29 December 2010

Harmonics, Hippie Shit, and the End of Darkness

Blended Panorama - A little Christmas Day Skiing at Copper Mountain, CO - December 25, 2010
You may have observed the total lunar eclipse this winter solstice. What a spectacular and mysterious event! The moon slipped into the earth's umbra, where only the diffracted, fiery glow of thousands of simultaneous earth sunsets could reach; there, it reflected to the night side of the earth a subtle, eerie, alien orange light. As the shadow crept over the lunar surface, the darkest day of the year--the longest night, in the northern hemisphere--got darker.

What does it mean? It depends on how superstitious, or scientific, or spiritual you want to get. Actually, if you're superstitious, I'm sure you already know what the eclipse means.

Some Numbers. The last time that a total lunar eclipse coincided with the winter solstice was in 1638 (372 years ago). Prior to that, the same coincidence occurred before the year 0 (over 2000 years ago). However, the next time that it will occur is only 19 years from now in 2029, which is an effect of the Metonic cycle. It is rather awesome that we get to observe such events in this lifetime. For example, do you recall Mars' perihelic opposition back on August 27, 2003? Or Shoemaker-Levy colliding with Jupiter in July 1994? I suppose it's also possible that astronomical events don't make you as giddy as me.

Etymology. Regardless of your giddiness level, the eclipse is rife with spiritual symbolism, which I'll get into a bit farther down. Let me be clear that the word "spiritual" has long occupied a strange limbo place in my mind. That is, for many years, I have connotated it as something akin to "religious," in that you might have heard me say something such as, "I'm not a religious person, but I am spiritual," without knowing exactly what I meant by that. Even though the word is clearly derived from "spirit," it seemed to hold a significance beyond this that I could not fully grasp.

Until recently.

Wormwood (Artemesia Absinthium)
Image obtained
A Story. In early January 2010, I finished applying to grad school and shored up my plans to leave Boulder, CO (which finally occurred in September 2010). Upon submission of the final grad application, my good friend Casey and I brewed the second homebrew in our experimental "-unk" series. Among other common beer ingredients, this brew contained banana peel, licorice root, and a full ounce of dried wormwood (the active herb in Absinthe). We named it "Van Gogh's Junk" after the well-known, absinthe-using, ear-removing artist, but we should have done some research first: wormwood is the second most bitter herb on the planet, and is hence effective in generating appreciable flavor in quantities on the order of 1 Tablespoon per Gallon. We used probably 10 times too much, and it permeated the ale with the unpleasant flavor of dish soap. I drank ONLY enough of the stuff to discover its horrid flavor. Wormwood is also a psychoactive substance, which, with prolonged or intense use, leads to insomnia, stupor, and increased stomach acid (keep it away from pregnant women). I discovered these effects firsthand, and it sucked. (I imagine this is why Van Gogh cut off his ear.) It was only in retrospect, a few weeks later, when the fog and insomnia and anxiety had cleared, that I could process this. I can only guess that somehow, during the vigorous first week of fermentation, fumes from the roiling liquid affected me quite strongly. Any ideas?

Slightly more complex than the vivid
sparks I see. Image obtained 
Residuals. Since then, I have intermittently experienced visual aberrations (colored sparks, clouds, etc.) that look similar to what I have been told LSD flashbacks are like. Interestingly, these visuals are always affiliated with people, and some people more than others, though I am uncertain exactly how at this point. Is it an aura? Is it a thought energy? A divine spark? Another being? The conclusion that I have come to is that I somehow altered my spirit with an intense dose of wormwood because these visuals drastically increase in number and frequency in the presence of other people. I also seem to be able to control their frequency through my willingness to see them. I see the world ever-so-slightly differently now. In fact, I might say that I see it more deeply now. At first it was very unnerving, and I still have trouble letting these visuals happen, but I have come to at least accept that this is part of me. I'm still trying to figure out exactly where these colors that I see exist. I was recently intrigued by the fact that the visible spectrum is almost exactly an octave of color, approximately 810-405 THz, or 370-740 nm by c = λf (violet to red, respectively). This means, for example, that red is a harmonic of violet at half violet's frequency, and there are countless more harmonics generated by repeatedly halving the frequency. Much the same way that a certain note plucked on a guitar will elicit a sympathetic resonance in other strings if they are tuned correctly, it seems reasonable to me that there might be harmonic colors beyond the visible spectrum (likely in the infrared?) that excite these visuals in real color for me. If you had asked me about such things a year ago, I would have called it "hippie shit," but it sure is hard to dismiss these direct experiences as fake. At the very least, these have suggested a tangibility to the spiritual world. I'm curious if there are events and energies swirling around us that we have forgotten how to see. So now, when I say I am "spiritual," I mean that I feel intertwined with the earth, and other people, and their intentions and spirits, and other possible entities beyond my control, and I am trying to let that entanglement develop. 

So what spiritual significance might the eclipse have? As much as we live on top of the earth--in buildings, in cars, and on roads--rather than with the earth--in a forest, on the soil, perhaps barefoot--and as much as we attempt view ourselves as separate from the workings of nature (a socially popular missive?), humans are inexorably coupled to the cycles of the earth, the moon, the solar system, the galaxy, and the cosmos. Some cycles are imperceptible on human timescales, such as the rotation of the galaxy. Some cycles are easy to see, such as the orbit of the moon or the rotation of the earth. Perhaps the more perceptible a cycle is to us, the more it affects us. (For instance, as evidence, observe how our sleep-wake cycle coincides with the earth's rotation.) By this reasoning, the eclipse is a special point in a cycle to have observed; it is likely full of meaning to the human spirit. This solstice was the darkest day of 2010, but it was darker still from the eclipse, making it one of the darkest days in recorded history. In one sense, this means it can only get lighter from now on, which is an interesting metaphor. Knowledge previously shrouded may come to light in times to come; personal epiphanies may increase; positivity may reign. You may discover a calling in life, or make a big change, or find a new love. This is the end of darkness. Let me know what happens.


  1. Well spoken, Nate. I'm always pleased to see where your musings go after our conversations. I also feel that I am moving out of darkness and into light. Through different media, too. It is an exciting time, I think, for all of us.

  2. Awesome. I've been meaning to comment on this ever since you wrote it. It seems like I share the wormwood story at least twice a week. Thanks for sheading some light on where it has taken you now.

    BTW I have a site with some friend from around the world, all working on human awakening or some likeness of it. If you ever feel like sharing some ideas I think people would get a lot out of it. http://letterstotheuniverse.us/

    1. You know, I still find myself talking about this from time to time. It was certainly a defining experience.