The Spirituality of the Eclipse

The Spirituality of the Eclipse July 25, 2017

A total solar eclipse is one of the most stunning things to see on Earth – an especially sacred time for those of us with an Earth-Centered Pagan Spirituality.   For many of us, it’s a sacred event worthy of pilgrimage, and on August 21st, it’s right here in the US. Until recently, I didn’t realize how stunning a total solar eclipse was. Photos and videos fail to convey the experience, but descriptions, as shown by this video, start to come close.

To experience totality, you have to be in the path of totality. As shown in the map below, it stretches across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. With an eclipse path dozens of miles wide (the best viewing is in the middle ~70% or so of the path, which is still ~50 miles wide), one can likely find a place to see it from, if you start planning now.  

Host1707aDon’t let the fear of eye damage stop you from going

Simple precautions are all that are needed to guarantee safety.  The biggest uncontrollable concern is probably the chance of clouds on the day of the eclipse, August 21, 2017.  The cloud cover chart here shows that the odds of clouds are low – especially for the brown shaded area.  Experiencing the eclipse is easy – just be outside, in the path of totality, for the time of the eclipse.  The Moon will start covering up the edge of the Sun (if you aren’t looking for this, you won’t notice it happening).  From there, it will take around an hour and a half as the Moon covers more and more of the Sun.  Then, it will get darker outside, as the Moon fully blocks the Sun.  This total coverage will only last for a minute or two.  Then, the Sun will emerge from behind the Moon, exposing more and more of the Sun over the next hour and a half.  The moment of totality is around 10 am in Oregon, ranging to nearly 3 pm in South Carolina.  Look up the exact times for wherever you will be watching from.  This will hold millions of people in awe (including both Americans and eclipse chasers), and will be the most photographed, selfied, live streamed, and documented moment in the history of the Universe up to now, as far as we know.  Will the next Carl Sagan or Neil Degrasse-Tyson will be one of those millions of kids who stare in awe at the fiery ring in the sky this August?  Maybe she or he is a child you know, who you will bring to the path of totality?

Host1707bWhat will I do during those 100 or so sacred seconds?  Will I hold a ritual?  Just revel in it?  Hug my kids? Allison Ehrman suggests some ideas here.  I have no idea yet, aside from infusing my Cosmala with the shadow of our Moon, Luna.

Or would the descent into darkness (and then the return of the light) be better times for ritual activity?  After all, those times are ~90 minutes long each, and that would make the whole time of totality part of my ritual if I started before totality and ended after it.  Pagans who can’t make it (including those on other continents than North America), might want to hold a ritual at a chosen moment during the eclipse.  All religions have sacred times and sacred places.  For those of us with a pagan spirituality (as well as for many others), reality itself – and especially our Earth, Moon and Sun – often show us those sacred times.  For many of us (and certainly me), this August 21st will be one of those most sacred times.  What will those 90 seconds be like for you?  I don’t think that can be predicted – we can’t decide when the sacred will touch us.  

Blessed be.

 

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.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Equinox1

    Though I made the video to be accessible to everyone, did anyone catch the subtle Pagan thing in it?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “The Spirituality of the Eclipse”

    Can you define what you mean by spirituality? So far, when I have asked people using the word ( or the word spiritual) they have not been able to give me a clear meaningful definition. Instead, they employ the word as a method of making it appear they are saying something important or significant while actually conveying nothing.

  • JA Myer

    I did.

  • Jon Cleland Host

    Yes, that’s a very fair question – especially because (as you point out), there is a lot of cultural confusion there). I don’t think we should redefine words, so I’m restricting myself to the dictionary definitions. While there are many of those, #7 for “spiritual” at dicitonary.com has “of or relating to sacred things or matters; religious; devotional; sacred.”. What do we decide is “sacred”? That’s different for all of us, but the sacred, the religious, for thousands of years in culture after culture has been “what we think it is real”, and from that, “what we think is important”. As such, I think that anything that helps people see, in an emotional, moving way, that the Universe as revealed by modern science is a good approximation of “what is real”, and based on that, for me, “what is important” is anything that helps us build a healthy, sustainable future. For me, that fits well in a Pagan framework, though others might fit that into various other frameworks as well. Is that a more direct and clear answer than you’ve been getting?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Not particularly clear, but at least it coneys some sort of idea about what you are trying to convey.

    Most people would prefer to use a vague undefined term like spiritual instead of using the definitions you provided ( for spiritual and sacred).

    I suppose they prefer to say “I found the event very spiritual” instead of saying “I found the event very much what I think is real”.

  • Jon Cleland Host

    Yes – I think that “I found the event very spiritual” conveys the meaning better than “I found the event very much what I think is real”- or even “I found the event very important”. I think it helps convey the idea of being emotionally moving in addition to being important. After all, even as a hard-nosed scientist, I recognize that we are emotional creatures.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    ” I think it helps convey the idea of being emotionally moving in addition to being important.”

    I disagree. The word spiritual has so much baggage attached to it ( one being an implication of some sort o supernatural force) is so vaguely defined it does the opposite of helping convey the idea, since the person hearing the word may have no idea exactly what the speaker means.

    “After all, even as a hard-nosed scientist, I recognize that we are emotional creatures.”

    Sure. But then you should say “I found the eclipse emotionally stirring” rather than “I found the eclipse very spiritual” ( whatever that means).

    Using a vague poorly defined word to convey a message ( when the message can be conveyed using clearly understood words) is clumsy.

    When someone is talking to me and uses the word spiritual I ask them what they mean by spiritual; so far they haven’t been able to explain in any meaningful way…just like asking someone to clearly define what they mean by “god”.

  • Jon Cleland Host

    Ok, well, it sounds like we’ve had different experiences in conveying ideas using those various words. As I’ve said, my own personal experience is that my use of the word “spiritual” has gotten the message across. I haven’t had people (other than you, here) ask me what that meant. Of course, personal experience isn’t data, and I’d be quite interested in getting actual data. “Spiritual” is not “undefined”, as you claim. In fact, I gave the definition earlier. Yes, it can mean different things to different people, like most words – hence the use of having good conversations with those around us.

    As for “god”, usually, in our culture (especially in the Midwest, were I am), that term means the god described in the various Bibles, which is a vindictive, petty super-person in the sky who intervenes unnaturally in our world. While I may not think any being like that exists, at least it’s a relatively clear meaning of the word. Among other Pagans, “god” can have any number of meanings – hence again the use of good conversation. Best – Jon

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “”Spiritual” is not “undefined”, as you claim.”

    I did not ( as YOU claim) claim spiritual is not defined.

    What I said was “it is so vaguely defined”.

    By that I mean that if you ask 5 different people what they mean by spiritual, you are likely to get 5 different definitions.

    ” Yes, it can mean different things to different people, like most words – hence the use of having good conversations with those around us.”

    The fact that it can mean different things to different people means that it ) or any other word with different meanings) must be clearly defined for the conversation before any meaningful conversation can be had.

    “As for “god”, usually, in our culture (especially in the Midwest, were I am), that term means the god described in the various Bibles, which is a vindictive, petty super-person in the sky who intervenes unnaturally in our world. While I may not think any being like that exists, at least it’s a relatively clear meaning of the word.”

    It isn’t a clear meaning at all ( particularly when you do type it as god and not God). In any case, whenever someone invokes the word god they need to avoid confusion about exactly which deity they are referring to.

  • Jon Cleland Host

    Sorry I misunderstood your claim. Yes, that’s true, there are plenty of different ways people understand the word. At least it does have a dictionary definition, and that helps. I also agree that it would be good for people to define what they mean by god or God – but as I pointed out, here in the Midwest (and other parts of the country), it’s usually understood to mean the sky terrorist described in the Bibles. Are you in a conservative area like me, or a more theologically diverse area?