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Solstices and Cosmic Pendulums

June 21, 2013

Summer Solstice sun rises over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge
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The sun rose over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge this morning, as it has every Midsummer morning since the Heel Stone was set in place some 4,500 years ago. At Newgrange, in Ireland, the rising Winter Solstice sun shines through a narrow opening and follows the passageway to the center of the monument. From the Temple of Karnak in Egypt to the Ajanta Caves in India to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, ancient sacred sites all over the world were built with features that aligned to the rising or setting sun of the Summer or Winter Solstices. (There are plenty of sites that align with the Equinoxes as well but that’s for another time.)

Why? Why would it matter so much to know precise times of those events that it was worth building huge monuments to track them? Ancient civilizations marked the passage of the year not by arbitrary numbers on a calendar but by the observable events of the cosmos. They accurately observed that the movement of the sun in relation to the earth was like the swing of a pendulum – it went to a maximum point in one direction, which was the longest daylight of the year, then moved to a maximum in the other direction, which was the longest night. They knew that the lengthening days of Spring would peak at the Summer Solstice, that the long dark nights would get no worse than at the Winter Solstice. They knew that all of life happened between those extremes.


The Fairy Tree in the Woods

In our modern lives, our calendars mark the dates of these profoundly significant events as an aside – if they note them at all. For civilizations that understood the cosmos as an intricately woven web of which they were a part, the cycles of the sun, moon and stars were the calendars they used to navigate their lives. Since this is still the way the Fairies relate to the seasons and the cosmos, I wandered into the woods today to my favorite place to meet with the Fae. I asked them how they saw the difference between cultures, like ours, that track time through an arbitrary calendar and cultures like theirs that align their own lives with the movement of the cosmos.

Their answer was very simple. They know when it’s time to celebrate and reap the bounty that the Earth offers them – and they know when the pendulum has swung as far as it can without breaking the web. When that moment comes, it’s time to stop the celebrations and plant what’s needed for the next cycle. In our world, they say, we don’t know the limits of the web, we don’t know that we can’t just keep taking from the Earth, that we have to give back, too. We have forgotten, they say, when enough is enough, when the pendulum has swung as far as it can in one direction.

They reminded me that the next stop on the wheel of the year is the Fall Equinox – a place of balance. And then they reminded me that, whatever our calendars may tell us, they’re only an illusion on the wall or in our electronic gadgets. If we remember and realign ourselves with the cycles of the sun, the moon and the stars, perhaps our civilization can remember to swing with the pendulum.

They also wished me a Blessed Solstice before they melted away to celebrate.

–Bridget Wolfe, June 21, 2012

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