Dark Sky Park: Summer Solstice

Jun 12, 2013

IPR: We're approaching summer solstice and the longest day of the year. What is the story in current celestial phenomena?

Mary: There are a few "pairings" happening in the sky right now, including Venus and Mercury at the western horizon, which is visible about 45 minutes after sunset. During this next week Jupiter has a meeting with the Sun, known as superior conjunction, which is not visible to us and also during this week the Moon is moving along the path of stars from Regulus, the "heart star" in the constellation Leo, to Spica, the "star of abundance," also known as the shaft of wheat held in the arms of the maiden, Virgo.

IPR: Mercury and Venus, Sun and Jupiter, Moon and Regulus then Spica...all these pairings happening as the days are growing longer. What more can you tell us about this?

Mary: The cycle of the year, every year, can be likened to a "breathing process," and while we breathe many times in a minute, it takes the Earth one whole year for a single breath, you could say. Summer Solstice time is the full out-breath, followed for six months by the in-breath, which completes at Winter Solstice. Then the out-breath begins again at Winter Solstice and completes six months later at Summer Solstice. If we watch our own breathing, we can see that there's a pause in between each breath, before we move in the opposite direction. We breathe in, pause; we breath out, pause. When it comes to Earth breathing, this "pause" is the Solstice-time. So Summer Solstice is the pause between full out-breath and resuming in-breath. And this is a sacred moment. Solstice means the "standing still of the Sun", so this pause in the breathing is the moment of Sun's standing still, and at this moment of pause in the full out-breath, a certain fructification occurs between Earth and Sun. 

If we look around us in the season we can see that everything is lush and green and flowering, striving upward toward the Sun at its high hour. It is like preparing a beautiful chalice that is offered up to receive celestial dew, and in some traditions, this is the point in time when we receive the seed of the New Year so that even though it is the beginning of Summer 2013 at Solstice time we are receiving the "seeds" for 2014.

IPR: How can the lay person know this?

Mary: Tradition suggests that it comes in the dream experience.

Shakespeare wrote about the mid-summer night's dream and some mischievous pairings; the people native to the great lakes region spoke about the ten sleeps it would take before they could reach the summer; the ancient Greeks spoke of Demeter wandering ten days before she gets news of her daughter Persephone's abduction. So we are witnessing this cultural acknowledgement of the time it takes to prepare, not for greatest wakefulness, but for that moment when we encounter something so sublime we must allow it to come in dream.

We can follow the Moon as it moves from Regulus to Spica - from the heart star to the star of abundance - and imagine that what we love (Regulus) can grow (Spica) with the Moon at this time; followed by the idea that we are completing a full out-breath as we draw closer to Solstice; and that, in addition, we can grow more attentive to what's stirring in the dream life, that might reveal the seeds of the coming year, 2014.

IPR: Are there references to this anywhere else in humanity's history?

Mary: There's a phenomenon known as the "Great Platonic Year," described by the ancient astronomer Plato, which is the amount of time it takes for the Sun to precess through the entire zodiac. It moves at a rate of 1/72nd degree each year, or one full degree every 72 years. If we imagine the zodiac as a circle of 360 degrees, and multiply that by 72, then we find that it takes the Sun 25,920 years to precess through the zodiac. If we follow the human breathing pattern, we find that we breathe on average, about 18 times each minute. There are 60 minutes in each hour and 24 hours in a day. If we do the math, we find that the human being breathes, on average, about 25, 920 times in each 24-hour cycle, so we are intimately immersed in this larger celestial rhythm, and this is the season for dreaming into it!