Medley

Dancing to a Different Rhythm: A Southern Hemisphere Perspective of the Sacred Seasons

Esther Pockrandt – Australia

Medley Esther 2 The Wheel of the Year SH

The Wheel of the Year, Southern Hemisphire

[Friday December 22, 2023]

It is dark outside. It is 4 am. Pre-dawn and far away calls of kookaburras break the night silence from across the distant hills.  The eager call of a currawong trying to get a foot grip on the wet tin roof chimes in, letting the world know nature is waking up.  A possum Mum scurries hastily yet sure-footed across the spines of roofs, from foraging overnight in nearby bushes and trees for fruit, leaves and nectar, like a tight rope walker with a piggy-backed young one, balancing on the electric wires that connect homes to poles, and more poles to homes, hurrying to bed and sleep in a tree hollow somewhere, before the hot sun strikes. The whip birds are still dozing. The drip of remnant rain from leaves of last night’s storms provides that silent drip-drip drone as the dark of the night fades barely noticeable into promise of more light in the east…not quite yet, but soon.  And ‘soon’ comes, and so it is.  Yet there is no colourful sunrise this morning.  The drip-drip from leaves turns to gentle but steady rain again. It is a wondrous new, moist dawn on this special day, an unseasonal, welcome relief from the scorching heat over the past week and a respite from the threat of bushfires, parched cracking earth … for now. 

My furry companions and all my other furred and feathered neighbours and I, we have been steadily waking a little earlier these past weeks and months.  It is the golden hour of the day, we all tuned, closely still, to nature’s seasonal cycles and daily rhythms. The gift of this is immeasurable and it keeps me from being lured into economy tuned daylight-saving dictates, connected instead to nature’s lore still. I am indeed privileged not to wake to the hum of the city, nor the acrid smell of exhaust fumes and bitumen. Today dawn has broken to welcome the Summer Solstice into this, my precious, peaceful speck on the planet.

My mind turns to the significance of this day, the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere and how in this wet, I might light my planned Solstice fire.  Or should I just flow with nature, sit in contemplative silence of its cyclic significance for nature, for me and humanity, lighting a candle, that tiny flame instead when the hour strikes? For peace, harmony, respect and sanity to be restored on Earth, and in gratitude for all my abundance?  

Google told me a couple of days ago that the summer Solstice falls between December 21 and 23 in the Southern Hemisphere each year and that today, Friday, 22nd December 2023, the longest day, and that we, on the mid-East Coast of Australia, will be at the earth’s closest tilt to the sun at 2:27pm.  

People in Sydney with mandatory daylight-saving time, are expected to experience about 14 hours and 24 minutes of daylight on Friday, according to timeanddate.com, with the Sun expected to rise at 5:40am and set at 8:05pm on the day of the solstice. In my State, where we don’t have daylight-saving, that translates to sunrise at 4:30 and it setting, if it appears today, at 7:05pm.

Furthermore, the stats say, in terms of daylight, this day will be 4 hours and 31 minutes longer in Sydney than the winter solstice. No doubt this will be a delight for last minute Christmas shoppers.  It isn’t called the silly season for no reason!  Indeed, how is it, that Northern Hemisphere seasonal and sacred myths have been imposed on the colonised lands of the Southern Hemisphere, totally disregarding nature’s ways and indigenous understanding, lore and wisdom? Would it not be the constellation of Orion in the night sky with the lore of the Seven Sisters Dreaming in its belt, the Milky Way, that would have great significance to Indigenous Elders here, not the Star of Bethlehem?  That is the Christian story of the Middle East, and adapted to the wintry landscapes and folklore of Northern Europe, making, what, some say, was a comet at the time of Christ’s birth, into the North Star, Polaris.

When the first fleet arrived on 18 January 1788 on the shores of this yet unexplored continent in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons from the Northern Hemisphere, were reverso transposed to this land.  The Northern Hemisphere experience of summer, the fullness of Earth’s energy, that abundance, her fertility and strength, still today is seen as filling us and calling us to celebrate and honour these gifts. It is a lovely visualisation. In this reverso transposition, we are called to join together and share the abundance, with gratitude to all this, that we are showered with.  It is a time to feel the sacredness of these cycles, reminder of nature’s cyclic renewal of which we too in consciousness and flesh are an integral part. It is a time to reflect on reaping what we have sown, of taking responsibility for ‘what is’ now as a result before us. It is also a reminder that from now after harvest, nature and we with it, come to rest, nights longer, a restorative pace also for reflection.  We are after all, the microcosm reflecting the cosmic cycles of our solar system, of rest and manifestation, of involution and evolution, births deaths and reincarnations.

Rock

Uluṟu, formerly Ayer’s Rock or the red rock, with the Milky Way night sky

 © Steven Wei 

And yet, when applied to the vastness of the Australian continent, it is not quite as simple as a mere transposition of Northern Hemisphere seasonal cycles and analogies of abundance for and during the Summer Solstice.  This time in Australia, to the contrary, is often a time of drought, harsh parching and relentless sun, extremes of weather, ruined crops, cyclones, thunderstorms and devastating floods.  The safer growing and harvesting season on the Eastern Coast is more in the months of October and September, perhaps November.  Furthermore, First Nation people divide the country into less, or, many more than 4 seasons. In the far North wet and dry are the recognised two season.  The coastal areas are considered to have six seasons and the inland Desert areas three.  Seasons are considered circular, not linear, as in our Western calendar view.

In First Nations cultures, the cyclical nature of seasons is emphasised; seasons are not really viewed as sequential, because of how the passing of time is understood in Indigenous cultures. Specifically, time is viewed as cyclical, rather than sequential, where past, present and future are all intertwined aspects of the same reality; this concept is often described as ‘everywhen’. (Stanner 1979, p. 24, quoted in australianstogether.org.au)

Furthermore,

[First Nations people] continuously created the cycle of time. Through ceremonies in which they re-created the events of their origin, they rejuvenated life – growth, depletion and renewal – through ritual activity. (Donaldson 1996, p. 193, cited in australianstogether.org.au)

And to conclude this reflection on seasons, sacredness, lore, south and north, and more, from australianstogether.org.au:
 

We may not think of understanding seasons as being mathematical. But it takes complex mathematical knowledge to observe patterns, calculate seasonal time and predict seasons and weather.

First Nations people were the first mathematicians in Australia. Going back many thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had a detailed understanding of complex mathematical concepts including those in relation to daily or short time, medium or seasonal time, and long or eternal time, for example:

  • Daily time being measured by “daybreak, sunrise, morning, afternoon, late afternoon, sunset, evening and night” (Donaldson 1996, p. 193).
  • The relationship between moon cycles and tidal times being used to determine appropriate fishing times (The University of Melbourne n. d.).
  • The position of stars in the sky being used to determine seasons and appropriate times to carry out particular activities, such as, hunting particular animals or harvesting particular foods (Quach 2017; BOM 2016a, 2016b).
  • The blossoming of certain flowers marking the beginning or end of a season (BOM 2016a, 2016b).
  • Slow and subtle variability in the brightness of three huge, red stars in the sky – Betelgeuse, Aldebaran and Antares – being used to describe ‘long time’. First Nations people worked out that Betelgeuse varies faster than Aldebaran (Betelgeuse varies by an order of magnitude about every 400 days) and used this fact in measuring time (Hamacher 2020).
  • This kind of knowledge continues to be an important part of cultural identity for many First Nations people. (Teacher Guide Y2 Maths:  Comparing Indigenous and Western concepts of seasons, ordering Western months and understanding seasonal cycles.  australianstogether.org.au)

The question we must pose therefore in our meaning making of spiritual truths and cosmic events, and as theosophists, is, “are we unknowingly engaging in spiritual colonialism, when we try to reverso impose Northern Hemisphere spiritual traditions and myths to the colonised and Christianised lands of the Southern Hemisphere?  Are we ignoring Indigenous cultural and spiritual understandings of their cosmos, their view of their place in time and star lore, their myths of meaning making of ‘long time’?”

 After all the 2nd Object of the Theosophical Society suggests, “the comparative study of religion, philosophy, and science.”  This is true also to the original purpose of Helena P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, which she subtitled, “The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy.”  We are yet to understand the depth of Australian First Nation Spirituality and to discover that esoteric thread common through all wisdom traditions of all the nations on this planet. 

It is the end of the day, now.  Darkness again envelops my speck of the Southern Hemisphere.  The longest day is now shortening.  The fire was the flame of a candle for celebration and reflection. Clouds cover the stars. Orion is in hiding.  Frogs and night insects pulse their calls through the cool, moist air….like a peaceful, slumbering purr of a breath…till soon again this peaceful drone is replaced by the distant waking calls of birds, one revolution of the earth later, night time, just a little fraction longer here in our Southern lands.

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