The Solar Eclipse: Magic and Danger or Wonder and Awe?

The Solar Eclipse: Magic and Danger or Wonder and Awe? April 3, 2024

There’s a total solar eclipse coming on Monday. Perhaps you’ve heard about it?

You probably remember from elementary school science that an eclipse happens when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun, temporarily blocking the Sun’s rays from reaching the Earth. Total solar eclipses are both common and rare. They’re common because they happen about every 18 months. But they’re rare because the path of an eclipse is so narrow that a particular place will see an eclipse only once every 400 years on average.

The last solar eclipse in the United States was August 21, 2017. It began in Oregon and moved across the country, ending in South Carolina. This time the Moon is closer to the Earth and so the path of totality is wider. It will begin in Mexico, run across Texas, much of the Midwest, and into Ontario and Quebec.

This page from NASA has maps and other interesting details.

The good news for me is that I live in the path of totality. The bad news is that the weather forecast is not favorable. I’ll be ready with my eclipse glasses and my camera either way. The next total solar eclipse in the United States isn’t until 2044, and it will only be visible in Canada, Montana and the Dakotas.

2019 Solar Eclipse. Photo from the European Space Agency via Wikimedia Commons: ESA/CESAR/Wouter van Reeven, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Traditionally, eclipses are bad omens

Every time there’s an eclipse – solar or lunar – the magic and witchcraft communities get all in an uproar about what it means and what to do or not do. This isn’t surprising. Our movement is growing and new people are coming in all the time. They know the science of an eclipse but they don’t know the magic – or the tradition.

It’s intuitive that eclipses are times of power and importance. There’s something strange and dramatic happening in the sky – of course it’s powerful. And if something is powerful then we can use it in our magic, right?

Traditionally, no.

Traditionally, eclipses are bad omens, signs of bad things to come, especially for kings and others in high places.

I’m very reluctant to blame this on “ignorant primitives” who didn’t know what eclipses were. People have understood what eclipses are since ancient times, even if they couldn’t predict them until the modern era.

[Whether Thales of Miletus accurately predicted the eclipse of May 28, 585 BCE – and to what degree of precision – is uncertain. Even if he did, his method was lost for centuries.]

The stories people told about eclipses are myths, intended to put a strange occurrence into a wider context and help people find meaning in them. They were never understood as history or science.

It takes modern fundamentalists to confuse myth with history and science.

Eclipses are the equivalent of The Tower in the Tarot – they denote sudden, dramatic, and irreversible change. And the higher you are, the farther you have to fall.

As above, so below

That’s eclipse lore. What about eclipses here and now?

“As above, so below” is a basic principle of magic. What happens in the skies is mirrored on the Earth. The Sun dies and is reborn in a matter of minutes, not over the course of a year. Eclipses can speed up your magical workings – they are times of power.

But if you’re driving on a curvy, hilly road at 30 mph, speeding up to 200 mph isn’t necessarily a good thing. You may get where you’re going faster, but you’re more likely to crash and burn.

Also, the dark moon is typically a time for resting from magic – except for baneful magic. A solar eclipse requires a dark moon. If you wouldn’t normally do magic at this time in the cycle of the moon, you probably don’t want to do it now.

I’ve seen some people claiming they’re good at eclipse magic. Now, while I’m reluctant to dismiss anyone’s claims of magical skills without actually seeing their results for myself, I struggle to understand how anyone could get enough practice at eclipse magic to actually build some skills with it. You can work with the full moon every month. You can work with a lunar eclipse every 2½ years.

You can work with a solar eclipse once or twice in your life.

So often in the magic and witchcraft communities, the people who talk the most do the least. The ones who quietly go about their business day after day, full moon after full moon, solstice after solstice are the ones who can actually make things happen.

Which is to say, I know whose advice I’m taking when it comes to eclipse magic and whose I’m not.

Plan your magic carefully

So what’s my advice to you? It’s the same as it always is when it comes to magic: choose your target carefully, then put a working together designed to achieve your goal. If that’s something that could benefit from the energy of the eclipse, then give it a try.

(I started to write “harness the energy of the eclipse” but then realized that “harness” is a very unhelpful metaphor here. You don’t harness an eclipse. You ride it like Class V rapids and hope it doesn’t carry you over a waterfall.)

An eclipse is not the time to FAFO. It can be a time to do something intentionally, mindfully, and deliberately.

Enjoy the wonder and awe

As for me, I have no big magic planned for next Monday. I’ll say a few prayers, though at the moment I haven’t decided on anything specific. They’ll probably be extemporaneous prayers dealing with what – and Who – is on my heart at the time.

Mainly, I’m going to enjoy the naturalistic wonder and awe of the experience. Even if it’s cloudy and I can’t watch the Moon blocking the Sun, I can still feel the temperature drop and watch it get dark in the middle of the day.

It was a clear day in North Texas for the 2017 solar eclipse. We only had partial coverage, but the change in the atmosphere was very evident. A cloudy total eclipse will be even better.

And there’s always a chance the clouds will part for a few moments at the critical time.

Enjoy the eclipse, however you choose to observe it.

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