Sun Sign

The two Solstices are the only universal holidays I celebrate. There many personal holidays, almost all anniversaries of whatever happened that day: births, weddings, deaths; the arcs of jobs and love affairs; graduations and engagements; all the milestones of life. (The trick is to avoid Marley’s chains and chests.)

When it comes to the world, I see only two true holidays whose meaning every mind on Earth shares; two that everyone can anticipate and appreciate. These holidays are defined by the star that gives us life. They mark our orbit as precisely as the numbers of a clock mark the hours.

In fact there are four such star-marked days; two major, two minor.

The minor holidays are the equinoxes. I’ve written a number of posts about them. (I even wrote a little poem about spring.)

Suffice to say what makes the equinoxes cool isn’t just that day and night are equal length. It’s that, on those days, the sun rises dead east and sets dead west. For everyone on Earth.

Pretty cool if one wants to build stuff aligned on the compass points. Just wait until an Equinox and then sight on the rising or setting sun. (One can also sight on the North Star, but it requires working at night in the dark. OTOH, any cloudless night will do, no waiting for the Equinox.)

If you think about it, our very notion of direction likely comes from the idea of the sun rising and setting, our original timepiece. So much depends on our daily cycle. Plants and animals still use that ancient clock.

We see the sun wheel through the sky, rotating — apparently — on an axis through the Earth. The stars, too, seem to know that wheel. (Of course, it’s because we spin beneath them.)

That apparent axis, which lodestones magically seek, gave us a strong notion of North to add to the sun’s East and West. South completes the circle of four Cardinal Points.

(Ever notice that NEWS comes from North, East, West, and South?)

§

If the Sun setting and rising is our first clock, it actually ticks off only the virtual seconds of time. Days are fleeting in the full span of a life (albeit it endless at first and at times).

The minute hand, then, is the Moon, another powerful celestial influence. Tidal pools, due to the Moon’s gravity, may have been instrumental in transitioning life from the sea to the land. We may owe our very existence as intelligent beings to our Moon.

In most cultures, the monthly Moon is a goddess for obvious reasons. Selene to those ancient Greeks who always got there first, but I’m more inclined towards the Roman huntress, Diana (it’s a Wonder Woman thing; her alias was Diana Prince).

If we do owe our ape-descended path to the Moon, then she is, in a very real sense, our Mother.

Finally, the hour hand would be the four seasons. Each a distinct quadrant of a year, each a distinct mode of life: birth, life, withering, death. (Or less morbidly: waking, working, playing, sleeping.)

The seasons come, of course, from the power of the Sun (not just a timepiece, but a life-giver).

[As an aside, I recently posted about entropy. What truly gives us life, isn’t the Sun pouring energy into the Earth. The night sky necessarily emits nearly all of it as high-entropy infra red photons. If it didn’t, that energy would quickly fry us. (A tiny fractional difference accounts for global warming.) What the Sun actually does is pour low-entropy energy into the Earth, which consumes that entropy to sustain life. The Earth discards the low-entropy waste energy into the night sky.]

§ §

Some fun with numbers…

Four cardinal points, four seasons, four quadrants. One thinks of the Earth and of humanity upon it. Four is the count of the canonical family (two parents, two children — balanced; zero population growth). Four is the number of choices in the standard Venn diagram. Most rooms and buildings have four corners; again the notion of stability and grounding.

Three, I’ve written several times about. Trinities are central to many religions and many magics. (Trilogies are rampant in science fiction. A tripod is stable on uneven ground.) Mathematically, three points define a plane and a circle (and two spheres). Here one thinks of celestial orbits; Sun, Earth, Moon; morning, day, evening.

(Two has well-known power and universality. Yin-Yang; binary computers; a yes/no choice; male, female; young, old; day, night; hot, cold. The list of pairs, both opposing and cup, goes on forever.)

((One, of course, is the foundation of everything.))

§

Four times three is twelve, one of the more interesting small numbers.

If one has a dozen somethings one can easily divide them into two, three, four, or six, equal parts. Some civilizations even counted in base 12 (duodecimal), which does offer some advantages over our usual base 10 (decimal).

There are twelve hours on the clock, twelve months in the year, and twelve signs in the traditional zodiac.

Ophiuchus sticks his feet in, and some think that makes him a 13th, but he’s just a constellation photo-bombing the twelve signs. Just look at the fool:

Ophiuchus Intruding. [click for jumbo version (2048×1536)]

Stepping on the tail of Scorpius? Oh, my! That’s not a good idea. Dude’s asking to get his foot stung.

The picture above shows the summer sky, looking straight south at midnight tonight. The yellow line is the ecliptic, where the zodiac signs live and the planets (including the Sun and Moon) roam. (Notice Jupiter over on the left in Sagittarius.)

[Click the above or this link for the jumbo version. Click this link for a jumbo version without the constellation images. (It’s a little easier to see the stars that way.]

Scorpius is easy to spot by her upraised claws, the line of her spine, and the curve of her tail. Her heart, the red supergiant Antares, is 15th brightest star in the night sky, and catches the eye in brightness and color.

Notice how the Milky Way galaxy descends from the upper left corner down towards the bottom center. (Few will be able to see it with the naked eye due to light pollution.) See how it passes between Sagittarius and Scorpius? That point between them is the heart of our galaxy.

In the summer, when we look south at midnight, we’re looking towards the heart of our island universe.

And also the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*, at its center. It’s right above the tip of Sagittarius’ arrow. (Ophiuchus may trip over it after Scorpius stings him!)

I’ve always loved how summer does that, faces into the heart of the galaxy. In winter, appropriately, midnight faces out of the galaxy into the cold dark void of intergalactic space.

At least for those of us in the northern hemisphere. It’s sdrawkcab for those below the equator.

§ §

Sun and Moon

The Solstices are a perfect — literal — example of Yin-Yang.

A fundamental aspect of Yin-Yang, and of life, is that nothing is pure except our ideas.

(The idea of the North and South Poles is of a mathematical point without size. All real points on Earth are some mixture of North and South.)

In the symbol, the descending dark, the Yin, has a bit of light, and the rising light, the Yang, has a bit of the dark. Real life is always a mixture of pros and cons.

Summer Solstice, the canonical beginning of summer, also heralds the end of the light, the days getting shorter.

Winter Solstice, the beginning of winter, also heralds the end of darkness, the days getting longer.

Ironically, the joy of summer contains the sorrow of winter, and vice versa. A perfect Yin and Yang to balance the clock of seasons.

§

So welcome to summer! (Sorry about the coming darkness.)

The actual Solstice is eight hours from the publishing of this post. (I’m giving you time to buy party hats, bottles of whatever, and snacks.)

The official moment is: 21:44 GMT (16:44 CDT). Or, if you prefer, 9:44 PM GMT (4:44 PM CDT). East coast an hour earlier. West coast two hours later.

Stay star-eyed, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

14 responses to “Sun Sign

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    It’s interesting that while the winter solstice has numerous celebrations, the summer one receives less official acknowledgement. I suspect a lot of it is the psychological need to have a reason for celebration in the dead of winter, whereas for many, that need is less in the summer.

    I didn’t realize we faced the center of the galaxy in summer and the rest of the universe in the winter. (A consequence of being a city boy who rarely got a chance to look at the sky without light pollution.) Interesting that it worked out that way.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      As someone who has lived in norther climes the greater fraction of my life, Winter Solstice celebrations always made a lot of sense to me. Exactly as you say, in the dead of winter, the signs of the season turning around are good cause for a party. And then early Christian church usurped the holiday and turned it into a thing for all of Christianity, which really fixed it in tradition.

      For rural folks, there is so much work to do in the summer that the parties tend more towards spring (planting) and fall (harvesting). Especially the latter, since a good harvest means making it through the winter.

      Sadly, the facing inwards during summer logic only applies to those of us in the northern hemisphere, but it’s been one of those little things that makes me smile a little. There’s obviously no real connection to which way the planet is facing; it’s just an interesting coincidence.

      I live far enough out of the city for some simple star-gazing, but it’s getting worse all the time. I no longer do the annual Canadian camping trip, which offered some of the best star-gazing I’ve ever experienced. (Up there we’re a good 30-50 miles from any city and hundreds of miles from any major city.) There it’s easy to see the Milky Way, but there’s no sign of it where I live. 😦

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On summer night sky facing inward, someone tweeted today Happy Winter Solstice to the 15% of humanity living in the southern hemisphere. That fits since most of the land area is in the northern hemisphere. So for 85% of humanity, the coincidence holds.

        I’m in the same boat as far as star gazing. I can see some of the stars, but I know from prior trips that what I’m seeing is a pale imitation of what’s there.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Heh, yeah, the Earth is a little top-heavy, isn’t it. One of my positions at work involved a lot of interaction with some of our people down in Chile, which gave me an appreciation for the southern hemisphere. (I’ve always loved that upside down map that has Australia dead center in the upper part of the map. It’s funny how weird it looks.)

        Star-gazing got slightly worse for me this year because, due to fears of burglaries, the association has asked everyone to keep their poach and garage lights on at night. I used to be able to stars from my driveway, but now I can only see the brightest ones.

  • Christina Schmidt, MA

    Reblogged this on ArmedWithCoffee and commented:

    I will not suffer blog envy.
    I will not suffer blog envy.
    I will not suffer blog envy.

    Brilliant post, Wyrd! I took some notes on Scorpius, how could I not? Quality and relevant posting, as always. Your level of content is what one should aspire to, until then “one” must sponge. Pardon me, I mean reblog! And happy to do so 🙂

    From the tarot-meditation perspective, I would like to point out that the Summer Solstice is an ideal time to contemplate creative endeavors.

    ~ Consider the seeds, the ideas, planted in the Spring. Do you see growth? Discern the promising from the unpromising.
    ~ How can you extend the rays of the sun, encouraging continued growth to those still tender shoots?
    ~ What personal strengths do you shine on yourself and others?
    ~ How do you perfect your favorite summer cocktail so that you may ponder these questions in idyllic leisure?

    Happy Summer Solstice!

    I’m a fan of Artemis too (aka Diana, aka Wonder Woman)

    Thanks, Wyrd!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, my, thank you! And thanks for the reblog!

      I thought Sassy Scorpion might get a kick out of how her sign dominates the southern sky here in midsummer. As I mentioned in the post, she’s easy to spot, especially the red heart star. (In the winter, for me, Orion is the dominating constellation. Another red supergiant star (Betelgeuse), but in his shoulder.)

      “From the tarot-meditation perspective, I would like to point out that the Summer Solstice is an ideal time to contemplate creative endeavors.”

      I’ve been watching your Tarot videos with considerable interest. The symbolism is so rich and textured (and the art-work of Tarot cards is eye-catching; little paintings of slices of humanity). You’ve mentioned in some of those videos how “there’s a Tarot card for everything” and it sure seems like it. (Is there a science fiction Tarot? I’m not sure what that would involve (Martians?) though.)

      The captivating part is watching you build a narrative from the symbols. Essentially writing a story based on a series of human memes you’ve drawn from the deck. (I suppose being a writer feeds that ability, and that ability must feed your writing.)

      And I’m slowly picking up on the basics, at least. I do love exploring a new body of knowledge. Truth is, I’m interesting in just about everything, but that’s obviously impossible, so I chase after whatever rabbit crosses my path.

      Some nice questions for reflection there. The only one I have a ready answer for, though, is the last. The answer is: lots and lots of trial and error!

      There was a restaurant in Los Angeles, El Coyote, that served the deadliest margaritas in town. I spent years trying to duplicate the recipe. A friend of mine was once on jury duty with someone who worked at the restaurant. She asked for the recipe, but was given a fake one, since they didn’t taste anything like. I finally figured out the secret ingredient: pineapple juice.

      And for all that effort, the recipe turned out to be dead easy. Equal parts of tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice, and pineapple juice. Served on the rocks (no salt).

      But for a good summer drink, I just toss a couple of bananas into a blender with ice and rum. 😀

      “Happy Summer Solstice!”

      Likewise. It’s almost here. Less than an hour. (And then we’re on our way to winter. 😦 )

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I enjoyed a bottle of my favorite champagne last night. It was delicious and a great way to celebrate the Solstice. Sometimes I save the corks if the bottle was for a special occasion (e.g. the bottle I have on my birthday), and I didn’t even notice until I wrote the date on the cork that yesterday was 6/20/2020!

    I can’t believe I didn’t notice that. (In my defense, my focus has been a bit elsewhere lately. 😀 )

  • Jordan Hoggard

    “Ophiuchus sticks his feet in, and some think that makes him a 13th, but he’s just a constellation photo-bombing the twelve signs. Just look at the fool:”

    Thank you, Wyrd! That’s the most concise and aptly accurate Ophiuchus statement I have heard in 20 years. Thank you!

    Also, I have to say, in regards to your blog title “Logos con carne.” DAYum. Great title. Like ordering “Christmas” in Santa Fe, red AND green chili for the soul.

    Excellent post!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Well, thank you! I’ve never understood how sticking a toe into the zodiac counts.

      “Christmas” in Santa Fe sounds delicious! I lived in L.A. for almost 20 years and developed an addiction to Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Southwestern cooking. Pass the peppers! 🙂

      • Jordan Hoggard

        Amen/Awomen to THAT> Green chili is the bom, though getting both on a breakfast burrito or enchiladas in Santa Fe is bom’er.

        I agree with you on Ophiucus’ toe. More like the Mote In God’s Eye and keeping a foot on the tail of the Ma, though not an Astro House. Maybe a nickname for a cusp? I like your photobombing expression of it. Instant laughter in resonance with it in a Unle Walt Yawp of YES!

        That’s no addition you have. That’s just good sense and better taste. 🙂

        Plus, sticking a toe in? Ophiucus reminds me more of Larry Leprise, the inventor of the Hokey Pokey, than an Astro House — simply a constellation, wonderful stars in the sky. Back to Larry. At the funeral parlor after his death, all was going fine, and then the coffin arrived to rest him in place. They stuck his left foot in… and then the trouble started. Ophiucus a House? Nah, that toe is when the trouble started.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    In the post I mentioned Antares, the heart-star of Scorpius. Apparently Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait also had his eyes on that constellation and its red supergiant heart.

    A few days after the Solstice, Plait published Wait. *How* big is Antares?

    The answer is: Big. Very, Very Big.

    Antares

  • Wyrd Smythe

    [This started as a brief note and turned into what I could probably expand into a post.]

    As someone with a life-long love of astronomy (my first word was “star”), I’ve always been a bit intrigued by astrology. I’m fascinated by those things that endure through many ages and cultures of humanity. At the very least, they reflect human consciousness. They’re also shared communication, so they form community.

    Are they magic? I dunno. I’ve always found the magic in us, in our consciousness, not in the stars. I see it as a super complex carefully formed inkblot — suggestive, symbolic, structured — a form against which our own minds find patterns and connections.

    Some get it from poetry or paintings; some from math or science. Some from nature; others from spirit or a higher power. I think we make our own meaning. I said it recently: If you want to find yourself, look in a mirror. There are many kinds of mirror.

    That all said, my actual astrological chart is interesting. By “astrological chart” I mean relative to the Tropical Zodiac used by Western astrology. But by “actual” I mean relative to where things actually were when I was born.

    Once home PCs got graphic displays, there were some great astronomy programs that could show the stars at any given date. When I checked out the day of my birth, I was surprised to discover the Sun wasn’t in the sign the zodiac said, but in the adjacent sign! Turns out precession of the equinoxes (on which the Tropical Zodiac is based) shifts the sign over time. By 2500 AD, it’ll be off by two signs.

    So I’m actually a whole other Sun sign, which was interesting enough, but when I looked at all ten bodies (I included Pluto), the count was a little intense: Leo=5; Virgo=3; Libra=1; Cancer=1. (I won’t say where my Sun or Moon are. A guy has to have some secrets.)

    What’s weird is that, in the sky, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, are consecutive signs. My Sun, my Moon, and all my planets, are in four neighbor signs, with eight of the ten bodies in the center two. The whole Solar System is in one/third of the sky, with most of it in one/sixth.

    It’s not exactly conjunction, so I’m not chosen or wizardly, but it’s kinda cool. The Earth was all alone on one side of the Sun. Everything else was on the other side.

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