Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day (or longest night) of the year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrate the Winter Solstice this day, December 21.

For Masons, the passing of the Solstice marks the beginning of the return of Light. (See the entry coming on December 25 for musings on solstice festivals and Christmas.) For Masons, it also reminds us to consider the 6th Liberal Art and Science: Astronomy, the art by which the Wisdom, Strength and Beauty of our Creator is revealed. We learned that, by Astronomy, we can measure the distances, comprehend the magnitudes and calculate the periods and eclipses of the heavenly bodies – including the calculation of the Winter Solstice.

For many religions, the solstice is a time to consider life and death, birth and re-birth.

In Ireland, there is an ancient burial chamber, 500 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza, and 2000 years older than Solomon’s Temple, called Newgrange. I visited there with my brother in 1998. It is a large earthen mound, with a small chamber in its middle. One has to duck one’s head to enter the doorway, beneath a transom (also called a “roof box”), and proceed down a narrow hallway that leads first a slight grade down and then a slight grade up to the burial chamber.

On the Winter Solstice, as the sun rises over the hills to the East, the first rays of sunlight enter the transom and penetrate to the innermost part of the burial chamber.

As I stood in the chamber, I marveled at what careful observations, calculations and construction must have happened over 5000 years ago to enable those prehistoric Celts to construct such a monument. Did they have a trestleboard upon which to draw their designs? Or was it a trial and error method – which would have taken decades to complete!

All men consciously and subconsciously marvel at the annual trip of the sun. It is well to contemplate the cycle of life and death, darkness and Light, and rebirth at this time of year.

For more information on Newgrange, including photos of the burial chamber, see