Some were confused this year by a science news bulletin informing them that the latest sunrise would not occur until January. In fact the astronomical solstice took place as usual, on the 21st December. A variance in methods of measuring by clock and solar time means that the earliest sunset occurs a few days before the solstice while the latest sunrise comes a few days after.
In the northern hemisphere, the 21st December was still the shortest day in terms of daylight hours. However, the widely broadcast news report led many persons to think the winter solstice would not take place until some time in January.
The precise point of solstice is measured according to the angle of the sun’s declination. When the sun reaches its lowest angle of declination relative to the earth, we experience the longest night and shortest day. In summer, this is reversed as the sun reaches its zenith. At the equinoxes, days and nights are equal in length—for the poles of the earth are tilted in relation to earth’s orbit around the sun. Near the solstices, the length of time each day between sunrise and sunset is fractional. It is a matter of seconds at best.
We generally mark the solstices and equinoxes of the year according to the circle of the ecliptic. When the sun enters zero degrees of Capricorn, around the 21st December each year, it marks the winter solstice festivity for those of us dwelling in the northern hemisphere of the globe. For those situated in the southern hemisphere, the same date marks the summer solstice. The 360-degree circle of the ecliptic is formed by the apparent course of the sun, moon and planets, as relative to earth. We divide the ecliptic into 12 equal sections or ‘signs’. This we call the Zodiac; each 30-degree sign is represented by a very ancient glyph, for example, Capricorn the sea-goat.
Man is a measurer, and there are countless ways in which things can be measured. All measurement is arbitrary. The division of the circle into 360 degrees serves a practical purpose; it is not a declaration of any absolute in itself. Neither science nor any spiritual philosophy was intended to produce absolute truth.
The Solstice and Science Technocracy
For many of us, the technocratic industrial calendar is not in any way meaningful. We therefore look to a reliable mark for our communion with nature, spirit, mind and soul. We do not worship at the altar of the sun and the moon any more than we would wish to worship at the altar of profane science. Visible nature is nonetheless the only miracle required should we seek for a demonstration of eternal beauty and truth. Our scale is necessarily a human one, not a mechanical one. We do not search for meaning in arc minutes, yet we may make a meaningful observation of nature’s course, seeing there many wonders to behold in her form and geometry.
The music of Mozart is precise in itself; the scores can be ‘played’ automatically, by a machine. Yet when a machine plays Mozart, it is no longer music and it is no longer wonderful. It is perhaps a miracle in itself that it requires an imprecise human being to produce the music of Mozart. For this reason, music lovers down the centuries have thought that God must have moved the hand of Mozart, for they have experienced something therein that will not be explained otherwise. This same ineffable presence moves behind all of visible nature and is closer to us than our own heartbeat.
© Oliver St. John 2017, 2019
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