Summer Solstice

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. 

About pearce

Michael Pearce is an artist, writer, and professor of art. He is the author of "Art in the Age of Emergence."
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