Yesterday, millions of people from Texas to Japan were fortunate enough to witness one of our solar system’s most amazing light shows - an annular eclipse of the sun. As the moon moved over the sun to block out 94 per cent of its light, they were treated to the spectacular sight of a ring of fire in the sky.
While these days eclipses have turned into a tourist attraction, you can still understand why our ancestors were terrified of them - especially when the sun was blocked out completely. One wonders whether they would have seen the ring of fire as a good or bad omen.
I’ve seen various interpretations of this sky metaphor - one being that the sun turns into an eyeball, looking into your soul - but it’s hard to miss the obvious parallel with a wedding ring. But who or what is getting married?
In Buddhist mythology, the ring of fire symbolises the process of transformation humans must undergo before being able to enter the sacred territory within. It both bars the uninitiated and symbolises the burning of ignorance.
Or perhaps it’s just about love, as Johnny Cash sang in his song Ring of Fire.
Even if we can’t see them with our own eyes, eclipses are powerful cosmic events. I can attest to the fact that witnessing a solar eclipse is quite unforgettable.
I was in Plymouth in August 1999 when Devon and Cornwall were on the path of totality. Despite the fact that it was a cloudy day, I’ll never forget the eerie feeling when the light dimmed and a flock of about 50 birds fell silent and started circling overhead.
What took me by surprise was the emotional impact it had on me - I remember feeling overwhelmed as the sky darkened and being comforted by a woman I had only just met. I can well imagine why the ancients would have believed a total eclipse was the end of the world!
The UK won’t be in the path of totality again until 2090, so it really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one that set me on a very different path in life.
I’ll be fascinated to see what effect yesterday’s annular eclipse will have on humanity. Let’s hope we won’t literally have to burn in a ring of fire… :-o