“By looking up, I see downward.” – Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Danish nobleman, astronomer, astrologer & alchemist

Monday, 14 December 2020 was the only Total Eclipse of the Sun, and even then, its “path of totality” – the narrow track of any eclipse across the Earth and its waters – merely clipped South America. Fortunately, NASA, one of the United States of America’s most globally generous organisations, provided a live stream for its 130 or so seconds. Such heavenly wonders once terrified humankind. Today, with the competing pleasures of SnapThat and video games and TikTak and online shopping and FaceZoom and the rest of the digital popcorn, we mostly shrug. This is a mistake.

Foreknowledge of heavenly movements is no longer quite as useful, perhaps, as it was to Christopher Columbus in 1504; having outstayed his welcome, the explorer predicted a total eclipse to intimidate the natives of Jamaica into further provisioning his men. It is an event purloined brilliantly as a plot device by H. Rider Haggard in King Solomon’s Mines and again by Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and then by several other writers (who are inveterate thieves).

I learned of the sun’s total eclipse, and its power to cower, from Look and Learn – their vivid illustration of the Columbus eclipse can be found here. Something of that magic and mystery was still apparent on August 11th in 1999: watching from Wimborne Minster in Dorset. First came the eerie hushing of the birds, then a slight chill, and finally the weird shifts in the light and dark. Then we trooped back to the office for some less memorable activity.

That was this week’s Monday. Next week’s Monday is even more exciting – if not astronomically then astrologically. If that makes you roll your eyes, then bear with me – or at least note Sir Isaac Newton’s tart response to Edmund Halley’s scepticism: “I, Sir, have studied the subject. You have not.”

On 12 January this year, not only did Sir Roger Scruton shuffle off this mortal coil to run his eye over the architecture of heaven’s many mansions, and the first lab in China to share the Covid-19 genome officially close “for rectification”, but a mob of heavenly bodies also turned up, tooled up, with menace aforethought.

Saturn, the very old school headmaster of the Zodiac, God of Time, and gobbler of his own children, strolled downstage in his own house, Capricorn, arm-in-arm with Pluto, God of the Underworld, for their first meeting there for over five hundred years. The last meeting had been in 1518, a year who’s summer saw the advent of a “dancing plague”, which saw people dance themselves to death – Kitchen Disco, anyone? – and came months after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenburg, formally commencing the Protestant Reformation, a development which took some effort to resolve.

This year, these stellar bruisers came mobbed up in a “stellium”, a tight conjunction of several “stars”– including Eris, Goddess of strife and discord…

And so began the can-can of this most Capricornian of years – at least since Saturn tipped up at home, drunk-dancing with Uranus, around the time of the 2008 financial crisis (a habit he’d last been up to in the Great Depression). The long and the short and the tall of all this? According to many astrologers – who I fully realise are about as welcome among “serious” and “modern” people as rich vegans are among the poor world – this is The Great Chronocation, and must not be ignored.

The language alone of al-kīmiya is a delight, is it not? And its degradation, and the rise of the drear jargon in “The Academy” – as Gore Vidal always called, it with a kind of unspoken hiss – is a loss in return for a queasy mix of gains. (It all feels a long way from Richard Holmes’s Age of Wonder, doesn’t it? Even if that other scientifically awestruck Richard (Dawkins) is now available on Twitter to abuse those he disagrees and diminish his reputation.)

Talking of which, back to the “serious” astrologers, with their metaphysical idea that this year’s music of the spheres is a great forcing designed to deliver a new Enlightenment. A necessary breaking of eggs to allow us to safely “onboard” an omelette in the form of another billion or so souls to complete this century’s journey. But the year’s great gust of fresh air is, finally, about to arrive, they say – heralding no less than the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

That fairly awful song was ahead of its time by around half a century, and over-promises – an end to “falsehoods and derisions” and the mind’s “true liberation”. But there is something to be said for seeing the back of the often rather dour Saturn at home in Capricorn and his more jovial arrival with Jupiter, in Aquarius. This all happens on Monday.

Even more remarkably, for those of an apophenic persuasion, this event, by which Saturn and Jupiter delicately dip their toes into the Aquarian waters for the first time in hundreds of years, commences on the very day of the Winter Solstice. Even the sourest sceptics are sometimes warmed by this event, and its various siblings and cousins from Yuletide and Sol Invictus to Hannukah, Diwali, and Christmas, all celebrating, in some shape or form.

This year there will be no great feasts of pulled piglet at Stonehenge marking the return of the light as the days lengthen. I partied through the other Solstice at several Stonehenge free festivals.

Anyway, that is darkness – let us return to light. Tiers and tears aside, we can all mark this moment in some way, for as you will have surmised, this is an alchemy of symbolism. On Monday, throw an extra Yule log on the fire in honour of the ancients and their Gods, light an extra candle, pour another glass – and spill a little of your libation on the Earth itself – and give thanks that the light is returning, as it always does.