Observations at Neskaya

+ A Consequence of Spherical Geometry +

OBSERVING SUNSETS AT NESKAYA

For about 10 years I have been observing sunsets from Neskaya. The winter sun sets behind the trees, but from Spring Equinox to Fall Equinox I can watch the sunset point move north, and then south again. On the day of equinox, the sun sets on Ore Hill which is due west of the building. In the middle of June, the light enters the building through a Northwest window and shines all the way to the back. Closer to the solstice, the beam of sun moves to shine on the statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion that sits on an altar against the east wall.

Standing in the front door of Neskaya, the summer solstice sun sets just to the right of a big pine tree. This picture shows the sun setting on June 23. When it gets to the horizon, it will be to the right of the pine it’s just touching.

The midwinter moon is harder to catch at its setting, but I have seen it on the horizon well to the north of the solstice pine. This picture shows the full moon at Imbolc. The tree it’s touching is in the upper picture, near the center, with its leaves on. You can see the big branches that lean out to the left.

CROSS QUARTER DAYS

One thing I’ve noticed is that the sunset moves faster near the equinox – it can be shown mathematically that the length of the day is changing fastest at the time of equinox – and slows down a lot at solstice. In fact , he sun appears to set in the same place for several days (Sun stands still). Interestingly, the shift from changing rapidly to changing more slowly happens right about the time of the cross-quarter days. It’s as though the year turns a corner. The time this is most noticable is around the beginning of February when it suddenly becomes obvious that the days are longer. This has nothing to do with the lunar standstills, it’s a consequence of spherical geometry.

A third seasonal effect is that because of the lag time between day length and the warming or cooling of the earth, the weather belonging to the season comes later than the astronomical beginning. Especially in Northern New England, there is often snow on the ground on the first day of “Spring”. And there’s no point in hoping for green through April’s mud season. Green starts to appear the first week in May. For a gardener, the cross quarter days make much better seasonal markers.

Around the time of the Cross Quarter Days, three things are happening:

  1. The sun arrives at the moon’s minor standstill
  2. The lengthening (or shortening) of the days turns a corner
  3. Seasonal weather and vegetation appear

ASTRONOMICAL FEATURES

Below is a summation of the astronomical features and the symbolic meaning of each of the eight holidays. There is also a page for each, giving more complete information.

SAMHAIN

ASTRONOMY: The sun arrives at the moon’s standstill. Days are shorter than nights, days shorten slowly.

SAMHAIN: We celebrate endings and death.

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WINTER SOLSTICE

ASTRONOMY: Solstice is the shortest day and longest night, days are shorter than nights, days begin growing longer slowly.
SOLSTICE: We celebrate the rebirth of the light when all is darkest.

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IMBOLC/CANDLEMAS

ASTRONOMY: The sun arrives at the moon’s standstill. Days are shorter than nights, days grow longer rapidly.
IMBOLC: We celebrate the time of new ideas and inspiration.

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SPRING EQUINOX

ASTRONOMY: Day and night are equal. Days start to be longer than nights, days lengthen rapidly.
EQUINOX: We celebrate balance and the entry into the light.

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BELTANE

ASTRONOMY: The sun arrives at the moon’s standstill. Days are longer than nights, days lengthen slowly.
BELTANE: We celebrate incarnation and embodiment.

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SUMMER SOLSTICE

ASTRONOMY: Solstice is the longest day and shortest night, days are longer than nights, days begin growing shorter slowly.
SOLSTICE: We celebrate the peaks of our endeavors and acknowledge their inevitable waning.

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LAMMAS

ASTRONOMY: The sun arrives at the moon’s standstill. Days are longer than nights, days grow shorter rapidly.
LAMMAS: We celebrate the first fruits of the harvest.

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FALL EQUINOX

ASTRONOMY: Day and night are equal. Days start to be shorter than nights, days shorten rapidly.

EQUINOX: We celebrate balance and the entry into the dark.

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