End of an Eclipse


In Norse mythology a chariot carried the sun across the sky and two wolves chased it (or more likely the horses pulling it). When they caught it, an eclipse occurred. There are expressions in old French and German, something like “God protect the moon from wolves.”

To Transylvanians eclipses were humans’ fault. Our bad behavior caused the sun to shudder and turn away in disgust, covering herself with darkness. Evil fogs gathered and ghosts swarmed the earth. Animals acted strangely and poisonous dew fell from the sky. Foreshadowing Chernobyl, after an eclipse, humans and their livestock wouldn’t consume water or produce.

This belief persisted into the 19th century. The poisonous dew could bring plague. Humans huddled indoors. If they had to go out they would cover their mouths and noses. They sometimes destroyed clothing caught drying outdoors.

Native Alaskan peoples, too, believed eclipses sent something vile descending to earth. This vile thing could cause sickness if it settled on cooking tools so at the onset of an eclipse women rushed to hide them or turn them over.

Since northern people were accustomed to the sun disappearing for long stretches during the winter, it’s hard to say how alarmed the Norse and Alaskans became at the loss of the sun, but elsewhere people clanged and pounded on pots and pans, screamed, shouted and cried out to scare away whatever evil spirit had descended. The Chippewa shot fiery arrows into the sky hoping to rekindle the sun.

Eventually they were always successful.

And Friday too, after the sheer escalation of anticipation, filled with anxiety too – would we get clear skies after coming all this way – and then the fusillade of emotion during the event, the diamond ring popped back onto the solar disc and the thing was over.


You remain quiet for a time, failing to quite absorb what you’ve just seen. But it’s more than just having seen the event, for you have also perceived, registered somewhere deep under the skin another, alien, raw thing, how the comforting life-giving sun was just five minutes ago an orange ring of flame surrounded by darkness, displaying another personality entirely, and not the benign one you prefer.

The daytime sun gives warmth. The eclipsed sun gives nothing. It is cold. More precisely it is chilling, an alien body performing raw, clinical, huge-scale mathematical astronomics, and once that has been revealed you are frightened to have seen that it is so.

And then you pack up and go, long before the moon has cleared the sun.

I’ve always felt the clearing after a storm, a real tempest of a storm, is melancholy. It’s a settling of accounts in the atmosphere that returns sunshine, the sort of thing better sorted out by the weather gods after dark than during the day.

It’s like that after an eclipse, too. It takes some time for the earth to settle back down from all that rambunctiousness.

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