17 October 2015
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has rejoiced at some clear sunny days recently. A few days of sunshine and I’m instantly feeling better about the world.
At our place the timespan of winter is marked very clearly. For almost three months exactly the sun goes down behind the Hikurangi hill, casting our house in early shadow. For us, the arrival of spring ― and the end of winter depression ― is signaled by the sun descending for the first time just past the southern slope of the hill. Given that the silhouette of this old volcanic cone is so distinctive it’s a visually captivating occurrence; it’s like the sun is sliding down the hillside. This momentous event is duly celebrated with a particular ritual: sitting on the deck drinking chardonnay (sunshine in a glass).
I can’t help thinking that here are the ancient origins of our religious practices. All cultures and societies have placed importance on the sun and the changing seasons. Early people could not have failed to notice that the sun would appear at the same place every year in relation to a prominent feature of the landscape, as viewed from a particular spot or dwelling. Overtime this simple natural phenomenon became formalised into cultural ceremonies of a village or tribe, leading in some cases to the construction of places of worship like Stonehenge or the Inca temples to the sun god Inti.
The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has been important to many cultures; a logical time to consider rebirth and renewal, or just be thankful that the days are now going to get longer and warmer.
The worship of the sun as the source of life is confirmed by modern science. Life in its most basic sense is the consumption of an energy gradient, the most vital being sunlight. The plant life, on land and in water, which converts the sun’s rays into energy and cell growth is the foundation of our planet’s ecosystem. Animals eat the plants and defecate; while both plants and animals decay after death to provide an energy resource for more life. Not to mention over millions of years the oil, coal and natural gas that has so far powered our technological society. In its full complexity and interdependence it’s an amazing process, one that can’t help but lead us to thinking about a holistic relationship between ourselves and all life, present, past and future.
Understanding the ecology of our world, and the centrality of the sun to it all, would seem to be a good basis for cultural understanding between people. There are so many stories, songs and poems to share. I’m not one for ceremonies and formality, but if we were to build an architectural monument in Whangarei that marked in a dramatic way the arrival of spring, I’d be there.
To complete my holy communion with the sun would be The Beatles’ song, Here Comes the Sun; its irresistibly sweet melody like the early morning sunshine of a beautiful spring day. Sing after me: “Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)/ Here comes the sun, and I say/ It’s all right.”