Texas Eclipse Festival Crowd with Eclipse Overlay

Visiting the Dark Side of the Moon

The Texas Eclipse Festival was an exploration of psychedelics, awe, and what it means to integrate our shadow selves in totality.

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In 585 BC, the astronomer Thales of Miletus predicted that a total solar eclipse would pass directly over the frontlines of a bitterly fought six-year war. The Greek historian Herodotus credited Thales’s accurate premonition—the first ever recorded—with swiftly ending the conflict.

Flash forward 2,439 years, and I just tried and failed to name all eight planets in our own solar system (sorry, Mercury). And to be honest, I don’t exactly feel like an outlier in my cosmic obliviousness. On any given night, could you tell me the moon’s current phase without looking up?

Last week, while standing in a field of wildflowers in deep, rural Texas, I watched the new moon fully block out the light of the sun in the middle of the day. On an otherwise relentlessly grey afternoon, the clouds parted like a curtain—just before showtime—to reveal four minutes of awe-inspiring totality. Totality is the maximum phase of a total eclipse when the moon’s disk completely covers the sun. That’s when you can take off your glasses and check out the visuals.

READ: Here Are the Largest Electronic Music Festivals on Planet Earth

It kicked off with a 360-degree sunset. The temperature suddenly dropped as the afternoon light dimmed, and the sky grew dark enough for stars to pop out. And then—trippiest of all—the black circle of the moon directly overhead juxtaposed the sun’s corona, while solar flares shot out visibly in every direction.

A black hole sun is only possible because the moon is the exact right size and distance from Earth to lay perfectly atop the sun. That’s the total in totality. And for an Earthling, totality is truly the hero’s dose of stargazing.

When the celestial wonders subsided, everyone in the field of wildflowers screamed, hugged, cried, laughed, and spoke eloquent phrases that blended the divine and profane. “Holy shit!”

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All of this left me wondering: Given humanity’s long-term fascination with the mechanics of the universe, how did so many of us become so disengaged and disconnected from the one thing that unites us all? And why does it take an event as transcendent as an eclipse (or LSD) to revive our sense of wonder as we gaze into the sky?

Of course, my post-eclipse integration process was a little less than optimal, since the mind-bending spectacle of totality happened smack in the middle of an emergency mass exodus of a music festival. An hour after the big celestial show, I was on board a shuttle bus headed to Austin, just ahead of some apocalyptic weather that could have turned the grounds into a disaster zone if they hadn’t shut it down a day early.

But still. The sense of awe lingered. As one young woman sitting towards the front of the shuttle bus put it: “That was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen in my life except for maybe DMT.” 

Alex and Allyson Grey + Crowd (Courtesy of @ericallenphoto)

Awe Yeah!

Alongside psychedelics, awe has become a hot topic among researchers. Dacher Keltner, author of the new book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life, has directly linked the “ego death” reported by many high-dose psychedelics users to the immediate and lasting effects of awe. 

“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world,” Keltner writes. “Awe activates our inclination to share and create strong networks, to take actions that are good for the natural and social world around us.”

Following a 2017 solar eclipse, Johns Hopkins researcher Sean P. Goldy led a team that conducted a meta-analysis of Twitter posts from more than 28 million users. Those posting from within the path of totality were subsequently “more likely to use not only language that expressed awe but also… more prosocial, humble, and collective language that conveyed being unified and affiliated with others.”

Those findings check out. As I strolled through the Texas Eclipse Festival, I witnessed humans experiencing boundless awe at every turn. On the dance floor! Running around trippy art installations! Watching visionary art projected on the ceiling of a massive dome! Witnessing a mind-bending drone show create an eclipse! People jumping into the cold river! Long before the eclipse arrived, our swath of the path of totality radiated awe.

READ: Alex Grey on His Journey to Finding God

The festival also featured many heady speakers and panels exploring psychedelics, science, space, spirituality, wellness, culture, and technology. Artists Alex and Allyson Grey spoke of the eclipse in terms of the interplay of light and dark—true to their chosen last name. They noted that, like psychedelics, the eclipse can help us identify and integrate our shadow selves, or the traits people repress and don’t want to acknowledge.

Paul Stamets went a step further. The mycological rock star and psilocybin mushroom advocate described humanity as having reached “a nexus point in history,” where psychedelics stand among the last viable tools to avert a descent into perpetual darkness marked by malignant ignorance and ecological collapse.

“I believe this planet,” Stamets said unequivocally, “and this species, is dependent upon the psychedelic revolution to survive.”

A Kind of Human Paradise

The night before the eclipse, whilst swaying among the crowd gathered for Bob Moses’s ethereal set, I looked up and saw stars in the sky after 48 hours of cloudy weather. It gave me a burst of renewed hope that totality would indeed be visible. Then I surveyed the living beings swirling all around me and felt a wave of interconnection wash over me.

Whatever woo-woo stereotypes and stinging barbs people want to throw at the psychedelic festival scene—many of which are well deserved—I’ve nonetheless met so many brilliant, kind, and talented people at these events. All of whom share the commonality of appreciating the rare freedom afforded to one upon entering a temporary autonomous zone.

And so, as those Bob Moses beats built and built, and we collectively awaited the drop, I felt that whatever the past, whatever comes next, in that moment, dancing beneath the heavens, I was exactly where I belonged.

And then I had that most cliche, even cringy of thoughts: “Why can’t life just be like this?”

A reasonable question, really, and one that the esteemed psychonaut Terrence McKenna addressed head-on in a 1999 lecture titled Shamans Among the Machines. “We have the money, the power, the medical understanding, the scientific know-how, the love, and the community to produce a kind of human paradise,” Saint Terrence explained. “But we are led by the least among us—the least intelligent, the least noble, the least visionary.”

(Courtesy of @alivecoverage)

Taken Alone in Silent Darkness

If awe is indeed the antidote to our poisoned well, or the essential nutrient missing from our dysfunctional societies, the bad news is there are not enough eclipses to go around.

Earth can only experience five solar eclipses at most in a year. Some years see only two. And the path of totality—the only place you can truly experience an eclipse’s awe-inspiring effects—is a narrow band about 100 miles wide that often falls entirely in the ocean as it sweeps across the face of the Earth.

That pretty much leaves psychedelics as our home planet’s only known, reliable, renewable, repeatable, and achievable catalyst of mass awe. Plus, unlike an eclipse, five grams of mushrooms (“taken alone in silent darkness”) fits easily in your pocket, and they literally grow for free on cow dung. Or nearly for free on the top of your fridge

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Awe—on demand, and at scale. We have the technology. We have little to nothing left to lose. The shadow of a new dark age creeps nearer and looms larger with each passing day. 

So are we just playing, or are we playing for keeps?

(Courtesy of @alivecoverage)

What Will I See?

One night, around midnight, in search of some peace and relative quiet, I climbed to the festival’s highest point, which is where I encountered Black Rock Observatory (BRO).

For more than a decade, the astronomical nerds behind BRO have brought their love of the universe and a bunch of powerful telescopes to Burning Man. Almost immediately upon entering their space at the eclipse festival, I was handed a five billion-year-old meteorite.

“Tell me, what is your favorite thing about astronomy?” Nour Skaf, a post-doctoral researcher in astronomy at UC Santa Cruz, asked every space cadet who turned up. Quasars, black holes, dark matter, UFOs, pulsars, parallel universes—no two answers were alike. 

When people asked “What will I see?” before looking through the telescope lens, Nour deadpanned, “A martian on a nebula waving at you.”

Instead, they got a glimpse of Jupiter and four of her moons. Not a finger pointing at the moons, but the moons themselves.

Nour is deeply involved in the exploration of exoplanets, including those in solar systems that could potentially harbor intelligent life. The further she gazes out into the universe, the more she worries about our collective fate here on Earth. The conditions required to sustain life are specific and precarious, and we’re pushing our planet to the edge.

But there’s also a sense of relief from looking at galaxies so far away and so old that they’re light years beyond any of our terrestrial divisions and schisms. And perhaps that’s the path forward for humanity: No Gods, no kings, no masters—just the awesome spectacle of the universe that envelopes and unites us all.

Because according to the science, the most important byproduct of awe is humility. And humility is the one natural resource we’re most in need of renewing, if we’re ever going to have a chance at a human paradise. 

Towards the end of my time at the observatory, a child approached with his father, looked through all four telescopes, and said, “Wow!” and then wanted to know one fact about every planet.

“Do you know why Mars is red?”

About the Author

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DoubleBlind is a trusted resource for news, evidence-based education, and reporting on psychedelics. We work with leading medical professionals, scientific researchers, journalists, mycologists, indigenous stewards, and cultural pioneers. Read about our editorial policy and fact-checking process here.

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DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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