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5 things to know about solstices

Updated: Nov 10, 2022







The solstices are strange and wonderful natural phenomena that are closely linked to our understanding of astrology and astronomy. Solstices occur just twice a year, although some people think that there are four due to there being four seasons which we observe. Their occurrence is marked by a day when the sun reaches its most southerly or northerly position in relation to our celestial equator.

The word “solstice” is a combination of the Latin words “sol” and “sistere,” meaning “sun” and “to stand still” respectively. The meaning behind the word is quite literal as astronomers thought that the sun would stand still once it reached its highest point in the sky before turning back and beginning its decline over the horizon.

The theory of solstices and their practical use in ancient civilizations is quite apparent. However, nobody can say with absolute certainty who is responsible for the discovery of the solstices. With this rudimentary understanding of the solstices, let’s unpack the 5 things that you should know about them.


Astronomer Who Ate His Words - Galileo Galilei & The Solstices



Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa, Italy in February of 1564, was an Italian astronomer and physicist. He followed the teachings of Nicolaus Copernicus who, in 1543, had declared that his scientific findings had led him to believe that our earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around as it was believed at the time.

However, Galilei’s path into physics had a different beginning. During his formative years, his father decided that he should become a doctor. As a musician, Galilei’s father was convinced that medicine would afford his son a life of elevated social rank and financial stability. Galilei, on the other hand, had different interests and begged his father to allow him to pursue his affinity for mathematics.

This would be the beginning of his journey and would, ultimately, lead him down a path that would force him to recant his statements on the position of the earth in relation to the sun. At the time, the Catholic Church had an almost unbreakable stronghold on society and they were angered by Galilei’s statements as well as the traction he was gaining in terms of believers in his theories. The Catholic Church insisted that the earth, and all of God’s creations, were the center of the universe and that everything in the cosmos revolved around the earth.

Of course, we know that this is not true and Galilei continued to argue his theory of the sun being the center of our galaxy. This argument would go on to be referred to as geocentric universe theories versus heliocentric universe theories. The final straw, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, came when Galilei began publishing papers that were steeped in the scientific evidence of his theories. He was promptly summoned to The Holy Office of the Vatican by the Inquisition Wing of the Catholic Church and charged with heresy – a crime punishable by death. He avoided sentencing under the promise that he would never publish works on the matter again.

A defiant believer in science, Galilei went back on his word and published a book on the matter, titled Systema Cosmicum (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems) in 1632. In 1633 he was, again, summoned to the Holy Office and charged with heresy. There would be no avoiding conviction this time around, but the church allowed him to carry out his life sentence under house arrest if he recanted his statements, which he did during the Summer Solstice of 1633 as the sun made its curved path through the sky before reversing directions.

It's incredible how something as simple as scientific fact was fought for by men and women who came before us and the right to publish such facts about solstices was hard won.

Equinoxes & Solstices – Are they the Same Thing?



As mentioned, people tend to mix up solstices and equinoxes. There are, indeed, four notable days – one for each season – but there are only two solstices per year and two equinoxes per year. Are they the same thing? No. Can they be categorized as similar occurrences? Quite possibly, yes. But what are the key differences between solstices and equinoxes?

For starters, solstices occur in summer and winter while equinoxes occur in autumn and spring. What’s interesting is the fact that although there are only two solstices, they take place at different times of the year, depending on which hemisphere you live in. In the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice occurs around June of each year. If you live in the southern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice takes place toward the end of December. Similarly, the Winter Solstice – also known as the hibernal solstice – takes place in December in the northern hemisphere and in June in the southern hemisphere. The days correlate with one another, with the southern regions of earth experiencing their Winter Solstice at the same time that the northern regions experience their Summer Solstice and vice versa.

Then there are the equinoxes: the Vernal (spring) Equinox and the Autumnal (fall) Equinox. The Spring Equinox takes place in March in the northern hemisphere and in September in the southern hemisphere. Just like the solstices, the northern hemisphere experiences the Fall Equinox in September and the southern hemisphere experiences it in March.

So, what are they exactly and how have they been used in the past? The simple answer is that solstices represent the longest (summer) and shortest (winter) days of the years. While the equinoxes represent days that have equally an equally long night and day. The solstices were used to time crop cycles across numerous cultures in ancient history. They were also times of great celebration where feasts and bonfires would be held. The strange thing about these celebrations is that these cultures seemed to have similar use for the observation of the solstices and celebrated in similar manners, despite never having come into contact with one another. Equinoxes were used in a similar fashion, helping ancient civilizations track the seasons and establish life cycles.

Fact or Fiction - The Longest & Shortest Days


Saying that there are long and short days within the Gregorian calendar has the tendency to confuse people. We don’t magically get more hours in a 24-hour cycle or fewer hours, for that matter. This idea simply refers to the hours of daylight that we experience in a day. During the Summer Solstice, we might have far more daytime hours than nighttime hours. During the Winter Solstice, we might have fewer daytime hours and more nighttime hours. In other words, it refers to the ratio of sunlit hours to nighttime hours.

That being said, in recent years, scientists have viewed other days of the year that present much longer stretches of sunlit hours, leading many to believe that the Summer Solstice is the longest day of summer and not, in fact, the longest day of the year. However, it is still regarded as the longest day.

More importantly, there are regions in the world where the sun just never seems to set. This is due to the curvature of the earth in relation to its positioning in relation to the sun. This phenomenon, known as the midnight sun, is prevalent in the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. However, countries such as Canada, Alaska, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland also experience the Midnight Sun, with some nights lasting just 4 hours long before the sun makes its appearance.

This makes it apparent that the only reason why we have solstices and equinoxes, as well as the seasons in general, is because of the curvature of the earth and the fact that the planet is tilted on its own axis. As the earth spins on its axis and revolves around the sun, we experience times when the southern hemisphere is closer to the sun and when it’s the farthest distance away from the sun. The same applies in the northern hemisphere and these official changes of the seasons are marked by the appearance of solstices and equinoxes.


Shifts in the Stars - Mysticism & The Solstices



It’s no secret that astrology is centered around the stars and planets in relation to our birth dates. What is most interesting about solstices and equinoxes is how they affect each zodiac sign. Overall, we note that there are four passages of the seasons marked by two solstices and two equinoxes per year. However, there are eight in total – four transitions of the seasons in the northern hemisphere and four in the southern hemisphere.

This means that solstices and equinoxes affect the zodiac signs in different ways according to which hemisphere you live in. The two solstice points and two equinox points each correspond with one of the four cardinal zodiac signs. In the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice occurs when the sun stands still over the Tropic of Cancer – the northern limit of the ecliptic. It also marks the first day of the Cancerian star in the zodiac. The Winter Solstice occurs when the sun stands still over the Tropic of Capricorn and marks the first day of the Zodiac sign known as Capricorn.

As spring symbolizes new beginnings, the Spring Equinox comes around just as the beginning of the new Zodiac years commences under Aries. On the other hand, as autumn represents balance in nature and the antithesis to new life, the Autumnal Equinox comes around in the house of Libra – symbolized by balancing scales.

With each solstice and equinox being tied to a cardinal zodiac sign, they can be seen as a time of new life and a time of harvesting or reaping that which you have sewn throughout the year. Decluttering your home during the Winter Solstice and Autumnal Equinox is recommended. It will help you prepare for the seasons of abundance that come with the Summer Solstice and Vernal Equinox. If you fall under a cardinal sign that correlates with an equinox or solstice, that would be a good time for you to begin planning new ventures.


Future Extremes – Climate Change & The Solstices



Mysticism aside, the solstices and equinoxes are showing us just how our earth is changing – and not for the better. The longest days are becoming longer and the shortest days are becoming shorter, indicating that the earth is moving into a pattern of extreme weather. While the solstices can be enjoyed now, the Summer Solstice, for example, might not be beachgoing weather in a few centuries. The hottest peak of the longest day might be far too unbearable to withstand with temperatures reaching far beyond what is safe and recommended for living creatures and plant life to be exposed to. This is a long way off and will not be something that happens in our lifetimes, but is a tell-tale sign that our earth is going through extreme climate changes that are going to have an impact on our way of life. Longer, warmer Summer Solstices can, theoretically, lead to a slower release of heat from the earth’s surfaces and oceans, resulting in more seasonal temperature lag. In other words, summers will get longer and so will our winters. All life – fauna, flora, and human beings included – require the balance of the seasons to thrive. This is definitely an alarm bell that needs to be observed with all due seriousness.

As the guardians of this earth, we owe it to ourselves to pay attention to these signs and act in the best interests of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as all life on the planet.

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The solstices are wonderful moments in our calendar year that serve to remind us of the opportunity for new beginnings. They remind us how life is changing all around us and give us signs regarding the health of our planet. Like many philosophers, astronomers, and physicists who came before us, we can look to the stars for answers to our lives here on earth.



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