In many traditional cultures, a total lunar eclipse—such as the December 21, 2010, eclipse, pictured over Great Falls, Virginia—occurs not when the moon enters Earth's shadow but when a mythological creature swallows the satellite, according to ancient-astronomy scholar Ed Krupp.
"For the Chinese, it was the heavenly dog, and across central Asia and Europe, it was a dragon," said Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. "The Maya sometimes depicted the eclipse creature as a serpent, while in the Andes, it was often a puma."
In Iraq lunar eclipses are associated with a popular children's story of a moon that is eaten by a whale.
"For most people, most of the time, most eclipses were trouble," Krupp added. "They were regarded as disruptions of the world order, and that made them dangerous."