Breathless. Words seem so pointless – those who saw it know what I mean, and I know that it can’t be expressed in words, photos or video. The eclipse was stunning – a sudden and ineffable realization of the deep connection to the rest of our Universe that is always present but so rarely felt like this. At least I know that many others feel as verbally powerless and as speechless as I do.
Clouds made us abandon our originally planned spot near the NE/MO border, and we drove farther west to get a better weather prediction.
It paid off. Even though we were in nowheresville Nebraska, we saw groups forming in many places, and we stopped and prepared for the impending lunar shadow. Seeing the dark shadow racing towards us brought a strange sense of dread, and the wonder and joy of the eclipse itself was overwhelming. Perhaps the oddest
phenomenon was the change in the apparent size of the Sun/Moon. The Sun or Moon are quite small in the sky – about the size of a dime that is six feet away from you (or a pea at arm’s length). Go ahead and put a dime or penny 6 feet away, and see how small that is. That’s tiny! So tiny that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to clearly see the features of the corona without using the telescope.
I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Though the Sun did indeed appear small during the partial eclipse, when totality hit, the Sun/Moon seemed to grow in the sky, right as I looked at it. It was weird.
I knew, intellectually, that it couldn’t really be doing that, but there it was, right in front of my face, growing until it was a huge black orb looming over us*, with a timeless gaze that could nearly be felt physically pushing down on me. I felt the odd urge to hold my hands up to push it away! The dazzlingly white corona jumped out, and the triangular shapes were obvious.
(The corona is a different shape for every eclipse. Some past eclipse coronas had dual wings, or other shapes. This one had three prominent triangles – they are permanently burned into my mind. See the pictures here of both an eclipse corona from the 1800s and the one we just saw – others can be found online).
The faint feelings of dread and claustrophobia mixed with the elation, joy and awe at the stunning beauty to leave me staggering.
We had held an eclipse ritual in the long time between first and second contact, setting up our altar and the items to be charged. By happy coincidence, as we were stammering to explain what we were doing to the couple who were next to us, they revealed that they were Pagan too – and joined us in the ritual! I explained what a Naturalistic Pagan was, and they were fine with that. They took the South and West directions in the quarter calls.
They added objects to charge, and I gave them salt to charge as well. (All this is described in more detail here). In the photo of our altar here, you can see my dim shadow – shadows were already quite dim). Both the temperature drop and the strange wind effects added to the feeling of being transported away from normality. The darkness was eerie – though we didn’t see any birds or other wildlife around to be affected. Then, it ended. The world we know returned, after our visit to an alien planet.
It was great to hear of all the scientific data that was gathered during the eclipse. Radar data on bird flights showed that birds grounded during totality, echoing what we talked about earlier – how non-human animals see this as a brief chunk of nighttime.
Here are some other recollections.
- We didn’t plan years ahead or anything, just watched the weather and stayed hours away the night prior. We didn’t know where we were headed for a final destination until the morning and then took back roads part of the way. I’m so thankful it all worked out. We were fortunate enough to have great weather in TN. I was one of the dorks who started crying and shaking. I was so blown away I still start tearing up whenever I just think about it.
- This morning was absolutely amazing. The total eclipse was by far one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed.
- This was undoubtedly the most fantastic natural phenomenon I’ve had the honor of experiencing. So ominous. Watching the sun slowly get swallowed up by this dark mass. Looking forward to hopefully chasing more eclipses to the end of the world.
- Tears were shed. … In that short moment after totality where the filters were off the camera & you could still feel the darkness around you… one of the most brilliant displays of light occurred I have ever seen took place.
- It was the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed in my life, one that unfortunately no photo will ever do justice. It was unbelievable how the wind stopped, the temperature dropped and the stars came out for a brief two minutes.
- Before the celestial event, Kev Brock thought the people she’d read about crying and cheering at past eclipses were just “overly dramatic.” But then the moon crossed the sun in Salem, Ore.: “One of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It made me cry and my children cheered.”
- … “Short of the birth of my kids, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life,” said David Wiza of Beaverton, Ore.
- …”holy cow!”
- I consider myself pretty stoic and conservative especially in social situations. But when I saw totality I lost it. Seeing that sight in the sky is truly life altering.
- I couldn’t stop weeping either. This was so beautiful. I can’t stop embracing and celebrating.
- ….. A thunderous roar rose up as the skies went dark.
- ….”It was probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Robert Erwin. “.. I took the eclipse glasses off and experienced totality. It was incredible.”
- Karri White, a banker from Santa Cruz, Calif., choked up and wiped away tears after a group hug with family and friends during totality.
- Additional recollections and images can be found online, such as here, here, and many more by googling. There will likely be more soon as people get a second to upload, blog, etc.
Bart Everson came from New Orleans to the path of totality in Illinois, and shares this account:
It was my privilege and honor to escort three intrepid nine-year-olds to the path of totality. I brought two of them back home alive, so I consider the trip a success.(Don’t worry, the third child is fine. I handed her off to her grandparents.)
We drove about nine hours to spend a night in a hotel which was in the path of totality. The hotel parking lot didn’t seem like a very special place to view the eclipse, so in the morning we made a pleasant drive through country roads to the Shawnee National Forest.There wasn’t much traffic — until we got to our destination, a place called the Garden of the Gods. It seems a lot of eclipse enthusiasts had the same idea we did.It was crowded. It was hot. Indeed, there was a heat advisory for the area. We just about melted under that sun, even as we watched it slowly being eaten by the moon.We brought along a fair amount of ritual gear and picnic supplies. I wore myself out hauling it around. We were hemmed in by strangers on all sides. Our ritual was, frankly, rushed and a bit perfunctory. The kids were complaining about the lack of air conditioning.And then came the total eclipse. Two and a half minutes of pure awestruck amazement. We howled like wolves. My daughter gave me a hug. We heard nocturnal insects chirping. I know this is a moment all of us will remember for as long as we live.When it was over, we still had to escape the Shawnee, and the next day we drove back home. Whew! After three days with the nine-year-olds, I was ready for some adult company.In short, the whole trip was effortful, exhausting, expensive — and totally worth it.
It turns out that we weren’t the only Pagans celebrating this sacred moment, given to us by our own Earth, Sun and Moon. Carl Sagan reminded us that “science is, at least in part, informed worship” – and this eclipse gave us a wealth of sacred scientific data. Among the millions who were touched by this eclipse were 11 spacecraft, at least three NASA aircraft, more than 50 high-altitude balloons, and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Part of the long scientific saga that gave us the ability to predict eclipses, and gather data from them, is explained in this great description here. As explained in the first eclipse post, that scientific saga is spiritually powerful to me, yet another way that this eclipse (and any eclipse) opens a window onto our Ancestors and the larger human saga of which we are one part.
Special thanks to Moine Michelle (her new book is available for pre-order here) for this poem, written after experiencing totality a few days ago:
The moon was putting her arms around the sun—
The moon was putting her arms around the earth—
The moon was putting her arms around me, us—
The moon was saying
—this light, this light, this light—
That was the center of you
It is all light
Let it raise you
And we lifted our faces to the moon
And saw her at the quick of our sky
And we lifted our faces to the sun
And we saw her at the center of
Brightness and darkness
And the colors of the valley
Of this hungry sky
As the horizon flushed with
And improbable starlight
And all the people who
Came to see it
Our sky roaring open
The moon, the moon,
We looked up as
When we arrived at our viewing location there were around 20 people there, with all of us scurrying around, setting up campchairs, etc. We said some perfunctory hellos here and there, but mostly were on our own. But then totality hit – when the gasps and cries were heard across our group – we were no longer strangers. Perhaps it was knowing that we all shared an experience that really couldn’t be described – a secret of sorts.
Regardless of exactly why, we felt much closer than the strangers who had happened to come to this hillside an hour or two earlier. Most of us exchanged contact information (here is a blog post from someone who was at our viewing site), without actually saying why or wondering why – it was known, felt. Even now, hundreds of miles from the eclipse location and getting further away in time with every second, when talking with someone, if they mention that they experienced totality, a powerful recognition can be seen in our eyes. Now, many millions more people have experienced totality, with millions living in the path, and (judging from the traffic jams on both sides of the path of totality) many millions who drove to it – many places had crowds in the hundreds of thousands). Moine’s poem above captures this (with “We looked up as One”) as well as the experience itself. For me, this extends back for countless millennia, encompassing all of our Ancestors and others who experienced totality, on continent after continent, age after age, deep into the mists of time. Forward also, to every child, every woman and man, who will stare in awe at the looming black orb of totality, even 8,000 years and more from now. Even with the Moon moving away at about 2 cm a year, we’ve still got several hundred million years before totality ceases to be possible on Earth. Afterwards, we had no traffic jams in central Nebraska, driving East instead of North or South – but millions of other people did. I’m actually glad to hear that – it means that so many more people experienced totality, and may be more inclined to help build a reality based culture.
That feeling makes past descriptions of eclipses so poignant. They are yet another way to be connected to long dead people. This one, from Mabel Loomis Todd, makes me feel like she was standing there alongside me in Nebraska.
Then, with frightful velocity, the actual shadow of the Moon is seen approaching, a tangible darkness advancing almost like a wall, swift as imagination, silent as doom. The immensity of nature never comes quite so near as then, and strong must be the nerves not to quiver
as this blue-black shadow rushes upon the spectator with incredible speed. A vast, palpable presence seems overwhelming the world. The blue sky changes to gray or dull purple, speedily becoming more dusky, and a death-like trance seizes upon everything earthly. Birds, with terrified cries, fly bewildered for a moment, and then silently seek their night quarters. Bats emerge stealthily. Sensitive flowers, the scarlet pimpernel, the African mimosa, close their delicate petals, and a sense of hushed expectancy deepens with the darkness. An assembled crowd is awed into absolute silence almost invariably… Often the very air seems to hold its breath for sympathy; at other times a lull suddenly awakens into a strange wind, blowing with unnatural effect.
Then out upon the darkness, grewsome but sublime, flashes the glory of the incomparable corona, a silvery, soft, unearthly light, with radiant streamers, stretching at times millions of uncomprehended miles into space, while the rosy, flaming protuberances skirt the black rim of the Moon in ethereal splendor. It becomes curiously cold, dew frequently forms, and the chill is perhaps mental as well as physical.
Suddenly, instantaneous as a lightning flash, an arrow of actual sunlight strikes the landscape, and Earth comes to life again, while corona and protuberances melt into the returning brilliance, and occasionally the receding lunar shadow is glimpsed as it flies away with the tremendous speed of its approach.
All of this shows me yet again how wonderful, how astounding, and how incredibly powerful our real world is. These deep wells of spirituality don’t need any supernatural belief, no otherworldly woo. It’s all right here, all stunning, and all (most of all) undeniably *real*. Making an eclipse video that celebrated that, when so much of the internet was consumed with videos of New Age eclipse woo, or Christian eclipse apocalyptacism, or too – dry fact without wonder, helped me feel better about that.
We Naturalistic Pagans can revel in the power of this eclipse without resorting to the unnatural for meaning.
Wondering when the next eclipse is, or when past eclipses were? NASA’s page on eclipses has all the information on eclipses going back millennia in to the past and forward into the future. For just a century or two, the interactive globe at this site is both fun and informative. If you want to experience totality (either again for for the first time), those show your opportunities.
Here in the United States, we only have another 7 years to wait, until April 8th, 2024 (though April weather is likely to be worse, both in temperature and cloud cover). Blessed be.
*Looking around, it turns out that this experience of a growing eclipse might not be so rare. Aside from all the photos taken a long distances to to make it look bigger, artwork from centuries ago shows the same thing. Here we see two examples -one from Cosmas Damien (~1720) and one from Raphael (not the turtle, ~1518). Both show the orb of totality impossibly large, looming down, as I experienced. In the long drive to the path of totality, our family listened to the first half of Asimov’s Nightfall, which nicely captures the power of the eclipse.
The Author: Jon Cleland Host
Starstuff, Contemplating: We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.
Featured Image by Karl Shakur