Sun Musings (long mundane post)
No, it’s not Spring yet, despite what the weather felt like today. The high tempurature today reached at least 60° F, if not higher. That’s okay, we’ll have winter (again) by the weekend.
So, in tracking the sun and shade patterns in my back yard I have been using my almanac to see just how far south of true east it has been rising. And this got me to thinking about the Pagan solar festivals, and how modern marketing has really helped to distance people from the actual agricultural rhythms.
Let’s start with Yule/Winter Solstice. This is the midpoint of the dark half of the year. It is also celebrated as the “birth” of the Sun. It marks the longest night/shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere (reversed for the Southern). On this day, the Sun’s declination is 23° 26′ – the furthest South of due East it gets. The beginning of the “dark half of the year” falls on the Autumn Equinox – but we’ll get to that in due course.
The next festival is Candlemas/Brigid’s Day/Imbolc – which is generally celebrated on February 2nd. This, by modern man, is considered to be the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. Now, if you look at just about any almanac, in my case The Old Farmer’s Almanac, you’ll notice that the Sun’s declination is only 16° 36′. While it has indeed moved further north, it hasn’t yet reached the ‘true’ midpoint between the Solstice and Equinox. That date falls between (or during the night of) the 18th and 19th of February. The sun rises at 11° 23′ on th 18th and 11° 01′ on the 19th. And the midpoint from 23° 26′ and 0° (s.) is closer to 11° 15′. (Maths is not my strong suit.) As such, it can be considered the actual start, or first day, of Spring – despite what the American media would have you believe of the prognosticational abilities of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog in Pennsylvania.
This brings us to the Vernal Equinox. This is where the Sun rises closest to 0° 0′ declination of due East. This year, the actual Equinox falls between March 19th (0° 17′ s.) and March 20th (0° 06′ n.). Modern man celebrates this day (erroneously, as far as I’m concerned) as the “First Day” of Spring. What this day is actually marking is the midpoint – equal day and equal night – of the Sun’s northward journey. Which, for the agricultural world is actually the middle of Spring. After this date, the days get to be longer than the nights, as we head into Summer.