Day Zero: Venus Transit the Sun
By ERIC FRANCIS
I feel for myself and detect only awareness of my senses: the bright, sweet late afternoon light, the unfamiliar air of the English countryside, the fresh sheets that cocoon my body as I awaken. My senses feel penetrated, soaking in the experience. I reach for memory, and my life preceding this moment echoes like a vague dream from which I have awakened on another planet in another time. I think of the recent places I have called home: Seattle, Vashon Island, even London the previous morning, and it's like they don't exist now and barely existed in the past. They are gone and I am helpless about it, but I don't care. My senses spread into the unfamiliar room. I see something I recognise: my Tarot cards on the table near the clock, and I realise I've been sleeping about 90 minutes. I draw a card, feel deeply reassured, but now I don't remember what it was. It is 6 p.m. the day of the Venus transit, June 8, 2004.
Even that feels like it never happened, or happened long ago.
But it was only hours ago, though now the experience seems to be covered in a protective cloak. That is how ritual spaces can feel: like a little dimension that opens up where things that somehow seem normal occur; then the space closes and it's like the experience stays within that space, or mostly so. Impressions and distorted memories remain.
At about 4 a.m. that day I awakened in another room of the same little hotel, dressed and, with my travelling partner, drove the mile into Avebury Circle in Wiltshire, west of London. Avebury is a vast stone circle that has been the site of Earth-based religious worship for about five or six thousand years. At daybreak it's silent, and there is no travel on the small highway that cuts through the site. The circle is about 380 metres across, so large that there is a small town in its midst, which is absolutely silent at this hour. An outer ring defines the larger space, surrounded by what seems like a dry moat, called a henge. At one time this seems like it was either filled with water, or was designed to create an energy channel around the site. The henge rises to a berm about 20 feet high and on top of this is a path that leads around the temple. This is geomancy: using the natural landscape and some landscape architecture to create a defined space for a specific purpose.
Inside, there are two smaller circles. We enter through a gate that contains a little sheep meadow and are outside the southernmost circle. The sheep always seem to be here, making their sweet little bleating cries. The atmosphere is not quite night, not quite day. I set my belongings down and put a towel on the ground in front of a small marker that holds the space where a large stone once stood, and I sit down. All the preparation for this day, the quest for understanding, the astrological charts, the numerous articles I've written, the 2012 connection, are elsewhere. Ritual is the world of direct experience. It is the experience of movement. What is moving at this moment, however, is an argument. My travelling partner is trying to explain to me why she feels like I've been ignoring and abandoning her. I in turn have felt that emotionally, she's been nowhere to be found. It is a tense discussion and I am not in the mood to explain myself, and what I say does not seem to matter; so I try to listen, and I tell myself, okay, you came all this way, and this is what's happening. Just go with it.
Out of my bag I take my hard-back copy of Esoteric Astrology and put it in my lap, and draw a card and set it on the dark blue cover. I am looking right at The Lovers, upright and obvious. In fact this is one of two cards I used to illustrate the Venus transit while writing in the Daily Mirror a few weeks before. We are not lovers but we are in a mode familiar to many lovers, and that card tells me I am in the right place at the right time, having the right discussion. And it says, paraphrasing the announcers in the London Underground, mind the gap. I look and see the Sun rising and all at once I get it. The Sun conjunct Venus, on the node of Venus, in Gemini, the sign of The Lovers card: recognising all those patterns of relationship and realising how those patterns add up to a culture of endless war. And then letting go of them in this moment, this space that is now opening. My travelling partner asks me what I'm thinking and I start to explain this. But before I can get two sentences in, a man in a white cloak and staff appears before me.
At this moment, the Sun has just begun to rise above the horizon, in the trees directly in front of me.
As the prior conversation unfolded, I had noticed that a figure appeared in the shadows, amongst some stones standing within the inner circle. But I didn't focus on him, I just noticed. He was moving in a pattern. He now introduces himself as "the keeper of the stones." I glance upward at him and am on my feet instantly; I shake his hand with a slight bow and ask his name; it is Terry. Terry does not waste any time explaining that we are within the Sun Circle of Avebury Henge, an ancient Druid site. To the north, out of our view, is the Moon Circle. Because this is a solar event, he says, it is to be observed in this circle.
He walks and we follow him toward the inner stones, which seem to be placed more randomly, in a row, then that row curves to the left, and there is one extra stone out to the right. He asks me not to take notes. "The oral tradition," is all he says by way of explanation. I leave my new Moleskine travel notebook in my bag.
In front of this row of stones there is a big concrete marker, about four feet high, which he says marks the approximate place where an obelisk once stood. He gestures toward the ring of the Sun Circle toward a huge rectangular stone: the Vulva stone, he says it's called. When the obelisk was there, on Beltane sunrise it would cast a shadow long enough to touch the Vulva stone. (When I take a closer look at it, there is an intricate, beautiful and naturally formed shape of a vulva in this rock about 12 inches long, leading into a little cave.) The obelisk, it turns out, was broken up and made into a house nearby -- the fate of many stones, whose places are held by little markers based on a survey from the 1600s. The obelisk was measured while it lay on the ground in pieces at about 24 feet tall. Terry says it was really much higher.
The stones in the centre mark the astrological signs. About half of them are there; half have those markers that were placed there in the 1930s. The sequence, I learn, begins with Capricorn, to the far left as you stand facing the Vulva stone. This marks the direction where the Sun rises on Solstice morning. We are standing inside a vast sundial designed to mark the seasons. The sundial itself is a temple set into the Earth. The seasons marked by this device were the turning points in the cycle of the year and the cycle of human life. There are numerous temples in this area, which both archaeologists and modern Druids believe were part of a complex of sites with related purposes; each is dedicated to a planet. Terry says that Stone Henge, the most famous of them, about an hour's drive away, is the temple to Mars and was the war council chamber. We visited that site yesterday and from my feeling of the place, his description fits.
Avebury Henge, he says, is the only temple to be equally dedicated to the male and female principles, the Sun and the Moon. From this discussion I can see that astrology is one branch of a much larger ancient system of practice, belief and ritual, a technical skill of the priesthood that served a functional role of determining and working with the timing of events. We are standing inside the chart.
Every now and then Terry unfolds a leather thing about 10 inches high and looks out at the Sun through it. He explains that it's a piece of glass used in goggles for an oxyacetylene cutting torch, which is as hot as the Sun. He hands me an extra piece, which is about four by six inches. It is number 11 glass of this variety, the darkest shade, about 1/4 inch thick. It looks like a sheet of onyx. I am sceptical. But after a while watching him stand there staring into the Sun, I realise he's been doing this for a while, as in many years and many eclipses, and he can still see (20/20, he claims).
Finally I look through the glass. The world drops into ultra-high contrast and the Sun appears as a perfect disk above the trees, dim and eerie. There is no sign of Venus; it's still only about 6 a.m. by this time and the transit is supposed to begin at about 6:30, when Venus touches the edge of the Sun. It will last about six hours.
More people start to arrive. A pair of witches, women about 55 years old working together, arrive and call a circle, using a piece of string and efficiently marking off 12 points with crystals, like it was some kind of carpentry project. One launches on a brief discussion on how this site is connected via ley lines to many other temples, including the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau, where I participated in high ritual in 1996. That connection shoots through my body and I feel the truth of it. The pair finish their business and head over to the Moon Circle. There is apparently some kind of New Age gathering over there; a Shaman, said to be from Arizona, who turns out to be from Massachusetts, is doing a ceremony.
I remember that I have not called in the directions myself, and I stop and do that, facing each of the directions, calling on its strength, its spirit and its blessing, turning to the next, and then to the Earth and Sky. This is basic practice for all ritual and since I'm neither leading a ceremony nor consciously part of one, I've forgotten to do this.
Slowly a group gathers, but it's never cohesive; there is no central ritual. There is just a lot of activity, and Terry standing with his staff a metre in front of the obelisk marker, where he says he's stood for every ritual since 1969.
Then he sees it; Venus has cleared the corona of the Sun and is a visible dot against the rim of the solar disk.
He cries out, holding up his arms: All hail Venus transit the Sun!
He hands me the extra glass. I look, and sure enough, there it is, a little black dot on the Sun. There is no room for astrology here; this is an event in-body. It does not exactly feel momentous; it is just right there, merely unusual and new.
Then I realise with my intellect that the Earth, the Sun and Venus are exactly aligned for the first time in 121 years and I'm watching it from this six thousand year old cosmic radio dish. A vast temple made to the Earth, from the Earth, of the Earth and part of it. I feel the countless rituals that have occurred here in the past, the celebrations, the sacrifices, including human sacrifice. I look straight at the Sun. It's a truly strange feeling. I let the image impress itself into my consciousness, my memory, my body.
The next six hours feel from my perspective now, writing in London three days later, like they happened in dreamtime.
Every half hour or so I watch the planet move across the disk of the Sun, letting it sink into my cells. At some point I strip off my clothes and lay for a while under the direct rays, to take them in as thoroughly as possible.
Through the day, a BBC crew arrives, takes some shots through Terry's glass after interviewing him, and leaves; amateur astronomers with their telescopes arrive; little parties gather around the astrology sign marker stones. Tour groups arrive and leave, part of the usual activity at the site. Terry seems always to be standing in his spot, staring at the Sun.
Periodically during the transit the reality of what is happening percolates up to my consciousness: that we are at a point in time that demarcates the trailhead of an eight-year path that leads to 2012, a year always spoken of in ominous tones. I know from my research last week in London that the a cycle in the Mayan "long count" of 5,125 years or 1.8 million days (13 baktuns) concludes that year, beginning some new phase in the great cycle of history. We now stand in the threshold of what feels like an eight-year antechamber to that time, and this is the moment of crossing into that chamber. The Earth itself seems to be shifting in consciousness, space and time.
Finally the event reaches its peak after 9 a.m. At this point I am laying naked on a big flannel shirt and Terry gets my attention. "You'll get burned," he says. "Venus burn, fine with me," I reply. He hands me a bottle of English mead. I take a drink and it is amazing. I have not had water for hours. He gestures that I should drink more, and I do: it has this smooth, sweet and natural feeling as it goes down.
In a while I dress and wander off in search of water. The little store inside the henge has opened. Later I stop at the Moon Circle, where the group, having finished its ceremony, re-convenes to do a staged drumming shot for television. I reach into my Tarot cards and pull out the Devil.
I go back to the Sun Circle. By 11:30 a.m. it is nearly empty. There is an old friend of Terry, a woman named Buffie. She is funny and smart; like Terry, she exudes astrology but is not an astrologer per se. She, too, has the significance of the stones mixed with her blood. My travel partner drops in every now and then. Terry has determined that he will break the circle at 12:23 p.m., when he's calculated that the event is over for our latitude. It is getting close. He encourages me to take a few last looks as Venus nears the other edge of the Sun.
The last hour is both fast and slow; we are basically waiting it out, the three of us, exchanging stories and commenting on what we're feeling, making fun of the whole thing, whatever. Terry for the most part continues to stay in his spot, quite literally holding space; holding open the space and grounding the experience with the power of his consciousness and a whole lot of tradition. Finally, it is 12:15 and he begins the closing ritual, first facing to the South and releasing the winds and spirits of that direction, saying boldly that we will be calling on them again.
Then, with a voice that hits like a thunderclap, he says: Venus transit the Sun! Hail and farewell! Buffie repeats after him, with a depth and volume in her voice that startles me. I say it myself. Hail and farewell!
Terry turns to the West and releases that direction, always saying that we'll be needing you again. Venus transit the Sun! Hail and farewell!
Then to the North, then to the East, facing where the Sun arose.
Hail and farewell!
Hail and farewell!
Hail and farewell!
Farewell to the millennium turning. Farewell to the day. Onward into the spiral, down into the concentrated acceleration of history and whatever it may bring. Onward into the next world: the interworld, the world before the door, 2,924 days away. ++