For many of our Ancestors, the ghostly apparition of a comet hanging still in the night sky was a sign of fear and dread, a portent of impending doom. How fitting this unexpected, retrograde comet appears not just during the first pandemic in a century, but also when that pandemic is surging for many of us.
Yet, how wonderful it is that we can enjoy the majesty of a comet without any need for fear and dread! Comet Neowise was not expected, and with an orbit of 6,800 years, no records exist of it’s last visit. Though unexpected, the slow movement of the comet means that it will be visible for at least the next week or more. So if you’d like to hold a comet ritual, you have a little time to plan. Also very conducive to a comet ritual is the fact that the comet is very patient – working to fit into your schedule, even after waiting 6,800 years. This is because it hangs visibly in the sky for an hour or more each clear night, without the rigid, quick schedule of, say, a solar eclipse (the previous post about rituals for a solar eclipse may be useful in planning your ritual for this comet.
Like the rituals for a solar eclipse, one might charge ritual objects with the light from the comet. This light carries information about the comet’s composition, and by originally coming from the Sun, has all the magic of sunlight also. It’s staggering to think of the probability of each of these photons making it to the ritual object you are charging! Any sunlight at all is already improbable when one thinks about the tiny fraction of the total light of the Sun which just happens to have the exact path needed to reach anything here on Earth. Now, added to that, any light from the comet started as sunlight at the Sun, had the vanishingly tiny odds of hitting comet Neowise in the first place, and then, of all the light reflected by the comet, again only a tiny fraction has the exact path to reach your ritual!
This comet is the brightest comet since comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. That was a stunning comet, which I remember seeing over Lake Michigan as I finished grad school. Similarly, this comet could be a beacon in your life, a memory of where you were in your life when it came by during this momentous year of 2020. As humans, we can take note of the symbolism, and with that awareness, decide what symbolism we choose will be healthy to apply. Without critical thinking, the symbolism of events like this can be harmful – as we already saw with the fear and dread our Ancestors experienced. That harmful symbolism is not confined to the distant past, sadly, and we already have bible prophecy videos appearing about this comet. Many of us may remember that in 1997 when comet Hale-Bopp appeared, superstition abounded. One example of many is when, led by an “incarnation of Jesus”, the Heaven’s Gate church bought new Nike sneakers, and killed themselves in a mass suicide.
What do I need to do to see Comet Neowise?
It’s easy! Simply go to a place away from city lights an hour or so after sunset, find the Big Dipper and look below it (see diagram). I was surprised how easy this was! I didn’t see it at first, but with regular binoculars, quickly found it and ran to tell the kids. Then, as it got a bit darker, it was obvious to everyone, standing there as a silent sentinel to the realities of our place in the solar system. Here is one of our pictures.
Naturalists of any religion have, I think, a special connection to our world. As the only world we have- which are are part of, we cherish it and revel in it, savoring the gifts this Universe has to offer, during this one brief life we know we have. Comets are one more of those wonderful gifts.
The Author: Jon Cleland Host
Starstuff, Contemplating: We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.