Totality: Bringing Souls Together with Events

The solar of Eclipse 8 April 2024

Professor Joe Goldblatt

It’s hard to find something 30 million people can agree about.” This summative exclamation from a BBC news presenter following the total eclipse of the sun on 8 April 2024, perhaps best encapsulated the euphoria surrounding this rare scientific event. One eclipse observer added that it was a privilege to witness together the “majesty of the planets.”

I suppose that having dedicated the majority of my life to creating, producing, and studying planned events this recent phenomenon that was indeed planned by a force far greater than any human could manage reminded me of the power of major events to bring the family of man, woman, and those who self identify in other ways, together for four minutes of sheer astrophysical ecstasy.

During my career I recall moments when thousands of heads were upturned to witness major pyrotechnics spectacles that I orchestrated. More recently, when following the slaughter and kidnapping of over 1500 innocent people on 7 October 2023 in Israel, 500 people assembled in a local Edinburgh Cathedral rose together from their seats and chanted “We Shall Overcome!”

It has been my experience that these moments described by the symbolic and interpretive anthropologist Victor Turner as communitas produce time out of time moments where our human family spontaneously assembles collectively to share our joys, sorrows, and our triumphs as happened when those good souls recently rose in our cathedral. Turner was a Scotsman whose mother was instrumental in creating the original concept for the National Theatre of Scotland. He often worked as an ethnographer in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) with the Ndembu tribe and developed the original concept of social drama in order to account for the symbolism of conflict and crisis resolution among Ndembu villagers.

Members of my generation, whom I refer to as elders, because we are over seventy years of age, often refer to younger generations as being self – centred perhaps due to the lack of catosphoric or euophoric major events that would naturally bring them together. Previous generations that confronted two world wars that forced people all over the world to stop wringing their hands and start rolling up their sleeves to save humanity for future generations experienced a more natural sense of communitas due to the evil of aggression.

Today our conflicts appear to be distant and isolated and our battles are more often fought among individual social groups such as seen daily in the conflicts surrounding gender identity. We do not seem to have a major event, such as that we have recently witnessed in the sky, to bring our hearts and minds together in a collective purpose to unite us.

Therefore, I wonder how we extend the four minutes of awe we have recently shared with the total eclipse to perhaps create a total and sustainable event that will draw inspiration from as one recent observer described “the majesty of the planets.”

I suppose the only way to do this is to recognise that although an eclipse is a rare event only occurring every few hundred years, the possibility of creating and producing events that unite us is an opportunity for every human being, every community, and every responsible citizen who is committed to creating heaven on earth through our daily actions.

In my Jewish traditon there are many different views regarding the concept of heaven. Some biblical references include gates, thrones, and angels. However, some scholars dispute these images and prefer to focus upon creating heaven on earth by cultivating a good soul through good deeds and when our soul works with others we may collectively create a better world for all. According to many Jewish scholars, the soul is eternal and therefore what we achieve during our lifetime becomes part of the future of human experience long after we die.

The Orcadian poet George MacKay Brown best understood this when we wrote the lines that tourists who arrive at the pierhead in Stromness, Orkney first see. He reminds us that as we enter Orkney we are becoming part of an old ballad and we shall add our new lines to this ancient poem. I am convinced that every day we add a new line to an old song of life.

MacKay Brown also found further delight in small miracles such as the rare birth of a wee girl upon the scarcely populated Isle of Hoy when he wrote about Lucy proclaiming “Unite…celebration…new…a pledge and a promise…brightness and light.”

I am also convinced that we may similarly find opportunities to unite in celebration and collaboration through events, whether the catalyst is helping one another to overcome our troubles or protecting and sustaining the ecosystem.

We do not need to await the appearance of another eclipse to bring us all together on a daily basis. This opportunity is present with each new sunrise and it is our opportunity to create shamayim, the hebrew word for heaven.

We may just also nourish heaven on earth in order to insure that our nephesh, the hebrew word for soul, fully develops during our lifetime. The word nephesh literally means breath and breathing is essential for human life. The collective breath of millions of people coming together as happened in that cathedral is a worthy goal for our human family. However, whether it is a place of worship, a local community centre, or another public civic space, every day of our lives may be recorded and remembered more positively if we simply seek to create the best possible heaven on earth during our lifetimes and for many future generations to come. Perhaps this will give us a real opportunity to strengthen our souls and witness in our lifetime the true majesty of the planets.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit

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