Solstice Survived

newgrange-2004b

We survived another Winter Solstice, dodged another bullet. The sun has arrested its long descent into darkness and is waxing again even as we speak.

Here in Tipperary the morning was clear, the skies were clear and the Solstice Dawn was a thing to behold. Sadly for the thousands who gathered in Newgrange there was a misty start to the morning in County Meath and they were not treated to the full spectacle of the dawn shining down the passage of the burial mound.

Newgrange is a neolithic monument, built around 3,200 BC and predating both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. It is a testament to our early ancestors that they could, and did, track the heavens so faithfully. Newgrange is all the more impressive given that Ireland is such a young country. The first humans only arrived after 8,000 BC. We had no Neanderthals here, no Paleolithic people and only a smattering of Mesolithic settlements.

Farming was key to the success of the Neolithic peoples. They brought a “farm kit” with them; wheat, oats, barley, sheep, goats and cattle. Knowing when to plant was crucial to their existence. Hence the focus on megalithic clocks such as the one at Newgrange.

The Times Are Nightfall; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…

Vernal Equinox

 

March approaches equinox.  Indeed today, March 20th, is when the day equals the night. 

There are various ways of measuring the “rebirth” of the year.  Our most common in the modern world seems to be the Winter Solstice, when the nights are at their longest and days at their shortest.  Once we have passed that point and the sun shines a little longer every day it seems that the worst is over.

For the Celts the “Cross-quarter days” were significant.  So Imbolc (Feb 1st) the feast of St Brigid, was seen as the start of spring.

For many primitive peoples the spring equinox was more important.  This is why Easter is a time of rebirth in many religions, Christian and pre-Christian.  At the Spring equinox day and night battle and the Sun emerges victorious, to grow stronger than the night with each passing day.

The victory of the Sun God became the victory of the Son of God in Christianity, when the Crucified Christ rose from the dead.

Since I started rising with the farmers and commuting to work in the early hours I can understand the significance of the equinox.   Spring bears a heavy workload of ploughing and planting and there are simply not enough hours in the day.  Each day gives you a little more time, and it feels you are winning.

Soon we will enter summertime and I will be plunged back into early morning darkness for a time.  The evenings will be brighter.  Light at 6am is useful for farmers, but not for many others.  Most of us get the value from the longer evenings.

I’d say that guy in Thurles who rises at 6 every morning to walk his dog so he doesn’t have to pick up the shit is feeling very exposed at the moment.  I’d bet good cash that he can’t wait for the hour to go back so he can skulk in the shadows for a while longer.

Anyway, here’s an ode to another early riser.

THE WINDHOVER  (To Christ our Lord): by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.