In any given month, the rising moon swings between two extremes on the eastern horizon, similar to the oscillation of the rising sun during the year. When the moon reaches its maximum northern or southern declination, it has a “standstill” similar to the sun at summer and winter solstices. The standstills could be said to be the moon’s equivalence to the Solar Solstices. [for details on lunar standstills, refer to Native American Skies: Lunar Standstills]
During the month, the moon rises at different points across the eastern horizon. When it reaches the farthest point north it pauses, or rises in the same spot for a couple of days, and then reverses course. This pause is called a “Lunar Standstill”. The same thing happens two weeks later at its farthest point south. You may have noticed that the sun does the same thing, but it takes the sun a year to move from its farthest point north (Summer Solstice) to its farthest point south (Winter Solstice) and back again. At each solstice, the sun pauses before reversing course and this is called a Solar Standstill. [refer to last week’s article: Native American Skies: Lunar Standstill]
Have you noticed how fast the earth has been moving lately? Probably not, but in fact the earth moves faster in the winter than in the summer. The reason is because the earth moves around the sun in an elliptical orbit, not circular, so as the earth gets closer to the sun it speeds up and as it flies away from the sun it slows down. In North America, the winter half of the year is approximately eight days shorter than the summer half.
In his account of the Soto expedition, “The Inca” [see Part 1] gives what I believe to be the most accurate and eloquent account of the attitudes of the Spaniards towards the Indians, and the Indians towards the Spaniards I have ever read. So, this week, I want to simply quote his articulate description of those attitudes. Note: the Inca’s reference to “Acuera” does not agree with other chroniclers. However, it was most likely the chief of the “Timucua” Indians that Soto was trying to befriend.
The sky has been an important indicator of what is happening and what will happen on earth for ancient peoples all over the world for as long as man has possessed the curiosity to look up. The movement of the sun across the horizon and back throughout the year, has been especially important as an indicator and predictor of the seasons. On December 21st, 2014 the sun travelled as far south as it would go, rose for three days in the same place and then started its journey north again. That day marked the “Winter Solstice” (“Solstice” means “sun standstill”), the day with the longest night and shortest day of the year. The cultures of the Americas observed this very special day in many different ways, but for all, it was time of great portents. For what if the sun decided to continue its journey south?