Solstice and Eclipses
Solstice. Yule. Christmas. The Midwinter Apex. All ideas of returning hope, of light and beauty in our perpetual-seeming darkness. Eclipse. Cataclysmic change and life-altering transformation, a phenomenon so terrifying to the ancients that they used to hire doubles for their kings, in order to avert national calamity.
This year, the Solstice and an Eclipse arrive together. On December 21st, at 3:13 EST, the moon will darken and turn red for all of North America to see. No wonder our ancestors thought it might be the end of the world.
(In fact, lunar eclipses are purely natural phenomena which occur when the earth passes between the paths of the sun and the moon: they happen regularly at about six-month intervals, usually followed two weeks later by a solar eclipse, in which the sun and moon are conjoined in the sky—the moon obscures the sun, from our point of view on earth. All perfectly normal.)
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What is NOT normal this time—or usual—is that the eclipse falls within hours of a Winter Solstice point. Such an event has not occurred in 456 years. (This makes no sense mathematically, as eclipse cycles are 19 years in duration.) So, in a spirit of inquiry, I decided to look up the Lunar Eclipse of 1554—for London, as North America was unknown among recording historians.
1554 was quite a year: Henry VIII’s eldest daughter Mary had ascended to the throne the year before, and in a famously bloody religious purge Catholicism was returned to Britain. Lady Jane Grey, the 6-Day Queen was beheaded; her cousin Elizabeth Tudor was imprisoned in the Tower and seemed likely to share the same fate. Sir Walter Raleigh (he who held cloaks, colonized Virginia, and introduced tobacco to Europe) was born that year; so was John Lyly, the English playwright who gave us Endymion and The Woman In The Moon.
The mood in the country was one of repressive religious fanaticism—undertaking God’s work as they understood it—and terror, should one not be of their faith.
The eclipse of December 18th had the Sun at the Sabian degree (27• Sagittarius) of “A sculptor at work” and the Moon (27• Gemini) at “A gypsy emerging from the forest wherein her tribe is encamped. The task, as the zealots saw, was to remake society after 20 years of Protestantism, and they poured out of the woodwork.
The Grand Cross of that chart (in mutable signs) was completed by opposition between Mars (conflict) at 19•Virgo (A swimming race) conjunct Chiron (woundedness) at 24• Virgo (Mary’s little lamb) and Vesta (ideals), Saturn (structure) and Nessus (spite), at 22•, 23•, and 30• respectively. (Those last degrees of Pisces are about bringing new ideas to birth, and imposing them on society.) Then as now Jupiter and Uranus were traveling together—in Libra, the sign of relationships, shaking up existing equilibriums with innovations which spread virally.
The Eclipse of 2010 is dominated by the Jupiter/Uranus conjunction in late Pisces, which squares the Sun and Moon. The Sun occupies 30• Sagittarius—“The Pope blessing the faithful”—while the Moon weighs in at 30• Gemini—“A parade of bathing beauties before large beach crowds”: the idea expressed is one of preference: of all the many cultures and ways of being in the world, which is the one which brings light (Solstice) into YOUR world?
This idea is challenged by Jupiter at 26•–“Watching the very thin Moon crescent appearing at sunset, a group of different people realizes that the time has come to go ahead with their different projects” and Uranus at the following degree of Pisces–“A harvest Moon illuminates the clear autumnal sky.” It is not enough to choose: one must go forward with one’s project (based on that choice) to its completion.
And in this dark and frightening time, which sometimes feels like the end of the world, one must go forward on faith—for nothing seems certain: that is the tenor of an eclipse—and hope in the new Light—and charity, that “lovely intangible” of the season. Yeats said it best: “A terrible beauty is born.”