Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Donkey, a Rope and the Nature of Solar Eclipses

Solar eclipses are extremely important in traditional astrology, increasing exponentially in importance as we ascend from horary through natal to electional and finally mundane techniques. But why is this? The scientists would say that it is because that legendary creature, Primitive Man, looked with awe and fear upon the shadow hiding the sun even as the sun stood high in the sky, and ascribed it magical powers. This is clearly nonsense, since if anyone understood the true nature of an eclipse, it was that nonlegendary creature, Traditional Man. Luckily for us, there exist fragments of myths so old they were ancient millennia ago, that indicate the true nature of astronomical phenomena, so that we, the moderns, may begin to understand eclipses like our ancestors did.


“Ocnus the rope-maker is a symbolic character, represented as being in Hades weaving a rope that a female donkey eats as fast as he can make it,” says Pierre Grimal’s phenomenal mythological compendium, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Grimal goes on to say that the meaning of the myth is unclear.

The symbolism here is strongly astronomical, since in the Tradition, whenever we have two of something, we are looking at a description of the Solar-Lunar relationship. Here, we have a man (Sun) and a female donkey (Moon), one which creates and gives, and the other which receives and devours. In the normal state of things, during the day, the Sun far outshines the Moon. But during a solar eclipse, the Moon interposes itself between the Earth and the Sun, and hides the Sun from our view. Many ancient cultures referred to the Sun being consumed by a dragon, a demon, or another being. Going back to Ocnus and the donkey, there is a crucial third element to the Soli-Lunar relationship; the rope made by Ocnus that is constantly eaten by the donkey.

The Rope

“All this is threaded upon Me, as rows of pearls on a string,” says the Bhagavad Gita.

In the tradition, threads, chains, and ropes all symbolize the omnipresent divine nature connecting all worlds. Our visible, three-dimensional world is but one of innumerable beads on a string, or as René Guénon more accurately puts it, “an indefinite series of horizontal discs strung on a vertical axis,” since the universe is ordered hierarchically.

The axis of the thread running through each disc or bead is itself a Solar (i.e. divine) symbol, indicative of the way the Sun’s rays intersect with the world. Ibn ‘Arabi writes that the Sun (Ocnus) carries its influence to the receptive Moon (the donkey), which in turn, transmits that influence to our world. Normally, the Moon passes over or under the Sun, therefore not eclipsing it, and we do not receive the full impact of Solar energy because the Moon and the Sun are not perfectly aligned. During an eclipse, however, they are aligned, and for just an instant, we get a glimpse of the thread connecting us to the world above, and through the thread, a hint of the upper world itself.

This is why eclipses have the greatest impact in the localities where the eclipse is total, and more generally, the areas where the eclipse is visible. The beads are perfectly aligned from the perspective of those locales and the thread is dead-on straight. For an instant, we see the string of beads, not just the bead we happen to inhabit. Of course, given that the effects of solar eclipses are generally disruptive to our bodily existence, we are obviously less than adept at handling such infusions of raw power. So much for the idea that we have somehow evolved.


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