Maverick Life

SKY GAZING

In a special celestial alignment, syzygy gives us eclipse magic

In a special celestial alignment, syzygy gives us eclipse magic
The evolution of the total solar eclipse at the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico, on 8 April. During the event, the moon passed between the sun and the Earth, appearing to block the sun. Multiple exposures were used in the creation of this digital composite image. (Photo: Miguel Martínez Corona / ObturadorMX / Getty Images)

An alignment of three celestial bodies – the sun, moon and Earth – resulted in a total solar eclipse.

A magical, mysterious thing happened on 8 April 2024, making us look up as it stripped the world of colour. A total eclipse of the sun has inspired myths and legends across time and has been regarded as a symbol of profound transformation. It has elicited an outpouring of strong emotion, prayer, fear, joy, wonder and awe.

A rare occurrence – there have been only 68 total solar eclipses in the 21st century – it has the power to affect and move everyone who witnesses it. And those who do not. It made me wonder why this event – which has happened again and again since the beginning of our world – has had such an effect on people.

As I dug for information, I came across a word I’d never heard of – “syzygy” – and discovered that one of its meanings relates to the alignment of three or more celestial objects.

Read more in Daily Maverick: North America experiences total solar eclipse, starting at Mexican resort

It was a useful word to discover in the month the eclipse literally turned day to night, dropped the temperature enough for observers to see their breath and prompted peculiar animal behaviour that included chickens falling asleep, dogs whimpering, rutting Galapagos tortoises, singing gibbons and dancing giraffes.

Syzygy: it’s a curious word that crisscrosses the English language, referring, in psychology, to a state of balance or union between opposing forces or elements.

The father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, used this astrological term to represent wholeness, suggesting that preventing men from exploring their feminine aspects, or women their masculine side, undermines psychological development. In its one planetary guise syzygy produces spring tides. Then there is the spiritual aspect of the word where hermaphroditic gods are called syzygies.

But for this column, I want to talk about the word as it refers to the alignment of three celestial objects, that mystical ending-beginning rebirth event that the total eclipse signifies.

Its reach extended way beyond the path it traversed across Mexico, the US and Canada.

Right here at home, people gazed at the sky – although southern Africa was not in the eclipse’s path, and it was nighttime already, we wanted to acknowledge this rare celestial event.

The Earth, moon and sun lining up in a sort of celestial polyamorous spooning stirred the blood of, well, everyone: mystics, curious onlookers, the religious, scientists, astrologers, astronomers, space junkies, animals. So, swathes of South Africans joined those believed to possess a deep understanding of the natural world and the interconnectedness of all things – and 32 million people actively watching – to celebrate this remarkable and surprisingly emotional moment.

A group of my friends performed cleansing ceremonies to release the past and usher in the new. We lit candles and invited transformation into our lives. It is good, we said, to use these transformative moments to make big decisions about how we go forward. And this eclipse was one of the biggest.

eclipse

A man watches the total solar eclipse at the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico, on 8 April 2024. Millions of people flocked to areas that were in the path of totality to experience the event. (Photo: Miguel Martínez Corona / ObturadorMX / Getty Images)

In the Eden region of the Western Cape, The Crags, a hum reverberated across the polo fields while totality crept across the sun in the northern hemisphere.

The humming, a friend who was at one of these gatherings said, created a unified resonance, with the focus on love, using the primordial sound of creation. This was the birthing of a new Earth, the reclamation of Gaia and sovereign humanity in which we find the right balance – syzygy!

It’s a concept as old as time itself.

Singer and actress Renn Woods reminded us of our need to embrace the coming of something new when she sang of the dawning of the age of Aquarius in the 1979 musical Hair. The lyrics were optimistic – that peace would guide the planet and love steer the stars “when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars”. More syzygy.

This age would usher in harmony, understanding, sympathy and trust; an end to falsehood and derision; the mind’s true liberation.

I was 21 when Hair – with its mingling black and white cast, and its antiwar theme and use of drugs – was banned under the apartheid government. But we kept in the loop and we hoped then, as the eclipse reminded us to hope now, for a guiding planetary peace. Heaven knows we need it in this time of disquiet: war, hunger, displacement, hate, rage, disappointment. So much death.

An old friend made the trek across America to be along the path of totality of this celestial phenomenon. She wept, she said, the kind of quiet crying that signifies awe. She reported a sense of being humbled, of the collective moment of wonder, of an intense feeling of being a part of humanity.

I watched the event, swapping channels to get a cross-section of views on dozens of YouTube video sites, and was moved myself.

People were clapping, falling to their knees in prayer, crossing themselves as they gave thanks for this ethereal spectacle. Others muttered incantations, lying prostrate on the ground.

I’ve tried to imagine what I’d think if I didn’t know about eclipses and hadn’t had sufficient warning that one was on its way. What would we think if the sun suddenly disappeared in the middle of the day? We’d be spooked. I would certainly think that it was the end of the world.

And so, too, did the ancients who believed that eclipses were a sign the gods were angry with them, that the sun would abandon Earth forever (“eclipse” comes from the Greek word for “abandonment”).

Nasa used the eclipse to conduct experiments, firing rockets into the moon’s shadow to see the effect it would have on the Earth’s upper atmosphere during the fleeting dimming of sunlight. Would this affect communication systems?

We’ll hear soon.

And then, within hours, it was all over and everyone returned to their normal lives, no longer looking up, no longer feeling a curious emotional tug. Some a little embarrassed by their outpouring of emotion.

We’re told to expect the next total eclipse in 2044.

I’ll be a very old woman with rheumy eyes and arthritis. If I can still move and see, I have promised myself to make the trek to where I can be in the totality path of this special celestial occurrence.

Fingers crossed. DM

Charmain Naidoo is a journalist and media strategist.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kathryn Galt says:

    Thank you for an informative and entertaining article, Charmain! Fortunately, you will be only two years older when the next total solar eclipse occurs on 12 August 2026. Book your flight for Spain, northern Portugal, Greenland or Iceland where it will be fully visible. (See: “Solar eclipses of the 21st century” on Wikipedia.)

  • Gavin Hillyard says:

    In my opinion this is a load of codswallop. Eclipses are a natural occurrences. No more and no less.

  • EJ JOUBERT says:

    It would mean quite a lot, and clarify things, if it is stated UP FRONT in the article that the eclipse was visible over only a tiny thread of Earth’s surface. Yes, I know it is mentioned in the middle of the article, and then a big deal is made about celebrating the even in SA. You may as well do the same every day of the year, since the random alignment happens all the time.
    Just a random event as planets and stars move in their normal, not-quite-random paths, as gravity dictates. Has meaning for nobody but a few humans inhabiting the planet we call Earth. A bit like a funeral, of which somehow there have been many these last few weeks. Only important for those left behind. The Sun doesn’t care, the Moon doesn’t care, and earth doesn’t care.

  • EJ JOUBERT says:

    It would mean quite a lot, and clarify things, if it is stated UP FRONT in the article that the eclipse was visible over only a tiny thread of Earth’s surface. Yes, I know it is mentioned in the middle of the article, and then a big deal is made about celebrating the even in SA. You may as well do the same every day of the year, since the random alignment happens all the time.
    Just a random event as planets and stars move in their normal, not-quite-random paths, as gravity dictates. Has meaning for nobody but a few humans inhabiting the planet we call Earth. A bit like a funeral, of which somehow there have been many these last few weeks. Only important for those left behind. The Sun doesn’t care, the Moon doesn’t care, and earth doesn’t care.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

home delivery

Say hello to DM168 home delivery

Get your favourite newspaper delivered to your doorstep every weekend.

Delivery is available in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.