Did the Eclipse Reflect or Eclipse the Awesome Nature of Gaia?

Perhaps you’re tired of reading about solar eclipses—after all, the media kind of went bonkers with eclipse coverage over the past month. But the eclipse raised a lot of questions for me and I want to chew on them a bit with you.

I actually almost didn’t go see the total eclipse—I’m not sure the exact reason, perhaps the guilt around wasting fuel, the fear of being trapped in disaster-fleeing-esque traffic, or the not fully grasping how spectacular it’d be. I remember a full week of disrupted sleep as I ruminated over whether I should go or not. And then, after watching the new PBS documentary Great American Eclipse the day before the eclipse, I looked at the map again and realized it was ‘only’ a three hour drive to get to Montpelier and into the path of totality. I had driven further for a karate workshop, or just for a vacation, so why was I hesitating so much?1

Of course, once I drove there (taking nearly twice as long to get to Montpelier as normal), I understood my corporeal hesitation. But my back, neck, and butt, while aching by the end, survived the trip and the total eclipse will be seared into my memory until I return to Gaia, it was that powerful.

So, a week later, let me share some reflections both from me and from others in our community (and a special thanks to all those who shared their experiences with me and on the Gaian discussion group!).

Total Eclipse over Dallas, Texas, April 8, 2024. (Image from NASA/Keegan Barber)

Spectacle, yes, but Nature’s Spectacle

I’ve been thinking about whether the eclipse revealed Gaia’s beauty or instead eclipsed it. This one feels like a soft ball. Sure, the eclipse was spectacle (with some literally gathering in stadiums to watch it),2 but unlike a lighted ball dropping on an arbitrary date, or loud, colorful, and toxic explosions being detonated in the sky (on another arbitrary date), the moon passing in front of the sun is nature’s spectacle. It causes no pollution (though the human seekers did), it is not annual, but is a truly rare and wondrous sight to see and feel (as the temperature drops around you).

From my vantage point on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier, there was a festive quality, with music playing, shops and bars full. But also a respectful one—the music was turned off some minutes before totality and people enjoyed it in silence (applauding as the eclipse’s diamond ring appeared). It was gorgeous, and deeply emotional—I’ll admit I cried, and beforehand found myself reaching for my son’s hand often, as totality got closer.3

To watch the moon, which out of celestial coincidence is currently positioned at just the right distance to block out the sun,4 slowly creep in front of the sun for an hour, and then to suddenly see an illuminated dark orb in the sky, was a truly humbling experience. It was, well, divine.

Experiencing the eclipse also got me thinking of ancient humans and what they must have thought. Would they have understood that the moon got in the way of the sun and was casting its shadow on the Earth? Or would they start creating myths and justifications for magic, supernatural beings, or even a great Sky God. Would they use this phenomenon as an excuse to justify actions (whether war or migration or simply killing the shaman who failed to predict this)?

The amazing thing is that already 2,700 years ago the ancient Babylonians figured out what eclipses were and even identified the cycle that guided timings of solar eclipses (the saros cycle). Considering their rarity (and the fact they couldn’t travel around the world to confirm their findings) that is one impressive feat. So while some cultures hid from the eclipse, scientists identified their significance millennia ago and participating in that great legacy is both a way to connect with our humanity, and with the awesome nature of Gaia.

As one Gaian noted after the eclipse, that moment of darkness has an “out-of-time sensation,” where “life is going on normally, but not here, not right now.” She also noted how her ability to do meditative exercises to feel a part of Gaia were heightened after the eclipse. So not just spectacle, but a moment out of time that offers us a rare opportunity to connect with the larger Earth being that we’re all part of.5

A different type of spectacle. People watching the long lines of traffic driving home from the eclipse. (Image by Ayhan Assadourian)

What do non-humans think about all this?

In our latest Gaian Council meeting, while pausing to give space for our non-human board members, what came to me was a realization that animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. The idea that they are Cartesian automatons, which when darkness alights for just moments, switch over to their nighttime routines (like sensored streetlights) seems to perpetuate the myth of us being separate from nature and other ‘inferior’ species. The stories that peppered the media, filled with self-biased reporting of animal actions that few pay attention to at other times, of course reinforce this idea, but more likely than not, many animals (like humans) never even noticed (or couldn’t notice, being underwater or asleep or focused on surviving). That’s not to say some animals didn’t react, but did they react instinctively, or perhaps, like us, festively, calling out in surprise, fear, joy or reverie? Perhaps that’s anthropomorphizing, but we are animals too, and perhaps we, too, responded animalistically—whether in surprise, fear, or excitement.

That said, the eclipse was something wondrous to behold, and while I resisted being swept along in eclipse mania, I’m glad I did, for it was like nothing I had ever seen and certainly heightened my connection to the Gaian system we’re all part of. Indeed, the eclipse can only happen on the new moon6 (which makes logical sense, but did you really know that??) and as I read the Moon Fasting Prayer that day, it dawned on me that the eclipse is one of “Gaia’s primordial and sacred cycles,” and to participate in it, was truly a gift.

The 2024 Eclipse in all its glory. (Image by Jeff Geerling via Flickr)


1) What really put me over the edge was realizing that I was already regretting missing this eclipse and was starting to search for future ones. I even imagined traveling to Spain in 2026! So I realized I really wanted to go, and that the least carbon intensive option would certainly be this one!

2) As were the travelers themselves, with many folks standing on overpasses watching the long lines of cars snake along the highways.

3) Other Gaians reported lots of folks chatting around them, and one found a quiet graveyard to observe from. But I think the beauty was so transcendent, that while the setting complemented the eclipse, it could have been enjoyed in a parking lot nearly as much as a national park.

4) A phenomenon that will only stick around another 600 million years or so as the moon is slowly raising its orbit (by about 1.5 inches a year). Eventually we’ll just have annular eclipses.

5) That’s not to say we should travel around the world seeking these out. Ecological considerations must be weighed carefully, as with any travel (along with the reality that it might be a cloudy day, which some Gaians experienced as well).

6) While I didn’t get into it here, it is worth exploring what type of ritual should be part of a Gaian’s eclipse experience? There was no uniform way we experienced it in our community, though recognizing they are always on new moons, suggests fasting might be a part (heightening the liminal quality of eclipses). But being festive, should the fast be delayed or revoked on these special new moon days? Perhaps that is a question for future generations of Gaians….

Want more? Watch NASA’s three-hour broadcast.
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