Natural and Man-Made Disasters

Mother Nature

How did ancient societies interpret catastrophic weather events?

Different cultures developed wholly unscientific explanations for dramatic weather events or other natural phenomena—explanations typically rooted in the existing mythology or folklore of its people. For example, the ancient Maya (in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and in parts of Central America) believed that earthquakes were the gods’ way of thinning out an overcrowded population. Indians in central Mexico are believed to have worshiped the grasshopper—or locust—after swarms destroyed their crops. One Japanese myth maintained that the entire island string rested on the back of a giant catfish who would grow restless and flop around when the gods were displeased, resulting in an earthquake. According to Hawaiian myth, the volcano goddess Pele causes Mount Kilauea to erupt whenever she has a temper tantrum.


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