I wake late. No time for elaborate costume or other devices. I had thought to do something more complex, to go to the sea and watch the eclipse take place over across the ocean. But a long days worth of work behind me (writing a funding bid for a local charity and teaching mindfulness in the museum amongst other things), an evening and early morning of catching up on correspondence and – like the White Rabbit – I was late. In fact at 8:35 I realised the eclipse was already happening. Throwing on some clothes I rushed outside. From the end of my garden (which is a reasonable size, formed of three terraces and south facing) I could see the disk of the sun in the clear morning sky. A disk with some area missing. It took a second, especially in my somewhat hazy state, to fully recognise that this was it. The movement of one celestial body across another, an eclipse.
Years ago, in 1999, I’d worked with a small group of magicians (including the wonderful Greg Humphries) on a series of pieces of magical work on the run up to the total eclipse, which passed over England, much of Europe and into India, that year. While the magic had all gone well the moment of the eclipse was hidden, in visual terms, from us by the Cornish clouds. So here I was 16 years later, actually witnessing one. Though this would not be a total eclipse, with around 90% of the sun occluded over Devon.
I grabbed a few things; joss sticks, a lighter, a warm blanket I bought in Nepal, and the black mirror made for me by Levannah Morgan. In the absence of special glasses or some other ruse this would have to be my way of observing the event.
I climb up onto the roof of my summer house (aka ‘The Shed’), throw down a few wizzened up apples, dropped up here by the trees in the orchard. I wrap the blanket round me and invoke the force of an ally spirit, breathing smoke down across the mirror and up towards the darkening sun. The trance established I stare down, my head bowed as though in prayer, so that I can look into the mirror that I hold, facing the sun, on my chest. There, in its darkness, is the gibbous light, not as is usual of the waxing or waning moon, but instead of the sun.
I widen my awareness, looking up directly at the eclipse, I am deeply aware that I witnessing our binary planetoid passing some 238,855 miles away, orbiting between the part of the planet I’m sitting on and our star. ‘The Sun is God!’ said J. M. W. Turner and in many respects he was right. Almost all life on earth is dependent on the sun and while our current theories suggest that the first life-forms ate chthonic hydrogen rather than sunlight (as plants do) now, 4.5 billion years into the story of life on earth, most species have made the switch to a solar diet. The sun, that marvellous star which each year allows our planet to bask in 3,850,000 exajoules of energy. That great mass 332,946 times heaver than the earth, which by some improbable luck, is an object which appears as just the same apparent size as the moon when observed by a curious ape that stands looking up on days like these. I wonder, if the earth were scaled up to the size of the sun how large I would be, or if I remained my current size, how small would I be compared to the expanded, sun-sized-earth dwelling humans? Perhaps these Wonderland thoughts are inevitable when watching an eclipse because of all that business about size and distance and maths. I wonder if I should be as little as a tardigrade, one of the most awesome power animals on the planet.
Of course I’m not the only person in my locality watching the eclipse. Some neighbours are out peering through their eye-blinding-sunlight proof glasses. Perhaps disappointed with what they can see from the ground one of the local teenagers launches a rather impressive drone into the sky. At what seems like several hundred feet up it trains its camera on the sun. ‘Anything?’ I shout down ‘Yeah, I can see it!’ comes the reply.
In the nearby supported accommodation for older people a posse of my elders are taking tea and chatting, looking up. Other background sound, of traffic and of course birdsong, dies down although the absence of the birdsong I don’t fully notice until it starts up again as the eclipse comes to an end.
I am feeling into the web of wyrd. This practice is something I mentioned before, but in this instance it is the act of watching the eclipse that locates me in the Now in the magic circle. I can feel all those connections between myself and the various spirits (spirits of people, of times, of places and of ideas). I can examine and perhaps change these connections from this nexus of trance and magical eclipse time.
As Rahu swallows the sun the air becomes cold. The shadows lengthen and the light is, well just weird. I focus on the cold, how much colder is the vacuum of space that lies between the sun and moon? Perhaps I use some of this cold power to cut off things I no longer need, to slice these webs of wyrd as the moon slices up the sun.
Rituals for transformation of experience that arise from desire (aka results magic) always need to be handled with care. Michael Staley once wisely observed that magick is often a rubbish tool for doing things in the universe because, in results magic terms, we know that a ritual can easily have a) exactly the effect you wanted or b) exactly the opposite effect you wanted or c) no effect at all. Would you, Mick asked, to happy to use a gun which behaved like that?
The trick to making results magic work is of course to spend time tuning into what Mick called ‘the subconscious’, or perhaps our (True) Wills, the Tao or whatever. Explorations like mine at this eclipse are about this. They are opportunities to plug into the universes and help us build our souls (the idea of soul making as an active process is one I’d recommend as nice way of conceptualising that LHP ‘divine self’ vibe without going all Ayn Rand and having no friends). While there are times when our desires are such that we need to act, to do results magic, we need to do so from a wise place that pays attention to these tides of the ‘subconscious’ that we seek to ride. Practitioners who fail to do this simply do the same spell again and again, ignoring the lessons when their results fail, and taking great glee when there is an apparent result which has more to do with confirmation bias and regression toward the mean than their sorcery.
Learning results magic, or gaining Siddhis if I’m going to be all AMOOKOS about it, is all very well but if magic really works it needs to say a lot more about the human condition than whether we can wank over a sigil to get a bigger car, or stab a poppet in the hope that a perceived foe will have a heart attack. Magic needs to help us connect with the spirits of life, of love, of death of transformation. It asks much bigger questions of us than ‘what do you want today?’ And while the techniques, sometimes imagined as being of ‘higher’ and ‘low’ magic are much the same (in structure) the intention, the desire, of one is much bigger than the other (in much the same way that the sun and moon look identical sizes, whereas this is far from the truth). The competent magician, in my view, is one who focuses much of their time on this big scale stuff (because it’s not a firm division some ‘high magic’ also look like ‘results work’ in terms of personal psychological transformation and transmogrification).
Magic isn’t a very directly effective mechanism for getting your wish-list of desires done, however it is a great way of putting you in touch with your desiring self so you can transform that. The wise magician is thus someone attuned to context. Sure it makes sense to use magic to aid your healing powers if you are a doctor, nurse or find yourself in that context. Learning to use magic to extend the limits of our achievable reality is where really good (ie successful) results magick flourishes, not in the equivalent of railing at the moon not to swallow the sun, or in shooting bows and arrows against the lightning.
The Cheshire Cat grin of the crescent sun opens up like a large smile, the light begins to flood back on to the earth and on to me. I take a photograph of the mirror and send it to Levannah. She is on top of a hill in Devon, having been Sitting Out all night to await the eclipse this morning. Electronically we are connected (I’ll write another time about the use of phones in occult practice, but for now you may wish to try this excellent tool). Later that day I send messages of greeting to many other friends. Because in that moment, as I text Levannah, I am struck by how unbelievably wealthy I am in terms of friends, and moreover friends who are so talented, beautiful, caring, fun and more. One of the Four Noble Aims in Hinduism is ‘acquisition of wealth’ and while I’m mindful in the teaching of Atu X (and Bill Hicks) that ‘it’s just a ride’, I’m grateful that in this moment of power, as the sun in released from the grip of the snake, I can truly feel the warmth of that wealth and enrich my soul accordingly.