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Happy Winter Solstice!!!

Dateline:  Detroit, Tuesday, December 21st, 2010:   The shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  Certainly an apt metaphor for these conservative times (despite the crumbs off the table of the current Administration’s “compromises”).

Analemma...

The irony for us in the northern hemisphere is that the earth is actually closest to the sun than at any other time of the year.  Being tilted away from our personal star, however, gives us winter and the cold weather.

I recall one year when I was at FCI McKean, PA, while waiting for the prison factory (UNICOR) to open at dawn.  I usually stood in the same place, out of the wind, and watched the sun rise thru a wire mesh screen.

It wasn’t long before I noticed the sun appearing in a different spot as the days passed.  Even giving the adjustment for Daylight Savings Time, and the longer or shorter days, I began to play a game of plotting the sun’s position in the mesh.

I imagined that our forebears eons ago probably had a lot of time to note such changes…perhaps some elder among the tribe, or a woman who was tied to much the same familial routine (while the healthy males played at big game hunters, thus avoiding the drudgery of family life—much like today, actually).

I drew up a graph on a piece of paper and a daily plot of the sun noted at the same time every day.  I did this for a year (over 20 yrs in prison affords one these “opportunities”).

I was curious what kind of diagram the plot would describe on the graph.  I figured that it would be some kind of long ellipse.

When it was clear what the figure was—a lopsided figure 8—I was surprised.  I wondered what role in science and religion its significance might have been.

I also noted that the symbol for infinity was a figure 8, also on its side.  Did it come originally from such an observation?

Of course, even the average observer would not have failed to note that the sun kept sinking lower and lower in the western sky as the days grew shorter and colder.

Not having science or much longevity to rely on, perhaps the thought occurred to a few that just maybe it will keep sinking and not come back.  Maybe that was even one of the first religions…

There was probably plenty of calamities around to presume that the spirits weren’t too happy with a lot of what was going on.  And there were no doubt some that had an opinion as to what to do about it…

Come to think of it, given that over 40% of today’s American public believes in Creation and not evolution, and that the Second Coming is just around the corner, not much has really changed.  We’re still pretty much the same spooked, superstitious lot, with plenty of prophets predicting what to do about it.

Small wonder that the winter solstice celebrations became quite universal.  Think about it.  Within a few days after the solstice it became clear that the sun—and the growing season—was returning.

Time for great joy and celebration, eh?  Party down!  You don’t have to hoard the previous harvest, there’s gonna be another one.

Later religions, of course, capitalized on this “new year,” given that they could hardly suppress decent folk from celebrating it anyways.

In any event, call it what you will.  We got at least another year of it!

               Dr. Publico

Category: Religion, Science
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