Winter Solstice, unfolding

Whenever you celebrate Winter Solstice, ENJOY! This is a multi-day unfolding.

Rather than measuring minutes & seconds of daylight, our ancestors celebrated the return of the Sun as it began moving again, coming north as seen along the horizon at dawn or sunset. Their sacred sites were created to mark the solstice extreme points, from which you could then observe the return motion away from those points.

“Solstice” means the sun (Sol) standing still (stasis) – Thanks to Earth’s axis-tilt, the Sun reaches it southern-most point and then STAYS THERE for two-three days, before our tilt starts bringing it northward again. * 
Sun’s southern-most standstill dates, this year: December 21-22, 2015 at 23º S 26‘.

This year, the northern motion – the Sun’s return – can first be measured (though maybe not seen by the naked eye) on
* Wednesday, Dec. 23, as the Sun’s declination shifts to 23º S 25‘.

By Distaff Day, January 7, the Sun will have come a full 1º back northward – clearly noticeable if you’re using markers in the landscape (like Stonehenge), sunbeams within sites (like Newgrange or Fajada Butte) or shadow-casting markers (like a sundial). 
Marking the Solstice can be super-simple: Just mark where the rising or setting Sun’s light strikes a wall inside your home.

* Shortest days/longest nights:
December 18 thru 25, 2015 – 9 hours & 33 minutes
*Earliest Sunsets – the first week of December: 4:50pm
(before the Sun’s standstill)
*Latest Sunrises – the first week of January: 7:25am
(after the Sun’s standstill)
*Sun enters Capricorn, the so-called “first day of Winter”: Sorry, but thanks to the Precession of the Equinoxes, the Sun doesn’t get out of Sagittarius and into Capricorn until about January 20.

We measure lots of minutia now – length of days down to the second – because we can, but that doesn’t mean it needs to rule us, or our ritual dates and choices. Since I’m most thrilled with the return of the Sun and its light, I personally want to see that motion back to the north, but I’m also thrilled to celebrate with friends throughout this season, whatever the theme, date, or rationale.

Bless the root-growth and hibernation of the long dark nights, and bless the returning light!

Image: The Sun card from the “Golden Tarot of the Renaissance”

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Pouring libations

Artemis libationWhen I go outside to talk to the stars – or to the Moon, or Venus, or the clouds – I take some things with me.

It might be a glass of wine.
Or a piece of bread or a tortilla or an apple.
Or a cup of water (I’m in high-plains Colorado and water is sacred here, even if it comes out of a tap).

Once outside, I speak my thanks aloud, first and foremost.  If I don’t say Thanks for what’s going right, why should the Goddess bother sending more?  Then – sometimes – I add requests.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I pour out some liquid, scatter my grain-stuffs.  This isn’t because I think the Goddess, the gods – or the divine source, or the Higher Power, or by-whatever-name – are literally hungry or thirsty.  That’s physical-world stuff.

My offerings are a form of honoring, and an exchange of energy.  Offerings and libations – the liquid portion of these offerings – have an ancient tradition worldwide.  I think of offerings as a symbolic giving-back of what’s been given to me.

That’s why I use the good stuff.  Offerings can’t be some moldy bread I might fling out for the squirrels, or a bottle of cheap vino I keep just to pour on the ground but won’t drink myself.  As per an old adage about not cooking with any wine you wouldn’t care to drink, what’s getting “cooked” here are my goals, my plans, my life.  This is worthy of good ingredients.

Offerings and libations needn’t be a fancy-supplies-laden practice.  They don’t need to be scheduled in advance.  This can be a spontaneous practice, fairly casual and brief, because what really happens here is between you and the deities you’re addressing.  And when that happens, life-shifts happen, too.

Milky Way at 4:30 AM

scorp-milky-way

Mountain hot springs.  Soaked.  Ate a late dinner and went to bed, sleeping erratically.  Some hours later, a voice:

“Hey, it’s 4:30.”

“Great.  Let’s do this.”

We bundle into robes and step outside and…

There it is: The Milky Way, arching out low over the eastern horizon from Scorpio in the south to Cassiopeia in the north.  A dense river of stars.  And all around it, in every direction, all the other kajillion stars in the whole galaxy (well, that’s how it felt) plus a pale yellowish Saturn.

Scorpio rears up tall, HUGE, its nasty stinging tail dangling low to the horizon, its  Antares-heart glowing red.  Just to the scorpion’s left is the Sagittarius “teapot” asterism, also huge.

Back in my art history classes, we saw every artwork the size of a slide screen – and then later got of the shock of realizing how petite most Paul Klee paintings really are, and how massive and over-powering the Sistine Chapel ceiling really is.

We see constellations in books and in software programs, constrained in size.  In reality, they’re vast.

The sheer size of this mountain night sky is overwhelming, breath-taking, awe-filled, exciting.  How can I go back to sleep after this?

But I do, seeing something like an after-image of this Milky Way arch across the room’s pitch-black ceiling before I drop of to sleep.

This is my church.

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Image of Scorpio, the Milky Way and the Teapot from the Starry Night astronomy program.

 

Spirals, and Spring fever

sun-dagger

Almost Spring!  This Wednesday is the Spring Equinox, the halfway point in the Sun’s journey between Winter’s southern-most extreme (short days, long nights) and Summer’s northern-most point (long days, short nights).  Equinoxes, this one in March and its opposite in September, mark the midpoints, when day and night are equal.

Those spirals above? That’s the “Sun Dagger,” a petroglyph on Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, a remote site in New Mexico.  Angled noon light marks the sun’s seasonal passage: at Summer Solstice slicing the large spiral’s center (top), at each Equinox bisecting the smaller spiral (center), and at Winter Solstice bracketing the large spiral (bottom).

The Solstices are times of contrasting extremes: heat or cold, light or dark, sun far north or sun far south.  The Equinoxes are – in sun-terms – times of balance.  Days and nights are of equal length, and the Sun is “balanced” along the horizon: It rises due East and sets due West.

Chaco Canyon and its extensive ruins are something of a monument to Equinoxes, with alignments to that twice-annual sun-balance embedded throughout the vast site.  Chaco was also the “only culture known in the world to align their buildings to the Moon’s cycle.”*

Spring Equinox is a spring-feverish time as we break out of Winter.  Here in the Rocky Mountain West, Ostara can bring new buds or blizzards, or both.  Mama Earth kicks off Her blanket of snow, and starts to stretch and wake up… and then maybe curls back under Her snow-covers again for a few days.  But from Wednesday onward, the days will be longer than the nights… She’ll be wide awake and leaping up soon enough.

On Wednesday, I’ll watch sunrise and sunset, and note my shadow’s shape at noon.  Balance.  But meanwhile, the weather can’t make up its mind.  The winds are wild and the clouds are crazy… well, me, too.  Spring fever sets in, an undercurrent of anti-hibernation sensory awareness.  So I’ll explore my imbalances and move gently to adjust them, but I might enjoy them, too.  “Dance like no-one’s watching…”  The world is new again.

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* Anna Sofaer, quoted in the video “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon.”  More on Chaco, and understanding and working with Moon and Sun cycles in A Magical Tour of the Night Sky.  Chaco Canyon is an Ancient Puebloan site, c. 850-1140 BCE, and is designated a National Historic Park, covering nearly 34,000 acres.