|Readers of classic English poetry will likely recognize this phrase from John Milton's Lycidas, the famous elegiac "monody" that the young poet wrote to express his grief, and then much else, in response to the death by drowning of his beloved friend Edward King. The "fatal and perfidious bark" that bore King to his doom must have been "Built in th'eclipse, and rigg'd with curses dark," Milton imagined, using the usual image of the eclipse as a moment of crisis and calamity when nothing should be undertaken or done.
This month's eclipses of Sun and Moon give us a good point of departure for some mythic mileage about what eclipses are and what they mean at this time when eclipse metaphors multiply for the beliefs human beings hold and the actions they do. In these seven strobe years from now to 2012, flashes of light go brighter and wider, and darkness gets deep enough to be depressing to many souls, as we swoop and soar toward our awakening. So we focus now on the "hybrid," or annular-total eclipse at the New Moon on April 8 - 9. This event will be the closest thing to a total solar eclipse that we've had since November 23, 2003, and we shall not see another total solar eclipse until March of next year.
Eclipses are simple, physically. They happen when the Moon crosses the ecliptic -- the Sun's path through the zodiac -- and the two great lights align with the position of the Earth. At a lunar eclipse, which always comes at a Full Moon, the Earth passes exactly between Sun and Moon, so for a few hours the Moon is in Earth's shadow, and takes on the disturbing Mars-like hue of orange to blood red that has always brought dread to those who see in the Moon's eclipse a sign of violent turmoil. At a solar eclipse, the Moon passes exactly between the Sun and Earth, so that for a few hours large areas of the Earth, even whole continents, are in the Moon's moving shadow, and each observer sees, from his or her vantage point, an occultation in which the Sun is "hidden" for a few minutes. For ancient peoples who had no idea that the black disc crossing the Sun was just the same Moon they saw all the time, only backlit and now unrecognizable, a total eclipse was terrifying. Some peoples imagined that the Sun was being devoured by a huge black pig, and that its light would vanish forever and all life on Earth would die.
Nowadays, of course, we no longer believe such naive stories, and some alert souls even realize that what is really swallowing the Sun, the Earth and everything else is not some silly black pig, but some deadly serious corporate predators, pirates and polluters whose logos come in many bright colors, not just black. And now eclipses can even have entertainment value, especially for millions of affluent believers and consumers whose main goal in life is to be continuously amused.
Solar and lunar eclipses, which come in pairs at consecutive lunations -- that is, a New Moon followed by a Full Moon or vice versa -- occur at intervals of about five months. Most solar eclipses are partial, or "annular," with the Moon covering most but not all of the Sun. On average, one of every four solar eclipses is one of the rarer total eclipses that often show up in three-year sets, like the total solar eclipses in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and the trio that will come in the momentous years of 2008, 2009 and 2010. Eclipses always occur when there's a lunation within 17° of one of the Moon's Nodes, which are the transiting eclipse points that move "backward" through the zodiac, opposite the "counterclockwise" direction in which the great lights and the planets seem to move around the wheel. A solar eclipse can come when Sun and Moon are either near the Moon's North Node, or Dragon's Head, like this month's "hybrid" eclipse and the solar eclipse of March, 2006; or near the South Node, or Dragon's Tail, like the Sun's eclipse in August 2008.
A Dragon's Tail eclipse, now that we've covered the bare facts and can cross into costume and belief, has long been thought to be more baleful, a bringer of upset and trouble. The villainous Edmund in King Lear is not only illegitimate, but was conceived in a South Node eclipse when "my father compounded with my mother under the dragon's tail." His freely confessed vices of being "rough and lecherous" do not begin to convey the danger that the people of Shakespeare's time saw in such a man's love of chaos and ruin not for the sake of gaining a throne -- that would be understandable -- but for the perverse pleasure of watching others suffer, squabble and scream. We can perhaps find some atom of comfort in one happy fact: that many of the tragic bastards holding center stage today are not creating horror and agony just for fun, but are driven by the practical Calvinist values of money, power and the salvation and control of what's left, if anything.
The poet Jalaluddin Rumi saw soul opportunity in the "dangerous moments" that come at
("Full Moon, Bilal," version by Coleman Barks)
|those two points on the moon's path
|called the Dragon's Tail, where an eclipse
|occurs. Don't get cut off from sunlight!
|Lightning snaps out like a whip.
|"Not that way! This! Listen to me!'"
Either wake up and see what the Sun wants one to notice, in other words, or run the risk that when the needed insight is overdue from having been resisted for much too long, a thunderbolt may deliver a shock along with the flash of light.
Nowadays, of course, thanks to the marvels of modern science, we know that lightning is just electricity. And we no longer need to spend any energy in being aggressively ignorant, or playing chicken with our own third eye, or even in waiting passively for God or whoever to educate us suddenly with a bolt from the blue, the black, or the beyond. Now the same people who've cooked up special effects like cluster bombs and napalm may be able to bring lightning right to your door. And their test market need no longer be limited to some sheep ranch in Wyoming that secretly gets sprayed with anthrax from the air, or some town in Florida where African-American men who think they're getting flu shots are being injected with syphilis, or an army base in Maryland where clueless soldiers are served lemonade laced with LSD, and are still hearing country music in which their dog Blue really is blue and a lot of other colors.
No, thanks to the spirit of cheerful acceptance in which most Americans live now, the U. S. military may have been able to test their new HPM -- for High Power Microwave -- superbomb over the city of Seattle. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "Washington residents who looked up at the sky Saturday night [March 19] saw a great ball of fire ignite the sky. When they went back inside their homes, some of them found only darkness -- and no power. Seattle utilities officials said it was just a coincidence. Meanwhile, a 3.3-magnitude quake occurred about 15 miles north of Olympia before 8 p.m. Saturday, seismologists said."
American officials called the fireball a "meteor," and claimed that the simultaneous power outage and earthquake were a coincidence. Scientists in other countries -- notably Russia, which monitors anomalous explosions under Russian-American protocols of observing possible nuclear weapon tests -- were skeptical, and speculated that Seattle's spectacularly weird weather was a test explosion of the new weapon that the New York Post called "a precision-guided lightning bolt of microwave power [which] has been under development for years in the black-operations programs at the National Laboratories and the Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico."
The point of detonating the HPM bomb over Seattle instead of some less populous area, in the opinion of one commentator whose views have not yet been corroborated, was to alter a major weather pattern by diverting the humid jet stream air current of the Pacific Northwest farther inland, where it might bring relief from the most severe droughts to hit the United States since the Dust Bowl decade of the 1930's.
Is it surprising that American military scientists and engineers might have tried such a thing? Not at all. These are the same people who have been experimenting for years with LFAS sonar frequencies so painful to the hearing organs of dolphins, whales and other marine life that they will beach themselves and die to escape from the agony, or switch to feeding and mating patterns that are mortally different from what has always been natural and healthy. And the HPM bomb, whether it's already been tested or will be soon, is a logical product of HAARP, the weather manipulation and meteorological weapon program that was known enough to be controversial over a decade ago.
None of this is surprising to those who are awake at least some of the time. What is unusual in all this is the willful blindness of those who remain blissfully, stubbornly ignorant of the approaching calamities that imperil them. News that the price of oil has now hit $55 a barrel -- $20 higher than it was a year ago -- does not make the front page of the New York Times, but gets buried on page 6 of the business section. News of severe drought and famine in Asia and North America is not allowed to interfere with the conventional fiction that human actions have no impact on global climate patterns. News of last week's weather story in Seattle, and of hundreds of peace demonstrations all across the United States on the second anniversary of the Iraq war, got no airtime on American mainstream TV, which hesitates to divide its focus from the bedroom proclivities of Michael Jackson and the fake cause celebre around Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose soul may be paying off some nasty Aries karma by having to sit mute for decades as a few sincere loved ones try to serve God's wishes and hers as they see them, and a million hypocrites use her as a political game token and money magnet.
What does all this have to do with eclipses? Just that human beings who can now play God by manipulating weather can also induce eclipses of the heart and soul that last for years, not minutes. One does not need the Moon to hide the Sun when tens of millions of people can so easily be kept benighted for a lifetime. It is just as well that Jonathan Swift, who wrote that the secret of happiness is "the perpetual possession of being well-deceived," did not have to live now, and see how true the thrust of his satire has become. We can easily wonder whether Carl Gustav Jung, when he said that "people can't stand too much reality," had any idea how much reality was about to arrive now, at the onset of what James Howard Kunstler calls The Long Emergency. In response to what is on the way, many people will dive deeper into denial, and some of them may actually come back up. "We must not think too much," cries one of the Athenian women in Euripides' Medea. "People go mad if they think too much." This is certainly true, and one way to avoid this discomfort, at least for the moment, as we see increasingly now, is to avoid thinking at all.
We are past the point that Martin Buber wrote about in the darkest years of the 20th century: "Eclipse of the light of heaven, eclipse of God -- such indeed is the character of the historic hour through which the world is now passing." The nuance of these words is that an eclipse is an unavoidable event that we suffer passively, rather than something we bring about ourselves. The catalyst of an eclipse, viewed in these terms, as Frank Rich recently saw it, is "fear [that] takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term."
All of this implies that the rule of the mob, or whatever other agent of violence now blocks the light of the Sun, can't be thrown off all at once, and that the best strategy for dealing with an eclipse is to buy candles, keep faith, love and encourage one another until the will of those who love the light can bring it back again. Victor Hugo thought in these terms, clearly thinking of eclipses the way that Thomas Jefferson thought about rebellion, as part of a process that is as inevitable in the life of human societies as it is in the world of nature. "Nations, like stars," Hugo believed, "are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul."
It's essential to remember now, as awakened souls sense but do not yield to the weight of the eclipse while others evaporate into extreme silliness, that Livy was right when he wrote that "Truth is often eclipsed, but never extinguished." All is well, and the eclipse may even have the advantage of shifting our attention for a moment from the glare of solar intellect to the softer energies of the Moon, who is still nurturing and loving under that black dress if we can only remember she is there, and honor her. "It's only during an eclipse," after all, as Anonymous put it, "that the Man in the Moon has a place in the sun." The Woman in the Moon too. Best not forget her.
Or forget to laugh and sing. And to Keep Holding That Frequency.