I wasn’t really sure that this would be appropriate for the blog, but I suspect that this dream will show up as source material for a painting one day.
I was at a funeral in a hall. The body of a man lay across a platform raised three steps from the floor, on the right side of an altar, his hands placed on his chest, his head close to the altar, feet pointing toward the right side of the room. My old school headmaster (whose name was “Jock” Campbell) approached the cadaver from my right and placed a wooden device over the body’s fingers so they were secured inside its framework with the palms together. Having positioned the device on the chest he took some string and made a cats cradle network in his own hands, placed the string into the top of the machine and smacked it hard with the palm of his hand, pushing the line quickly down around the dead man’s fingers and tying the hands together in an attitude of prayer.
As the headmaster turned his back on the body, two men strode forward and in quick succession efficiently threw their burdens onto the corpse’s chest; first a coiled rope with a noose tied into one end; then a live cat. The cat landed on the body with claws extended, digging them into the man’s flesh. The cadaver’s head turned toward the audience, opening its eyes and began to slide sideways. I expected it to collapse down the stairs, but even though his mouth opened to reveal a blackened tongue and somehow his chest opened to show the embalmed organs, the man was impossibly alive, and reaching out his arms, now instantly freed from restraint, extended his spread fingers to the floor to prevent his fall upon his fingertips.
Appalled, I realized that in spite of his hanging on to life even after being embalmed, he would not live, and the ceremony would most likely continue anyway. Horrified, I woke (and wrote the dream into my sketchbook).
Today’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, when the sun at sunrise reaches the most northern point of its journey across the horizon. Depending on where you are on the earth, at midsummer the sun rises roughly North East, setting at the end of the day roughly North West. At mid-winter it rises roughly South East, and sets roughly South West. Days on which this event occurs are called solstices, which literally means “sun stands still”.
A simple way to imagine the division of the horizon is to divide a circle with a diagonal St. Andrew’s cross, creating a universal solar symbol that appears in archaic cultures worldwide.
Other important astronomical events, including lunar limits (orange dots) are shown in the diagram below. Solar events are in blue.
At solstice the sun rises in roughly the same spot on the horizon for three days before and three after the solstice day itself, for a standstill total of six days. The sun has reached the extremities of its sunrise and sunset positions, as far North as it will rise on midsummer’s day, as far to the South as it will rise on midwinter’s day. The lunar “Metonic” cycle is also predictable (although over the much longer period of 19.67 years) and has similar extreme rising and setting positions that may be marked using the same technique of alignment. Alignment to lunar or solar events is an important feature of some stone circles and chambered cairns.Other significant positions in the solar year include the days of Vernal and Autumnal Equinox, when the day and night are exactly evenly split and the sunrise and sunset are due East and West and the other two cardinal directions: North, the fixed point around which the night sky spins, and South, which follows the sky’s solar zenith line. Neolithic architecture seldom was aligned to either North or South, but tending toward the solar extremes.
Christmas Day is on the 25th December. I wondered why this important festival missed the winter solstice, then discovered that the 25th is the day the sun starts moving again, after it has been stationary for the six days of solstice. The symbolism is lovely, the Christ is born on the day darkness is overcome, the sun wins its victory over night. The birth of other avatars has traditionally been celebrated on this day for the same reason, including Mithras and Sol.