In a critical scene from True Grit (2010), grizzled old Rooster Cogburn carries badly injured young Mattie Ross on horseback through the cold winter night to seek medical help. Shaped by a culture with a profound regard for horses—that will, in fact, kill a man for stealing one—Cogburn nevertheless pushes the steed cruelly, digging with his spurs until the poor creature’s mouth begins to foam. We feel its agony, and the old man’s exhaustion, and Mattie’s fading strength as she stares up at the lyrically beautiful, inky expanse of prairie night sky. When the horse stumbles and falls, there is nothing for the old man to do but shoot the poor animal, scoop the injured girl into his tired old arms, and continue the race on foot.
The Sabian Symbol for this Solar Eclipse is Pisces 9, THE RACE BEGINS: INTENT ON OUTDISTANCING HIS RIVALS, A JOCKEY SPURS HIS HORSE TO GREAT SPEED. I didn’t know what to make of the Sabian Symbols when I first came across them; I read them too literally. Sometimes, they do play out that way. But they’re a bit dreamlike, too, and I find I usually get more from them through a sideways glance, my eyes a bit squinted. From that perspective, one can easily see the horse fleeing at great speed across an icy prairie, note that the jockey is an old man with an eye-patch and steely determination, and that the rival he’s trying to outdistance is a young girl’s death.
He rides like hell, because if this girl dies, it will hurt. This is a fine girl, a brave, unsentimental one. Her death would make the world less than it could have been. Old Cogburn may be a drunken mercenary when Mattie hires him to avenge her father, but he wasn’t always, and he still recognizes a quality human when he sees one. She’s the kind of girl who makes you stand up a little straighter, one with a spine of steel, who makes up with true grit what she lacks in years.
And so we understand his wild midnight ride across the prairie, undertaken without hesitation and without a single care for his own safety or for the welfare of the horse.
What can I tell you? This is the image that came to me when I thought about this Pisces Solar Eclipse—the last we’ll have in this mysterious sign until 2024. Everyone I know remarks on how fast the world seems to be moving, as though we’re all spurring our horses on to greater and greater speed. There are some who seem intent on the race itself, consumed with the need to be first, to be seen as better than, smarter than, righter than everyone else. The brutality of the race, the damage to the beautiful animal, are all in service of nothing beyond their own small interests, their preening and hubris, a fever for punishment and vengeance.
This was my rather dismal first reading of this eclipse degree’s Sabian Symbol.
But then I remembered Rooster and Mattie and their desperate midnight ride, and I realized that the rest of us are running a different kind of race. We ride with urgency, because something is at stake, something fine. It has something to do with the way it feels to love people, the terrifying, trapdoor sensation of losing them, the redemption we feel when we sacrifice ourselves for someone else. It is about the ecstasy of merging with our fellows, like stars collected in a single, throbbing galaxy. If we lose all of this—the bleeding, pierced, and sacrificial Piscean heart of it all—then the world becomes less than it could have been.
And so, we ride—through the icy darkness, pushing ourselves and our mounts to the brink of exhaustion. With everything at stake, we ride…mortality nipping at our heels, goodness threatening to slip away from us, against the inky backdrop of a perfect, infinite sky.
© 2017 April Elliott Kent