Ancient Celebrations – Part 6 – Perihelion, Aphelion and the Solstices

The Earth is closest to the Sun – at its Perihelion – about 2 weeks after the December Solstice and farthest from the Sun – at its Aphelion – about 2 weeks after the June Solstice.

Earth orbits the Sun in an elliptical path, which means that there is 1 point of the path when the Sun is at its closest to the Earth and 1 point when it is furthest away.

The shape of this path varies due to gravitational influences of other planetary objects, particularly the Moon. Approximately every 100,000 years, Earth’s orbital path changes from being nearly circular to elliptical. The difference of the Earth’s orbital shape from a perfect circle is known as its eccentricity. An eccentricity value of 0 is a circular orbit, while values between 0 and 1 describe an elliptical orbit.

The dates when Earth reaches the extreme points on its orbit are not fixed because of the variations in its eccentricity. In 1246, the December Solstice was on the same day as the Earth reached its Perihelion. Since then, the Perihelion and Aphelion dates have drifted by a day every 58 years. In the short-term, the dates can vary up to 2 days from one year to another.

Mathematicians and astronomers estimate that in the year 6430, over 4000 years from now, the timing of the Perihelion and the March Equinox will coincide.

The Earth is closest to the Sun – at its Perihelion – about 2 weeks after the December Solstice and farthest from the Sun – at its Aphelion – about 2 weeks after the June Solstice.

Earth orbits the Sun in an elliptical path, which means that there is 1 point of the path when the Sun is at its closest to the Earth and 1 point when it is furthest away.

The shape of this path varies due to gravitational influences of other planetary objects, particularly the Moon. Approximately every 100,000 years, Earth’s orbital path changes from being nearly circular to elliptical. The difference of the Earth’s orbital shape from a perfect circle is known as its eccentricity. An eccentricity value of 0 is a circular orbit, while values between 0 and 1 describe an elliptical orbit.

The dates when Earth reaches the extreme points on its orbit are not fixed because of the variations in its eccentricity. In 1246, the December Solstice was on the same day as the Earth reached its Perihelion. Since then, the Perihelion and Aphelion dates have drifted by a day every 58 years. In the short-term, the dates can vary up to 2 days from one year to another.

Mathematicians and astronomers estimate that in the year 6430, over 4000 years from now, the timing of the Perihelion and the March Equinox will coincide.

Ancient Ancestors Placed Markers For Astrological Events

You might wonder why we are discussing such things in great detail and the connection with today’s revived interest in Solstice and Equinox Celebrations.

From at least 5000 years ago ancient monuments have marked out Solstice and Equinoxes with their alignment with the Sun. The ancients would have spent many years (even decades) putting up these monuments, with blood, sweat and tears for future generations to enjoy.

Our ancestors lived amidst nature more than most of us do today. They observed the universe, noting its rhythms. They used both solar and lunar calendars, tracking the Sun’s path across the sky. Here are some examples of the ancient sites and monuments that were built to align with the solstices or equinoxes.

1) Stonehenge

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

Each year, thousands visit Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice. The huge monolith stones (many of which were transported from miles away in South Wales) were arranged in a circle around 3000 BC. The huge monument marks the relation between the Sun and the seasons.

On the dawning of the summer solstice, the sun rises directly above the Heel Stone. Although the tallest trilithon at the monument is no longer standing, the sun would have set between the narrow gap of these uprights during the winter solstice.

2) Newgrange

Newgrange, Donore, County Meath, Ireland

Around 3200 B.C., ancient people in Ireland built a huge mound and surrounded it with stones. Today, the knoll is called Newgrange.

Illuminated passage during Winter Solstice

For five days around the winter solstice, a beam of sunlight illuminates a small room inside the mound for 17 minutes at dawn. The room holds only twenty people at a time.

3) Machu Picchu (Peru)

Maccha Picchu, Peru

Marking out Solstices and Equinoxes wasn’t just limited to Britain and Ireland. The awe inspiring Machu Picchu was the transcendent City of the Incas. This archaeological site is perched atop a mountain overlooking the Urubamba Valley in Peru.

Intihuatana Stone, Maccha Picchu, Peru

The giant Intihuatana (meaning “the place when the Sun gets tied”) stone at the top of this sacred mountain is perfectly positioned so that each corner sits at the four cardinal points (north, south, east, and west), and at an angle of about 13 degrees northward. The stone casts a shadow throughout the day. However, at exactly noon on the date of the spring or fall equinox, the Sun’s shadow disappears. The stone is a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes.

4) Other Examples

The importance of marking out ancient Celebrations is seen from many other ancient monuments throughout the world, including the Mayan Pyramid, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and the Great Sphinx and Pyramid of Khafre in Egypt.

Added to the list are thousands of smaller stone circles concentrated mainly around Britain, Ireland and Northern Europe, but found as far away as Northern India. These time keeping circles show that the ancients viewed these events as important.

Solstices – Longest and Shortest Day of the Year

The June solstice is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

The date varies between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year, and the local time zone.

A solstice happens when the sun’s zenith is at its furthest point from the equator. On the June solstice, it reaches its northernmost point and the Earth’s North Pole tilts directly towards the sun, at about 23.4 degrees.

It’s also known as the northern solstice because it occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the tropical zodiac used in Western Astrology it is at this exact point that the Sun enters the Astrological sign of Cancer (however, the Sun is still physically positioned in Gemini due to the precession of the Equinoxes).

The Winter Solstice takes place each year between 20-22 December, depending on the year and your location. All Solstices and Equinoxes are events that happens around the world at the exact same point.

For the December Solstice, this is when the Sun is aligned to the most Southerly point, the tropic of Capricorn. Indeed in the tropical zodiac it is seen as the time when the Sun enters Capricorn. For those south of the equator it is the time of the summer solstice.

It is a time of celebration. A time of rebirth of the dying sun, or the Sun at it’s zenith in other parts of the world. Many festivities take place this time of year, but Christmas is the most well known. The controversial 19th century Welsh Druid Iolo Morganwg called it Alban Arthan, which translates to The Light of Arthur the legendary King. But whatever you call it, or however you celebrate it, solstice blessings to you and your kin.

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