohini who was actually Vishnu in disguise. Svarbhānu managed to get some nectar in his mouth by mingling in with the Devas, and when Vishnu noticed, he chopped the asura in half. Since he had already tasted the nectar, the two severed parts of the demon achieved immortality as the two non-embodied Grahas aka nodes, Rahu (north) and Ketu (south). Traditionally, Rahu is depicted as a serpent head, and Ketu as a headless body. They are described as 'swallowing' the Sun and Moon during eclipses, which coincides with the modern astronomical explanation above.
Rahu bas-relief, presently at the British Museum
In Western astrology, the nodal axis is also called - Head of the Dragon and Tale of the Dragon. Thinking of that reminded me of the ancient civilisation of Dacians who during battle used a sort of ensign called a Draco Head: a wolf head on the body of a snake/dragon (draco). It's interesting to note that the word Ketu means flag in Sanskrit.
Dacian battle flag aka Draco Head
During battle, Draco Head was held up so that the wind passing through it would make a terrible and terrifying sound, and thus intimidate the enemy.
Dacian warrior using the Draco Head in battle against the Romans. Photo of a fragment of Trajan's Column in Rome, Italy
The Dacians were normally a population of farmers, but during battle they behaved like the fiercest warriors - the famous Roman poet Ovidius described them as 'plowing with one hand and equipped with a weapon in the other hand'. They considered themselves immortal and dying in battle meant going back to their supreme deity Zalmoxis - which reminds me of the Kshatriya attitude in the Vedas, and of course the Norse warriors and Aztec warriors. Small world!
Anyway, so this war ensign had two components joined together: the wolf head (made of bronze or silver) and the snake body (a textile fabric).
The wolf was a totemic animal for the Dacians, fact proven by discoveries of sculptures and figurines dating from from Neolithic times. There was even an initiatory phase where the young Dacian boy was sent to the forest to befriend a wolf that would become his companion. Thus, during battle, they carried the spirit of their companion. It's also interesting that the responsibility of holding the flag was bestowed upon a young man with special abilities, who protected the Draco Head with his life.
Some historians claim the name itself- Dacians- comes from the Thracian-Frisian word daos aka wolf.
This celebration/worship of wolves still exists in certain mountain villages, combined with some Christian elements- Saint Andrew, the bringer of Christianity to Dacians is also considered the patron of wolves.
The bottom part of the battle flag, the snake, is also said by historians to be an important animal for the Dacians since it represented the protecting spirit of their kind and of their home (in the form of the house snake).
I haven't encountered texts that described what the Dacians thought of Eclipses, but there are folklore records from later on, that show an eclipse was thought as werewolves eating the Moon or Sun. Personal correspondence of a famous 1700 Austrian Geologist named Ignaz von Born described these beliefs, as do ballads and folk tales that still survive today in Romania.
So, to sum it up, I found it very interesting that people living on this here land thousands of years ago had a battle flag that evokes Rahu/Ketu, the demon/serpent/flag. In astrology, Rahu represents the fears of the unknown, and foreign cultures - as brave as the Dacians were, they were still outnumbered and eventually conquered by the foreign Roman Empire - so I guess, in the end, Rahu won anyway.
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