Updated: Oct 17
Now firstly that's not a euphemism! We are about to enter eclipse season in which the two luminaries, the sun and the moon are, for a few minutes at least, bereft of their light. Their natural brightness quite literally gobbled up by shadow monsters. Just imagine what our early ancestors must have felt when they first observed an eclipse?
Eclipses occur when there is a particular alignment of the Earth, Sun and Moon, which we can also think of as body, soul and mind. Due to the planes in which the planets rotate being different, the earth moving around the sun in one plane and the moon moving around the earth in a different plane, eclipses only happen at certain times of the year. In 2022, the 25th October offers to us a solar eclipse - the sun obscured by the full moon and in early November 7th/8th a lunar eclipse takes place. (Solar eclipses are only possible during a full moon and lunar eclipses at new moon. ). Now we've got the science/astronomy stuff out of the way let's get to the juicy bit - the story of those shadow monsters that eat the luminaries!
Earlier this year my dharmic theme for classes centered on the Hindu creation myth - the churning of the milky ocean or Samudra manthan. It's a wonderful myth, brimming over with insights on multiple levels.
A bitter war has been raging ceaselessly between the Gods and the Demons. All 3 of the worlds ( earth, sky and heavenly realms) are blanketed in carnage, joy has disappeared from the Cosmos. And to make things worse, Indra, the god of the gods, goes and thoughtlessly disrespects the particularly cantankerous and powerful sage Durvasa - the last remnants of beauty and morsels of abundance vanish. Vishnu, the sustainer lord tells the Gods they must churn the milky ocean to bring forth the elixir of immortality and restore life and vitality to the worlds without delay. But, they can only perform this task with the help of their enemies, the demons. So the two waring factions meet and eventually agreement is reacheh; they will put aside their differences - for now, in order to avoid absolute obliteration and they will share the rewards. Of course, each side secretly intends to keep the Amrita (elixir of immortality for themselves). Nevertheless the process begins. Vasuki, the king of the serpents, becomes the churning rope, wrapping himself 3 and a half times around the Mount Meru whose base is supported by Vishnu himself in the avataric form of a turtle. The demons hold the head of the snake and the gods the tail and they begin to churn, back and forth for a really long time. Eventually the ocean, probably sick of the churning, gives up her gifts, one of which is the precious and much coveted immortality liquid. The demons who are bigger, brasher and stronger, grab it but Vishnu beguiles them in the form of the alluring and enchanting goddess Mohini. Intoxicating the demons with desire she has them mesmerised, and is able to convince them that she will share the elixir equally with all but naturally she'll be starting with the Gods. The demons, so focussed on the possibility of possessing Mohini, don't even think to consider or object to her proposal. Well most of them that is.
One demon Svarbhanu, detects a slight bulge at Mohini's throat, a vague outline of an adams apple perhaps. He senses that this might be a guise to deceive. So he decides to disguise himself as a God and positions himself between Surya and Chandra, the Sun and the Moon, and patiently awaits his turn to receive the Amrita, trying as best he can not to appear conspicuous. As Vishnu pours each drop of the precious fluid into the Gods mouths, Surya and Chandra simultaneously sense a darkness emanating from the shadowy character between them. Just as Vishnu is about to deliver the elixir to the demon in disguise they realise what is happening and call attention to the imposter. Boom, Vishnu swiftly unleashes his sudarshan chakra, a spinning disc so powerful that it decapitate the demon instantaneously. However, the moment of decapitation occurs at precisely the moment the elixir touches Svarbhanu's tongue. So, is he immortal or is he dead?
According to vedic astrology, Jyotisha, Svarbhanu's head becomes the North node of the moon, Rahu and his body the south node - Ketu. Jyotisha which existed before modern astrology and in this context regards Rahu & Ketu as two of the 9 grahas. Graha means literally to grab so the grabbers of attention are the 7 planets which can be seen from Earth and the two nodes of the moon's transit. Unlike the planets, Rahu and Ketu have no physical form, they are in fact mathematical points indicating the furthest points of the moon's orbit - the outer reaches or shadows.
When eclipses cause the light of the powerful luminaries to go out, confusion abounds. Just as when we are thrust into actual physical darkness we fumble around for the lights and typically trip over objects such as ill placed and very hard furniture corners! During an eclipse there are essentially only a few minutes when the sky goes dark and psychologically this relates to our inability to know which way we are going.
Rahu is associated with egoic desire, the things we yearn for, chase after, convince ourselves we need or deserve - head and heart battling each other. Ketu is past karma exerting itself, forcing us to work through things rather than try to jettison them and pulling us very much back to the reality of our own mortality. It's the in-between which feels so uncertain yet is certain to shake us into some awareness of what path we are on and whether we need to change course.
As the eclipses visit us, notice what you are being pulled towards as well as away from. Are you following an illusion and do you need to reset course or is there a new awakening that can perhaps flow forth when the light returns.
Oh and given the spirality of Hindu mythology you may also see the potential to see into an illusion that you've been labouring under or something that was hidden which, when the shadow moves on, becomes a little clearer, maybe a truer path opening up in front of you.