Drumming the Eclipse

Seeing a solar eclipse in Totality has been one of the outstanding items on my “to-do list for  a thoroughly satisfying life on Earth,” or what some would call a “bucket list.” With an opportunity to see it only 600 miles or so from home, obviously I was going.

My friends Hank and Norma recently moved to Medford, Oregon, directly enroute about 2/3 of the way there. So obviously, I was going to visit them, too.

2535 N&H

Drive up Saturday, visit Sunday, drive to the Totality site early Monday. The plan seemed simple… until the media frenzy around the eclipse began heating up, with nearby hotel rooms going for ten times the usual price, and no camp sites within 100 miles or more. Warnings went out days in advance about expected traffic crush—bring extra food and water, even gas, in your car, in case you are stranded in traffic for hours!

On the drive up, another complication arises. Around Redding, I notice a lot of smoke in the air. It is so intense and widespread, I stop and post on Facebook about it. Where is it coming from? At Mt. Shasta, it’s worse—the mountain cannot even be seen from the highway. When I stop in Yreka for gas and lunch, I ask if anyone knows where the fire is? They don’t, but the smoke is even thicker to the north, in Ashland.

Maybe going to Corvallis, the easiest drive on the Totality zone from Medford, isn’t good enough? Maybe it will be too smoky? Would Newport, on the coast, be better? Can we go further east, to Madras? These questions remain until it’s time to leave, except that the eastern route is ruled out: aside from impossible traffic (5 hours to go 1 mile, at last report!), roads are being closed due to smoke and fire danger.

But I reach Hank & Norma’s house with no difficulty Saturday evening, and we have a nice visit.

The morning is really delightful, as we go to join with a Balkan folk dance/music jam nearby. (I am sworn to secrecy as to the actual location, as the group is private). I dance more than I thought I could, and the joy of this fills me with elation. I feel Tania’s ghost dancing with us—this was her greatest pleasure in life, and I am happy to share it with her memory. (There’s a picture of Tania and me dancing in Greece, here, bottom of the page).

Norma is planning a dinner party for me and a few of their friends. I suggest do a little pre-eclipse ritual, which is a welcome idea. Meanwhile, I am trying to hook up with a couple more people, to make best use of my car (and driving stamina). I make contact with a young couple, Xander and Kylie, itinerant musicians and gem traders. Seems like a good match. As I speak with them, Norma invites them to dinner!

So we have 8 for dinner, and a little ritual. I convey my vision from a previous warm-up I did last week. This eclipse will cut a line all the way across the US, a line of complete “shutdown” of normal daylight. It’s like turning off your computer and rebooting, when a system isn’t working.  And wow, it’s not hard to agree that our “system” has not been working. Let’s celebrate this shutdown. Let’s contemplate all the buggy programs we want to abort/quit/shut down. And then, all the new, better programs we want to launch cleanly at the reboot.

Once this is explained, we charge the circle with joined hands and sound. I ask people who they want to invite as Powers/Allies/elements to supervise the process. Light and Dark, of course. Mother Earth. Amida Buddha. And Coyote, whom I dare not neglect, with such an uncertain journey ahead.

We call out the things to be shut down, with gusto and drumming. Two minutes of silence to contemplate the space Between the Worlds, when the sun is dark. Then I go to the keyboard—with Hank has thoughtfully pulled out of the garage so I can play some music—and begin some “music to invoke new realities by.” People call out the new paradigms to be manifested. And we are finished. 

It feels a bit weird, leading a ritual that no one knows, or expects, even when everyone is theoretically open to it. I tried for maximum participation from everyone at each step, but no one else here was trained in the Winggit Tradition, as I have been. Still, I’m satisfied. I’ve set the vibe and the expectations for myself and my passengers/companions. This turns out to be important, of course.

It would be nice to get some sleep, but realistically, at this stage of excitement, how could we do that? It’s safer to hit the road right away, in case traffic is as bad as expected. It’s not even 9 pm when we start.

At this point, I might mention, I have just learned that neither my companions has a driver’s license. It’s all up to me. If this turns into a long battle through traffic, I will be exhausted.

As we drive north from Medford we talk about the smoke, which is reportedly covering the entire state of Oregon. Still high from the ritual, I suggest that we banish it, using the powers of Wind and Sky that still linger among us. I ask the Elements to move the smoke away until after the eclipse, please. With this decided, we head toward Corvallis, at the center of the Totality zone.

Driving from Medford to Corvallis should take about 3 hours, and it does. No traffic worries. But then what? Where will we go to watch the eclipse—and where will we sleep in between? I have rarely leapt into a major event with so little tactical planning (Woodstock comes to mind).
The kids have no opinions, but when I insist that they contribute to blind-luck process, Xander tells me to turn west. The road goes to Corvallis, then toward Newport. Ideally, we might find some high, open space, where we can camp for the night and stay to watch the sun in the morning. But as the road reaches the crest of the coastal mountains (not terribly high here), I’m out of juice. Off on a side road, I find a pullout to park in. I grab my sleeping bag and stretch out on the grass. Xander and Kylie brought no bedding—what were they thinking?—they sleep in the car. We make it through the night with no problem. And what’s more—the sky is clear! I see not just the brighter stars, but the Milky Way, many more stars than usual, and several meteors, before I sleep. So the visibility problem is banished. Our spell has worked!

In the morning, heartened by the bright clear sky, we drive back to the nearest town, Philomath, for coffee. Rather than settling in some public park surrounded by a community in which we are strangers, we start driving around in search of a vacant hill. We have a couple of hours, but reach several dead ends. I dig deeper into my Coyote-driven guidance system, and start taking turns at random. We are going up a mountain on a one-lane road that turns to dirt…and see an open, east-facing hillside, with room to park at the bottom. This must be it! At the top of the hill, there’s a great view all the way across the Willamette Valley. The air in the distance is slightly hazy, but we are above whatever impediment to vision there might be.

No sooner have we picked a place to sit when another group of people come up to exactly the same spot. The alpha is leery of us, but not quite unfriendly. “How did you find this spot?” he asks. –Just driving around.

“Well, we all live right here.” I need to placate his proprietary interest, so I ask, –is it cool if we hang out here? He seems surprised that I would ask, then acts much more friendly.

More people are coming. It turns out that this spot is well known in the area as a great viewpoint. Thank you, Coyote Guidance System! We move down the hill just a few feet so aren’t in the middle of this community, where they all know each other. But we were here first, so I take the attitude that it’s our ground, and they have come to our party. I need this attitude to continue with the ritual work that we intend, ignoring the fact the about 40 people are right behind us, watching and maybe listening.

2565 Xander flute
Xander playing native flute during the eclipse

I had not planned to do my ritual work in “public,” as it were. For fleeting moments—especially when someone was obviously pointing a camera at me—I wondered what the locals thought of us. Will pictures of this crazy old hippy cavorting on the hill get onto social media? But I wasted no time on this. Life is too full of magic to waste time on other people’s opinions. There is real work to do here. I’m comfortable with my relationship with the Otherworld. Fortunate that Xander and Kylie are here to buffer me from the attitude of Muggles; even more fortunate, they have already done the ritual with me, last night, and know what is going on.

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As the eclipse begins, Xander and I play music and chant. (How did I keep the beat going with the rattle and hold the camera at the same time? Magic!)

As Totality approaches, I rev up the drumming energy, and chant blessings to the Moon Dragon, who eats the sun to destroy all that is old and useless. Then I go silent. As the sky goes black and the Corona appears, the crowd begins to whoop and howl. Coyote, haha, they all know you here! So of course I join in, even though this stage of ritual is , in theory, “silent”— no, it’s simply devoid of prior programming. The ecstatic vision of the sky turned inside-out, as it were, calls forth its own spontaneous response.

[ Here is a great time-lapse video of the eclipse! LINK  This should put you in the mood… ]

The feeling is like an orgasm, calling forth energy from every fiber of being, demanding that it recognize That Which Is Greater.

The light returns, I complete my ritual of invocations and wishes, enjoying the quasi-postcoital bliss. We play some more music, and linger until most of the locals have left. As we leave, the few who remain offer us some applause. It seems sincere enough, but I have no interest in engaging. One last look out toward the valley, and we see that the smoke is already beginning to return. The bargain has been kept.

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Xander enthuses about the experience. He says he got some new insight about his music. I wonder, but do not ask, if it’s from just the eclipse, or from the ritual, or from the rather weird exposure of doing our music/ritual jam in front of strangers? For me, this seems significant. Maybe taking my shamanic work more public is in the cards.

The return trip is harder. Here is where the traffic is bad (Corvallis to Eugene, 40 miles in 2+ hours). Later, my abbreviated sleep catches up with me, and I have to take frequent breaks from driving. Approaching Medford, the front of my car begins to shake—a tire is tearing itself apart. We barely make it back; I get to Norma’s house and  go to sleep almost immediately.

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