Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
An act of natural wonder offers the possibility of insight—or doom. A Wyoming apothecary has celestial tourists covered.
LARAMIE, WYO.—On Friday night in Laramie, there was hardly a hint of the apocalypse soon to befall the region. Second Street was dark and silent. Two casual cowboys walked the drag, their button-ups tucked into their Wranglers, as they kicked an empty Skoal tin down the strip.
The streets were empty, although the bars were bustling. At Altitude, a cozy brewpub warmed by reclaimed wood and Edison bulbs, Friday night marked the debut of a special-edition Eclipse Pale Ale. (Too bad “Corona” was already taken.)
In advance of the solar eclipse, Laramie—like other Wyoming towns near the totality zone—braced for impact. Downtown book stores and sports authorities sold t-shirts with variations on “2017 Solar Eclipse” and the state flag’s buffalo or the University of Wyoming’s Cowpokes logo. (Good luck finding one in an adult size, though. Forget about eclipse-viewing glasses.)
But another shop had more practical offerings for sale for celestial tourists: essential crystals and tinctures for surviving it.
“We have the sunstone, we have some clear quartz points, and some citrine,” says Trish Rader, shopkeeper at the Herb House in downtown Laramie. “All of those stones are significant toward the element of fire and solar energies, because of the metaphysical properties in them.”
What many visitors are greeting as a once-in-a-generation chance to witness the solar system’s awesomest visual is an opportunity for others to seek profound insight from the universe. Or to shore up their defenses.
The solar eclipse sweeping across North America isn’t an apocalypse per se. That’s just the way some in “Laradise” refer to the crushing crowds expected on roads in Wyoming, where the path of totality stretches like a belt across the state. Celestial tourists arrived in Laramie in droves over the weekend. But others look to the eclipse expecting strange and even dire consequences.
What’s the worst that can happen? Jessa Crispin, the author of The Creative Tarot and The Dead Ladies Project, says that astrologically speaking, a solar eclipse is neither positive nor negative. Her clients who have experienced eclipses have reported everything from divorces to house fires to new jobs.
“They’re crazy wild cards,” she says. “It just depends on how it hits you personally on your chart. You can go through an eclipse and absolutely nothing happens, or your whole life falls apart.”
Generally speaking, Crispin says, a lunar eclipse involves a door closing, whereas a solar eclipse means a door opening up. Shutting down one path isn’t necessarily bad, though, in the same sense that a new way opening isn’t always welcome.
Eclipses are like “full moons or new moons on acid,” Crispin says. “The eclipse factor makes it amped up, insane, and unpredictable.”
Laramie’s apothecary set out special stores with the eclipse in mind. Citrine, for example, enhances the solar plexus chakra, Rader says. Quarts points are utility crystals, good for any solar activity. With sunstone, it’s all in the name: It’s a sun stone. Since June, the Herb House has doubled or quadrupled its stocks of these fire crystals. The idea is to enhance positive vibes, to make the most of the event.
“There are some people coming in asking what can they do to protect themselves from anything that could be opened during that time,” Rader says. “It’s nighttime into daytime. Veils could be lifted. You never really know.”
Then there’s the fact that Mercury is in retrograde, a bête noire condition for anyone who dabbles in astrological charts. Mercury rules thinking, so a Mercury in retrograde implies a reconsideration. For eclipse-watching purposes, this just means that whatever response a person has to the eclipse may mean greater change as Mercury progresses in September, according to Crispin.
“I look at it as the ego versus the heart,” she says. “The moon represents our emotional state and how we feel like we belong on the planet. The sun rules our ego. When you have a lunar eclipse, in some ways, you’re having a conflict between your ego and your heart. Solar eclipses are when they come together.”
Caroline Johnson, one of the co-owners of the Herb House whom Rader refers to as a “wise witch,” has practiced herbalism for more than 40 years. Bottles of artisanal tinctures she makes from scratch—using herbs she grows at a ranch 80 miles outside Laramie—line the walls of her shop.
“Mostly we’re thinking, ‘What’s this going to be about?’” Johnson says of the looming eclipse. “We’re ranchers. Ranching is a different spiritual thing anyway. You’re outside all the time, in tune with nature. I don’t think they’re thinking about it [apprehensively]. That may change once we get eclipsed.”
For her part, Johnson says that she is unbothered by the eclipse—and the crystals are somebody else’s job—but she recommends that everyone take precautions. Rescue remedy, for example, is a common anti-anxiety tincture. For people looking to open themselves up to new insights, she points to damiana and mugwort; she sells artisanal tinctures of both.
“There are pretty different reactions to an eclipse,” Johnson says, noting that this total solar eclipse will be her first. “I’ve heard that people kill themselves. People go crazy. I don’t know—I’ve never been there, I’ve never done that.”
For people looking to prepare for the unknown—and this includes some customers at the Herb House—Johnson recommends that they smudge with sage, citing its long use in Native American cleansing ceremonies. The acrid scent of burning sage promotes harmony with one’s environment. (For non-witchy readers, smudging means burning a bundle of dried herbs.) And for worriers who sense an imminent eclipsepocalypse, Johnson offers one if-all-else-fails step.
“Find a juniper bush, take some branches, set them on fire,” Johnson says. Burning juniper is a way to expand consciousness within a specific space or moment (among other things). “Put the fire out and use the smoke to purify yourself.”
She adds, “Now that I think about it, I might go get a sprig of juniper and put it in my hat.”
Maybe it’s the possibility of spiritual alignment that has ushered tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—of tourists to Wyoming this weekend. But the full brunt of celestial tourism may miss Laramie. Although the U.S. Postal Service chose Laramie to debut commemorative, heat-activated eclipse stamps back in June, Cheyenne is just an hour east—right at the intersection of I-80 and I-25, due north of Denver (and Denver’s airport).
These cities are pass-throughs, since the zero band falls to the north and east. But business has arrived for both. A scan on Airbnb across both towns reveals only a few eclipse rentals still available. (And eclipse prices!: $400 a night for a cottage in Laramie, $1,500 a night for a bungalow in Cheyenne.)
“We’ve been preparing a very long time for the crowds—if there are any,” Rader says. “If not, we say, the excess can go toward Christmas or Halloween.”