This week brings Solstice, the moment of the year when the Sun reaches its logical extreme of bright and the ratio of daylight to dark has no further to go in its current direction.
With the Sun entering Cancer late on Monday night Pacific time and early Tuesday morning in the rest of the US, so officially begins the season of summer at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, down below the equator, the very same astrological transition (that is, the Sun crossing from Gemini to Cancer) has a different seasonal consequenceit's Winter Solstice in the great South. And it doesn't happen until late Tuesday afternoon on Sydney and Melbourne clocks.
During Solstice time, not only do we all experience the most extreme examples of the type of day our season bringsthe longest or shortest of the yearwe also experience the most extreme seasonal differences from one another, based on our latitudinal location on the globe. The lighter it is in Edmonton, the darker in Cape Town.
Then, at its farthest point, the pendulum heads back the other direction, and the ceaseless cycling of the seasons continues.
It is interesting to ponder how our calendar deems the entrance of the Sun into Cancer as the beginning of summer (to speak North-Hemi-centrically for a moment) though, as of this same instant, the days are already starting to get shorter again. Astrologically speaking, we mark our seasonal starts by the Sun's ingress (or entrance) into one of the cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn), which are regarded as the most dynamically active and initiatory. When the Sun is at 0 degrees Cancer and Capricorn, we celebrate the Solstices. At 0 Aries and Libra, the Sun brings the Equinoxes.
Yet, what we generally consider the beginning of summer is also, by virtue of its position in the seasonal cycle, the height of the season, or what was traditionally observed as 'midsummer's eve' (Shakespeare, anyone?). In places where summer is supposedly just starting, summery weather has been proudly displaying itself for several weeks already, even if we still say it's spring. Now that the Sun is at its peak brightnesswhat could be thought of as its 'full moon' of the yearwe can't avoid noticing summer has snuck up on us again.
But, oh, the irony that, just as we finally realize the full light of summer is here, it begins to wane toward winter again. Though winter is still months away, the truth is, it only gets darker from here.
This acknowledgment of the seasonal pole that is opposite our here-and-now is a fundamental part of experiencing unity with the wheel of life as it moves from birth to fertility to death to rebirth. It is the circular path of both the seasons and our individual existences. Just like the yin/yang symbol, every patch of darkness has a speck of light at its center, and every field of light its dot of dark. In pagan festivities to mark the blustery boisterousness of midsummer, celebrants stage the battle between the God of Oak (or Light) and the God of Holly (or Shadow) and though the Sun still beats down brilliant and hot at Summer Solstice, it is Shadow who emerges as victor. The ritual reminds us, in the height of summer, that winter is coming.
Still, for the time being, summer remains high. It is the occasion for honoring the Sun-god at its apex of manifest power, as we realize this peaklike everything in our earthly existencewill not last forever. While we've got the Sun so steadfastly on our side, we must take advantage of his abundant creative force and life-preserving joyfulness. With that ever-so-slight hint of decay in the air, we'll want to gather some Sun energy into our hearts for later use, once the winter's dark overcomes. Summer Solstice is traditionally a magnificent time to practice a little sex magickchildren conceived now will be born at the initiatory height of spring, as the flowers are barely peeking out their buds.
Those for whom this week is Winter Solstice face the opposite edge, the long dark nights of winter and the subsequent result of decreased daylight on mood. Difficult as it may be to endure, for many, seasonal disaffection is an inextricable companion to the winter stretch. But optimistic hope for overcoming the slump of depression or despair is woven into the fabric of Winter Solstice celebrations. From these dark depths comes rebirth. While in hibernating homebodyness, the hearth fire must be kept alive to get us through to spring. Over the coming months, these few burning embers will grow to full light.
Whether observing Summer or Winter Solstice, fire as a symbol of the Sun's vital force is fundamental to the tribute. The Sun is our star, center of our solar system and absolutely essential for life. We need the Sun, but we know it will come and go, through day and night, and summer and winter. Fire is a great gift, but we must use it with care in order to sustain ourselves. When we live in sync with the seasons, we instinctively give and take, act and react, enjoy now and reserve for later.
Likewise, as celebrating Solstice makes us aware of the seasonal differences in our own lives, it also holds the potential to remind us of how differently all of us, across this diverse globe, experience each moment in time. While Alaskans cherish their fleeting opportunity to wear short sleeves, residents of Ushuaia, on the southernmost tip of Argentina, bundle up and hunker down.
Beyond these stereotypical images, numerous other climate zones shape the lives of their residents in annual season cycles seemingly foreign to usdry and hot into cool and crisp, the rainy season and the rainier season, temperate year-round, hurricanes and monsoons and tornados (oh my!). Here in San Francisco, summer means the beginning of chilly afternoon fog, and the best heat won't show up until around September.
We gain insight into our most extreme weather conditions when we think about how unique to our respective localities these earthly happenings are, and how ultimately privileged we are to experience them, however annoying they sometimes are. Ancient Egypt wouldn't have been what it was, if the Nile didn't flood on a regular basis.
And it truly blows the mind to imagine how many different folks are leading different lives in different contexts all around the world as you sit and read this, thanks to the relativity of time and space. Right now, it is day and night and summer and winter and hot and cold and happy and sadall light and all shadow, always all at once.
Writing this website gives me the blessed opportunity to connect far across this world, providing me the perpetual reminder that Summer Solstice is always also Winter Solsticeand Monday is also Tuesday. It's a helpful perspective for an astrologer to have. It's also a reminder never to get too comfortable in one place or one perspective, for the nature of the seasonsand of lifeis that everything is always already changing.