Solstices, Phenology and Neohenges

Celebrating the Solstice in the Symbiocene

Ancient cultures the world-over celebrated the summer and winter solstices. After two years of Covid-forced virtual gatherings at places like Stonehenge in the UK, the celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, for people in the Northern Hemisphere has recommenced. As darkness and ice appear in the North, the bright skies and heat become dominant in the South. For people in my region of Australia, the summer solstice takes place on the 22nd December at 8.48 AEDT.

People, near the equator of the Earth wonder what the fuss is all about.

Pagans in the North feasted and marked the solstice with important cultural rituals such as the exchange of gifts. The return of the sun’s path toward Spring marked the return of the light and warmth. Gradually, the Pagan celebration of the solstice around December 21 was overtaken by the Christian celebration of Xmas and all attention was shifted to December 25th. As no one has any idea on what day of the year Jesus was born there seems to be an element of ‘cancel culture’ in the appropriation of the solstice festival by Christians.

The summer solstice in the Southern hemisphere was certainly noted by the Indigenous people and at least one grand-scale stone formation, thought to be at least as old as Stonehenge, has been revealed in the state that is now called Victoria. For the Wadda-Warrung people of the You Yang Ranges between Melbourne and Geelong, a region known as Wurdi Youang, has an extant stone arrangement where the “outlier stones west of the primary arrangement aligned to the position of the setting Sun at the solstices and equinoxes (Morieson 2003, in Hamacher et al 2020) ).

Phenology, or the study of the patterns and rhythms in nature, is exemplified by both Stonehenge and Wurdi Youang. Humans observe and respond to phenological events with architectural structure and celebrate them. I am motivated to reinstate the importance of phenology in our lives and to create connections to the knowledge of the past in traditional cultures and to disseminate the new knowledge that science has bestowed on the world. I am also motivated by creativity for the Symbiocene.

If the Anthropocene has lost its connections to ancient phenology, then my concept of the Symbiocene will return them in design, structure, form and culture. How do we do this?

Neohenges

The world-over, community initiated solstice projects can take on the creative, scientific and cultural task of designing and building neohenges. Neohenges are intentional structures that enable the witnessing of short time (sundials) and long time periods, of the solstices and the equinoxes.

In addition, education about phenology, time and culture will need to be an integral part of the function of these new sumbiotectural structures. The possibility of new/old ways of celebrating these phenological moments/occasions will be open-ended. “Solestitia” or solstice rites will re-enter our lives.

There are examples of sundials all over the world. Now it is time for neohenges to appear.

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