“The blue sky gets ripped away,
and you can actually stare toward the center of the solar system,
see the planets, see the stars in the background – the brighter ones.
And you can actually see the sun, not the bright surface but the sun’s outer atmosphere – which shimmers like a glorious wreath of tinsel in space.”
David Baron, American Eclipse
By all accounts, a total solar eclipse is a phenomenal sight. And this one—going from coast to coast across our divided land–feels like an appropriate heavenly gesture. That millions are traveling toward this once in a lifetime experience is understandable. Yet ancient Babylonian astrologers are no doubt spinning in their graves.
They understood the metaphor. The King—as the human Sun—was going to be eclipsed. He would lose power. And so would the vitality of the nation. The astrologer-priests summoned all their ritual magic in order to avert this disaster by hoping to obscure it, praying the heavens would send a rescuing bank of clouds or a sandstorm. Never would they advise the town to run out and gawk at it.
Total eclipses are rare. But partial ones come twice a year. Whenever their ancient magic didn’t dissolve a particular eclipse, the priests knew they had a busy six months ahead, leading the king and others through the namburbi rituals, designed to unwind all the damage done by the darkening of the Sun. Today the yogis still advise, stay indoors, rest, and above all, don’t travel during an eclipse. The demons are out. And we’re more vulnerable to them. In many cultures around the world, pregnant woman are told not to go outside during an eclipse in order to avoid birth defects.
If you’re energetically sensitive—even minimally so, you understand the logic. Today we might replace the word “demons” with “negative ions” or a phrase like “it’s crazy out there.” Energetically—eclipses, whether they’re total or partial—jitter the atmosphere worldwide. There’s an increase in electrical energy that makes things feel buzzy and unnerving, like a band is playing salsa in a dance hall one dimension away.
You can sense an eclipse in the days, sometimes weeks, heading into it. The friction builds and people gradually lose their bearings. As important as having the proper eclipse glasses is having good rituals of stability. That’s because most people will experience the eclipse as a cascade of minor irritating events that can build into something bigger.
You’re cut off in traffic, three times. You’re in a hurry and suddenly trapped by four shopping carts in an aisle at Trader Joe’s. You try to suppress the impatient anger and go about your business. But hours or maybe days later, in an untended moment, you lose your anchor and veer off balance. You erupt. Or collide with something. Say you’re in a meeting about infrastructure, and you suddenly go off script, and speak the darkest thoughts that lie at the heart of this country. During a solar eclipse, the shadow comes out of hiding.
All year I’ve wondered what this particular eclipse would bring, as it’s conjunct the current president’s combative Ascendant/Mars in Leo. The last time an eclipse occurred at this degree was August, 1998, as then president Clinton was heading towards impeachment. On August 17, just a few days before the eclipse and after months of denials and silence, Bill Clinton admitted that he’d had inappropriate relations with the intern Monica Lewinsky. The shadow came out of hiding, just as this month, Trump’s sympathies with bigots, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis was made clear. Neither revelation was surprising. But it had been in the shadow—where society likes to keep the dark underbelly of leadership, privilege, and power.
Late August eclipses—occurring between 27-29 degrees of Leo—are conjunct the fixed star Regulus, the most kingly of all fixed stars. With the passionate and volatile nature of Mars and Jupiter, this star has been called the “Lion’s Heart” and the “Crushing Foot.” Planets at this degree can be magnanimous, charismatic, powerful, and generous—also arrogant, narcissistic, self-destructive, and combative. Regulus eclipses have a history of rattling governments, leaders, and kings.
Here’s a quick tour of previous tensions and turning points.
- The late August eclipse of 1914 saw the first month of fighting in World War I. It is the month the German Empire declares war on Russia and France; the United Kingdom declares war on Germany. So significant is this month that it’s memorialized in the title of Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer-prize-winning history, The Guns of August. This was a hot eclipse.
- Early in the year of the late August eclipse of 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (speaking of the Depression) proclaimed in his inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Meanwhile, Hitler’s power is growing in Germany; open persecution of Jews and others begins. The Nazi Secret Police is formed. By mid-August, about a week before the solar eclipse, Winston Churchill makes his first public address warning against German rearmament. It’s said that Churchill stuttered as a child—perhaps because he knew his voice would one day have to lead the world.
- Overall, earth was more peaceful for the late August eclipse of 1952, yet it still wasn’t a good time for kings. About a week and a half before the eclipse, King Talal of Jordon was removed from power because of his schizophrenia.
- The world was hot and tense again for the August 1971 eclipse, with the Vietnam War, protests against it, violence in Northern Ireland, a coup in Bolivia, and border clashes between Tanzania and Uganda.
- Minor figures suffered during the August eclipse of 1979. An island dictator was toppled. Lord Mountbatten was assassinated. And Raymond Washington—co-founder of the Crips, the largest and most notorious gang in the United States–was murdered in a drive-by.
Leaders are made and/or broken during late August eclipses. I’m not surprised that the Trump presidency is facing one of its darkest crises. Though I might have thought it would be a hundred other things (Russia, Mueller’s investigation, North Korea, nepotism, illegal business profiteering) rather than equating peaceful protestors with fascists and racists. New Moons tend to be seed-planting times. But solar eclipses operate more like Full Moons. They’re wild, energetic, and revelatory.
The total solar eclipse this year—arriving with the pointed celestial gesture of a dark path of totality dividing the United States in two—not only reveals this country’s current and severe crisis in leadership, with its questions about the president’s fitness for office, his mental and emotional stability and his moral authority, the eclipse opens a deep, unhealed, centuries-old wound, how American freedom was born in an era of slavery, how half the country fought to preserve this, and how the battle keeps going today.
Now is the time to observe what the leaders are doing.
Don’t turn away. Witness. Are they up to their calling or not?
As for ourselves, we should remember that true leadership always starts within. Whatever the circumstances in your personal kingdom, are you anchored? Are you sound? Are you seeing clearly? What do you stand for in these tumultuous times?
Locate yourself in time! This eclipse may or may not be personally significant, but your transits and progressions always are. Don’t know what’s going on in your heavens? Order Steven Forrest’s fabulous Skylog report. If your birthday is within three months, ahead or behind you, Mary Shea’s Solar Return report will complete the picture of your year.