Daily Egyptian

‘We are all connected’: Spiritual groups to celebrate eclipse

By Amelia Blakely

Though the total solar eclipse Monday will bring many from the scientific community to Carbondale, the experience will also be a spiritual one for local groups.

One such organization is the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship. The Rev. Sarah Richards said the eclipse will be a chance to reflect on humanity’s role in the cosmos.

“You have this realization of how small we are in the cosmos and the universe, and at the same time a feeling that we are all connected,” Richards said. “We’re a small part but we are a part of that.”

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Richards is using this theme for her sermon Sunday, titled “Our Place in the Cosmos.”

With Carbondale expecting between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors for the astronomical phenomenon, Richards said the eclipse provides an opportunity to welcome strangers to the community and her fellowship. She said she expects Unitarians from all over the country to attend her 10:30 a.m. Sunday service.

“It has to remind us, wow, we’re a part of something beyond our fathoming,” Richards said. “We’re all going … to be changed by it.”

For many in the Southern Illinois Pagan Alliance, the eclipse is also a time for reflection and balance, said Tara Nelsen, the group’s founder.

“Many pagans feel the balance of sun and moon energies, the male and female energies associated with the sun and moon, are powerful symbols to experience,” Nelsen said in an email. “To be able to watch the light-and-dark-balance ebb and flow in a short amount of time can be a powerful visual representation of the unification of solar and lunar energies.”

Nelsen said since paganism is a nature-based spiritual practice, any natural phenomenon — like an eclipse — is seen as sacred and celebratory.

The group will host a public event 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at Dancing Willow Farm in Makanda to celebrate the celestial affair.

As the eclipse happens, there will be a small ritual to “[break] down barriers to come back out into the light,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

Nelsen said many pagans will use this time to look at their lives and decide what aspects are no longer needed or welcome.

“This can be a great time to look at the ‘darker’ parts of one’s life — the things, people, habits, ideas and so forth — that are not providing positive energy,” Nelsen said. “[To] acknowledge those things while the world is cast in literal darkness … to walk away from the bad and walk toward the good.”

Some religious groups don’t have specific ways to celebrate the eclipse, but will still use the time to bring their communities together.

“Most tribal nations didn’t care at all about eclipses,” said Brian Wilkes, the minister of the Four Rivers Native American Church in Pinckneyville. “We did have math and science, and we still do. We had some of the most accurate astronomical systems.”

Some tribes in the Native American community believed long ago that eclipses occurred when a large snake mistook the sun for an egg and ate it, Wilkes said.

“You’d either wait for it to pass out the other side or you had to get together and frighten the snake into vomiting it out,” Wilkes said.

Even though the Native American community does not believe that anymore — and hasn’t for many years — Wilkes said the upcoming eclipse will give them a good reason to come together.

“You have to do something to keep your spirits up,” Wilkes said. “[This] is actually a community healing approach.”

The Four Rivers Native American Church will be holding a gathering 11 a.m. Monday to speak about Native American traditions. As the eclipse reaches totality, there will be a period of silence.

This is the first total solar eclipse to cross the entire continental United States from coast to coast in 99 years.

“It’s something to be observed and appreciated,” Wilkes said. “See the wonder of the dance of the heavenly bodies, don’t be frightened about it.”

Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected]

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