Myths and stories about earthquakes

People all over the world use myths, legends, and stories to explain earthquakes. It was a way for ancient people to understand the powerful natural events, here are stories that various societies used to explain the shifting earth:

  • India: They believed that eight mighty elephants held up the land. When one of them grew weary, it lowered and shook its head, causing an earthquake. And the second myth is that the earth is underpinned by four elephants standing on the back of turtles and turtle on a snake hoods. When any of these animals move or turn, it causes earthquake.
  • Mongolia, China: A gigantic frog which carried the world on its back twitched periodically, producing slight quakes.
  • Peru: Whenever a god visited the earth to count how many people were there, his footsteps caused earthquakes. To shorten his task, the people ran out of their houses to shout ‘I’m here, I’m here!’ (incorporating in their myth, the wisdom of leaving houses during an earthquake).
  • Japan: A giant catfish lived in mud beneath the earth. A prankster, it could be restrained only by Kashima, a god who protected the people from earthquakes. So long as Kashima kept a mighty magical rock over the catfish, the earth was still. But when he relaxed, the catfish thrashed about, causing earthquakes.
  • Gabrielino Indians, Southern California: Long ago, Great Spirit made a beautiful land that turtles carried on their backs in lakes and rivers. One day the turtles began to argue. Three swam east; the other three swam west. The earth shook and cracked. The turtles could not swim far, because their load was heavy. So they made up. But once in a while, the turtles argue again. Each time, the earth shakes.
  • Ancient Greece: Thales of Miletos (6th century BC) believed an agitation of the great sea, on which the earth floats, produced earthquakes.

Extra: There’s nothing I can do about earthquakes, so why worry about them? It’s true that earthquakes can’t be stopped, but you can be prepared. You can put together an earthquake kit (food, water, flashlight, etc.), practice “drop, cover and hold on” drills at home with your family and at work, and develop an earthquake plan (where would you meet family members if you weren’t together when an earthquake hit?).

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