Nature Transmissions

Totality! and the Total Solar Eclipse

mythic imaginal nature intuition nature rituals Apr 16, 2024
total solar eclipse rituals, mythology and totality

“Totality!” the extraordinarily excited young man yelled in the park near the airport by the lake in Dallas on April 8th, 2024, somewhere we chose randomly because it was open, green, uncrowded and on the path of totality.

In 2018, we had driven to Wyoming to be in the path of totality and loved it so much that we didn’t want to miss this one, which promised to be even bigger and longer than the last. Even Flora, who was 10 at the time and is now 16 and a very different human being, was willing to miss school and make the overnight journey. We almost didn’t go; it was all getting a bit too complicated. Eric attended a strawbale workshop all weekend at Canelo Project outside Tucson and we didn’t have someone to watch the dog. But, fuck it, we decided to make it work. My daughter and I flew in the night before and Eric flew in from Arizona in the morning to meet us, and we all flew out the same night. The dog stayed outside with food and water in her fenced yard (she’s rarely inside anyway.)

We knew this plan had a high risk of exhausting us, but what we did not consider is that it might be cloudy. Days leading up to our trip, the ominous weather reports of afternoon and evening storms did not shift. Being that we live in the Mountain West where it is sunny 300 days out of the year, it did not occur to us that we would fly all the way to Dallas and clouds would obscure the eclipsed sun. We also didn’t consider that our late-night flight might be delayed due to thunderstorms and our dog abandoned a second night. But we refused to abort our mission!

For us, it was all worth the exhaustion and risks to see this astronomical phenomenon. Eric is a space nerd, and I am a proclaimed animist with a personal connection to the planets. The alignment of sun, moon and Earth held a deep significance for me.

I wanted to create a ceremony leading up to the main event, an opportunity to open a portal for the sublime to enter. I invited Eric and Flora to join me. Eric is a science-minded agnostic and Flora is a self-conscious teenager, but they were willing to humor me. The wind blowing off Grapevine Lake made it challenging to light my candle, but I nuzzled it into the trunk of a tree and once it was going, I lit some palo santo to cleanse us with. We then considered what we wanted to let go of in our lives personally and collectively as we shuffled the Wheel of Fortune major arcana deck and pulled a card for what we were calling in anew. Our readings were powerful and ominous. Then, I took off my crystals and placed them in the sunbeams to charge in the eclipse energy.

When we discuss a total eclipse, it is common for people to discuss the question of what our ancient ancestors must have thought was happening. Western culture still very much perceives earth-based people as foolish and ignorant because they didn’t have the same technologies as we do. And yet, there is evidence to suggest that people have been tracking eclipses since 3000 BCE. At Stonehenge, stone markings were used to predict eclipses by indicating the proximity of the moon and sun. Near to where I live in Chaco Canyon, there are recorded petroglyphs showing spirals believed to indicate eclipses. In China they created a science to predict eclipses as far back as 2300 BCE. In 1375 BCE the Babylonians used the Saros Series to correctly predict eclipses. 

For 5000 years, humans have understood what eclipses were. So, when indigenous peoples in North America shot flaming arrows at the sky, they did not actually believe the arrows would hit the Sun and reignite it, as some anthropologists surmise. Scribes in China who were tracking eclipses wrote down that a dragon was eating the Sun. Modern scientists conclude that the ancient Chinese believed that a dragon was eating the Sun. But again, I suggest that this is a false and narrow worldview, which overlooks the mythic imaginal realm.

In Western society, we perceive myths as fiction created by naïve people to explain something that cannot be understood. But for animists, myth is another plane of reality and consciousness. Symbols and archetypes are not used to explain the unexplainable but to enlighten and bring magic to the empirically understood. Though it is challenging for our mindset as Westerners, consider the difference between seeing the world in two dimensions and three dimensions. Empirical reality is just a flat two-dimensional world. We are missing out on multiple dimensions of existence lost when we forsook the mysteries of the natural and supernatural world in exchange for intellectual and corporeal certainty.

My friend who is Cherokee, told me that her ancestors would go outside and make noise to scare away the giant frog trying to eat the sun, just as the Chinese made loud noises with drums to scare away the dragon. And yet, the ancient Cherokee ancestors of the Mound Builders culture arranged their earthworks to interact with solar and lunar events, including eclipses, with a complex knowledge of mathematical concepts. They both understood the science of the eclipses and still held ceremonies in the imaginal symbolic realm to honor the eclipses. The act of ceremony cannot be interpreted on a literal level, earth-based ceremony is a communal return to our wholeness, our totality, our wild soul that remembers our connection to the stars.

Even if you do have a complete scientific understanding of what is happening, somewhere in our deep collective subconscious there is a part of us that wonders, what if? What if this time, the moon comes to a halt and the world does not return to order? Logically we know that in three minutes and 42 seconds it will all be over, but our lizard brain, the most primitive part of us that is trained to protect us, still sounds the alarm, reverberating throughout our bodies with deep resonance.

For those few minutes, the world stops and possibly ends. We hold our breath and wait.

Our family’s biggest concern in that moment was whether or not the clouds would part long enough for us to see the totality. In the minutes leading up to the big event we watched through our special viewing glasses as the moon slowly moved in front of our closest star, creating a crescent sun. At times it disappeared behind heavy storm clouds and reappeared again with a cheeky wink. When the moment finally arrived, as we removed the protective lenses from our face, the clouds thinned and briefly dispersed giving us a couple of illuminous minutes of totality.

If you haven’t experienced the totality before, you might think that what’s extraordinary about it is being able to see the corona of the sun, the ring of fire circling the silhouette of the moon. But that’s not exactly it, although that is very cool to see.

What’s most amazing is the way that the world goes dark in the middle of the day. The sun disappears except for its fiery sphere and the day turns a new light, not quite that of dusk or of pre-dawn; it is a light all its own, indigo, gray, and eerily elusive. The difference between Dallas and the middle of nowhere Wyoming was that in the city, we could see the building lights turn on across the lake and the airplanes light up in the sky. We could see a planet in the middle of the day. The bees stopped buzzing and birds returned to their perch. A quiet transcended momentarily before humans began shouting with jubilation.

When the young man yelled, “Totality!” I felt it deeply and could not help but scream it too. “Totality!” I shouted at the sky. I felt perfect and exactly where I was meant to be, aligned and whole. My breathing deepened and filled my chest with elation.

Why would an eclipse make me feel this way? Is it cellular, neurological, epigenetic, or cosmic consciousness? Is it the exhilaration of novelty? Is it the recognition in that one celestial moment of my infinite totality?

Witnessing the eclipse brings human existence into perspective, reminding us of how small and insignificant we are, a humble and yet enlightening viewpoint. Instead of the sun being a blinding unobservable light in the sky, it is suddenly a knowable, visible star bringing it into closer relational proximity to us. We become aware that we are part of it all, the whole cosmic dance of existence, the magical realms as well as the bodily, all of it all at once and everything.

As you know, the sun did return to its full luminosity as predicted. In doing so, our bodies relaxed with relief. The world had ended and was reborn again. Life could return to usual, but things were not quite the same as they were before, though none of us could explain why. Ladybugs converged on my daughter, and she let them meander across her fingers and legs. We called an Uber and headed for the airport.

Our flight was not delayed, though it was uncomfortably turbulent. We made it home to an excited dog and woke up early the next day for school and work. Days have passed and the myopic tasks of life accumulated.  But every now and then, I stop and remember. Gazing up at the sky, I scream, “Totality!” and it still feels really good.

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