Monthly Archives: March 2012

What Is It With Saint Patrick’s Day, Anyhow?

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Oh, I’m in a mood, and I’m tired with everyone– modern-day Christians, Neo-Pagans, brainless TV talking heads, and astronomers, just to name a few. Why? Because of the gross misunderstanding that surrounds the equinoxes and solstices, as well as general modern cluelessness as to how humanity’s most ancient calendar worked– the one measured out by places like Stonehenge and the Majorville Cairn and Medicine Wheel in Alberta, Canada. So, seeing as I am in a semi-foul mood, let’s start things out with a joke– this is from a greeting card I received several years ago, and it never fails to make me laugh…

So what is it about Saint Patrick’s Day, anyway? Today, thanks to Western astronomy co-opting the term “equinox” for its own purposes, and Christianity co-opting the date of March 17th as the celebration of the death-anniversary of a Celtic bishop who got all cranky-pants with the Druids, what we’ve got is a modern holiday where great swathes of elementary school children wear green clothing, make paper shamrocks and listen to stories about leprechauns. Adults tend to celebrate it by getting snockered on beer with green food-coloring added to it and/or by listening to hours and hours of Celtic music played at migraine-inducing volumes. If one polls any cross-section of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrants, one gets some very strange answers as to why March 17th in particular is so important, but the bottom line is, nobody ever gets it right.

For the record, here is the correct answer:

In Ireland, March 17th is the day of the Functional Equinox, that is, the 24-hour period when the length of the day and night are actually equal.

If this comes as a surprise to you, you are not alone. Neo-Pagans as a group are just as confused, thinking that by celebrating the Vernal or Autumnal Equinox at the precise day and moment their Witches’ Almanacs and Faerie/Tree/Moon calendars cite, that they are doing as the ancients did. Unfortunately, they are not even close– the dates that all calendars, time-calculating websites and news programs cite are the dates of the Astronomical Equinoxes, which are modern, artificially agreed-upon moments during the Earth’s yearly orbit when the Sun is directly overhead a specific point on Earth’s equator. Here is a quick little quote from the Wikipedia entry on “Equinoxes and Solstices” that explains what the Astronomical Equinoxes are–

An equinox happens each year at two specific moments in time (rather than two whole days), when there is a location (the subsolar point) on the Earth’s equator, where the center of the Sun can be observed to be vertically overhead, occurring around March 20 and September 22 each year.

At an equinox, the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: classically, the vernal point and the autumnal point. By extension, the term equinox may denote an equinoctial point.

This is most emphatically not what the ancients– who invented the term “equinox”, by the way– meant when they used the term and/or measured their equinoxes by direct observation. What they were measuring and referring to were the Functional Equinoxes– the specific days at their observing location when the length of day and night were exactly equal.

So you may well ask, why the heck do we need two different kinds of equinoxes? Well, here’s the reason, short and simple– the days of the Functional Equinoxes differ based on the latitude one is observing at. While the Functional Spring Equinox will always be on or near the same day at locations that share the same latitude, for locations at different latitudes, the Functional Equinoxes will be on different days. This is because of three things:

1) The earth’s orbital path around the Sun is elliptical, not circular.

2) As it orbits, the Earth speeds up as it gets closer to the Sun, and slows down the farther away from the Sun it travels.

3) The earth’s axis is tilted.

Here is a little table showing the dates for the Functional Vernal/Spring and Autumnal/Autumn Equinoxes for 2012 at three different North latitudes:

Functional Vernal/Autumnal Equinox Dates, 2012

Dublin, Ireland (53 degrees, 20 min. N. Lat.)
Mar 17, 2012    Sunrise- 6:34 AM    Sunset- 6:34 PM    11h 59m 32s    
Sept 25, 2012    Sunrise- 7:17 AM    Sunset- 7:15 PM    11h 58m 50s

San Diego, California (32 degrees, 42 min. N. Lat.)
Mar 16, 2012    Sunrise- 6:57 AM    Sunset- 6:58 PM    12h 00m 52s
Sept 26, 2012    Sunrise- 6:40 AM    Sunset- 6:39 PM    11h 59m 19s

Mexico City, Mexico (19 degrees, 26 min. N. Lat.)
Mar 13, 2012    Sunrise- 6:46 AM    Sunset- 6:46 PM    11h 59m 44s
Sept 28, 2012    Sunrise- 7:27 AM    Sunset- 7:27 PM    12h 00m 07s

You will note the date of the Functional Spring Equinox for Dublin, Ireland– March 17th. It is always very close to the same date for this location/latitude, year-in, year-out, and the ancients knew this and observed it. When Christianity started making inroads into Druidic Ireland, the day was “sanctified” by making it the death-anniversary of Patrick (something of a stretch, I’m guessing, but it still found a place in the liturgical calendar) because everybody celebrated on March 17th regardless of its pagan origins, and the early church felt obliged to do something to make it all less eternally-damned-heathen.

Then modern astronomers came along and said, “let’s make everything nicely uniform worldwide, because we can’t have a whole mess of different official dates for the equinoxes, or print different calendars for different latitudes”, so they co-opted the term “equinox” to mean an artificial moment in time when the Sun is directly over a particular point on Earth’s equator. Then they further muddied the waters by arbitrarily creating a new “official designation” for the Functional Equinox, even though nobody really needed one. Here’s the confusing name-swap garbage explained (supposedly) on Wiki–

Although the word equinox is often understood to mean “equal [day and] night”, this is not strictly true. For most locations on earth, there are two distinctly identifiable days per year when the length of day and night are closest to being equal; those days are referred to as the “equiluxes” to distinguish them from the equinoxes. Equinoxes are points in time, but equiluxes are days. By convention, equiluxes are the days where sunrise and sunset are closest to being exactly 12 hours apart.

No, guys, you just made that up on the spur of the moment to disguise the fact that you purloined the term “equinox” and completely ignored its original meaning because it was convenient for you to do so.

To sum up, then–

1) If Pagan groups want to celebrate the equinoxes as their forebears did, they need to get hold of yearly sunrise/sunset time tables for their individual locations and determine which days in Feb.-Mar. and Sept.-Oct. are the individual dates when day and night are of equal length at their latitude, because that’s the way the Druids and the folks who built the Majorville Medicine Wheel reckoned it.

2) If one is trying to reconstruct ancient magickal ritual, it is the Functional Equinox dates which are important, because that’s what was meant by the term “equinox” in previous centuries.

3) If one is trying to do a present-day magickal working that will truly harness the equal-light-and-dark vibe, then the work needs to be done on the Functional Equinox at the location where the work is being undertaken.

4) I spit on the term equilux. It is nothing but another layer of crap-jargon obscuring an already badly confused situation. Besides, I am perfectly capable of distinguishing between two different uses of the word equinox, which I have done quite satisfactorily in this post.

5) Just because stupid talking heads on TV news programs idiotically parrot nonsense stuff like “Today is the Spring Equinox– this means the length of day and night are the same today, all around the world…” it does not mean you have to believe one word of what they say. They are usually talking about the Astronomical Equinox, and are completely mistaken about every supposed “fact” they state about it (see the Wiki definition of the Astronomical Equinox in the above post).

6) Saint Patrick’s Day is very likely a church-preserved Functional Spring Equinox festival dating from the days of Olde Druid Ireland.

7) I am fed up with the general state of stupidity surrounding both Saint Patrick’s Day and equinox definitions! I think I need a beer, or maybe a nice, home-brewed raspberry mead. Hold the green food coloring, please…

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Saint Caroline (or, So It’s International Women’s Day, Huh?)

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Portrait of Caroline Herschel copied from University of Delaware website, rabbit-ears and starry background added by me, with love and affection...

I figured I’d celebrate International Women’s Day by resting up from my previous day.

Wednesday, March 7th, 2011, saw me get up at 8:30 to call in to the scheduling clerk at my job to find out which branch library I’d be subbing at, and then doing a round of chores before I had to report for my 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. workday.

Mid-morning, my sister called to tell me they were transporting my (literally) demented father to the hospital ER– apparently, he had spontaneously gotten up off the bedside commode, where he was being helped to finish toileting after having torture-tested a Depends adult diaper to its catastrophic-fail-point, thereby soiling himself and the bed-pad. His brief walkabout took the form of a meandering 12-foot stroll around the foot of the bed, capped off by a bare-assed half-roll, half-swan-dive onto the lush, cut-pile bedroom carpeting when he just decided he was tired and sat down on a chair that was comprised solely of misfiring brain-circuitry.

Our major concern was another fracture of some sort– he also has osteoporosis and suffered a hip fracture in January of 2011– and after giving my sister the back line number at the library I had been assigned to work at, I took off for a full day of hauling book totes, processing reserves, and fielding reference questions in a calm and professional manner.

My sister called me at work around 4 in the afternoon with the glad tidings that there were no broken bones, but the bad news was that the increased agitation, the spontaneous walkabouts and the general fruit-loopiness of the last week most likely derives from a worsening of his dementia rather than from the UTI he was diagnosed with last Saturday at Urgent Care. This means we are now at the point where we need yet another caregiver in the mix, because it is now apparent that both Mom and Dad require someone on the premises around the clock. Our daytime caregiver very kindly said she would help us out and do a couple of emergency nights for us, and my sister asked me if I would be willing to stop by after work and stay with Mom and Dad while the caregiver went home to collect her things for the night. I said absolutely, and so after my workday was done at 8 p.m., I drove over to the folks’ place to relieve the caregiver.

The caregiver got back at about 9:40, and it took the two of us to get Dad into bed, as the trip to and from the hospital ER had tired him out, and he kept falling asleep. Our best chance of changing his diaper came when he was awake enough to stand beside his bed using the wall-rail we had installed last year, at which point the caregiver and I discovered he had once again unloaded in his Depends, and the shit was everywhere. We cleaned the worst of it, then got him seated on the bedside commode, and while the caregiver stayed with him, I ran back and forth between the bathroom and bedroom, bringing a clean urinal full of warm water, several wet washcloths, and two hand-towels so that we could get his skin completely clean prior to putting on another pair of Depends for the night. Before we could do this, however, we had to get him off the commode, which we did by hauling him upright by his gait-belt. At this point, he complained to the caregiver that he was tired, so we got him positioned so that he could sit down sort of half-way on the edge of the bed. He then complained he had to pee, so we gave him a urinal, and in the process of peeing, he once again crapped, this time on the bed-pad, so the caregiver cleaned him up again, while I changed the bed-pad and brought more washcloths and baby-wipes.

We finally got him into bed by 10:15, and the caregiver said she’d do a quick load of clothes before she went to bed, so that everything that was soiled would be ready to go tomorrow. I thanked her and took off because I still had my own grocery shopping to do on my way home, which meant that by the time I got back to my place, it was around 11:30.

Today I rested, ate my own homemade scalloped potatoes with ham and my own homemade tabouli. I watched a movie– Midnight In Paris— ignored the phone when it rang, and took an afternoon nap, after which I got online to check my emails. I had a sardonic chuckle over the snappy International Women’s Day Google-doodle, and then got dressed to go gas up my car for work tomorrow and to pick up some stamps at the post office. After purchasing my stamps (from a female postal employee who looked so tired that I wondered if she was also caregiving some aged and infirm family member), I nipped into the nearby Target to use their restroom.

As I came out of the restroom– thoughtfully positioned so that it faces the Women’s Shoe department– an interesting sight greeted me. Two young women, in their mid-twenties I’d guess, were trying on the most gawdawful shoes I have ever seen in my life. They were extremely high-heeled, and had platform soles for additional height, so that an original four-inch heel was now a good six inches high. One pair of shoes was close-toed and bright red, while the upper of other pair was made entirely out of thin straps of electric turquoise vinyl. I overheard the woman wearing the red shoes say to her friend, “These shoes are really crushing my toes,” to which her friend replied, “Well, let’s put them on and walk around the store in them. Sometimes after you wear them awhile, your toes go numb and they don’t feel so bad…”

They then proceeded to walk–no, totter– out of the shoe department, and the kicker was that each pair of shoes was fastened together with an elastic string to keep the shoes properly paired up, so these two women are sort of wobbling along, almost en pointe, with white elastic fetters further limiting their stride, to see if the pain of a much-too-high vamp and a ridiculously shortened toe-box was worth $35.00. The really sad, sad thing was that this cheap foot-torture expenditure was most likely being undertaken by both women in pursuit of a drunk Saturday one-nighter party-screw with some beer-sucking jerk or other, who, for the sake of the future of humanity, should never be allowed to ejaculate– ever, under any circumstances. I thought, “Wowie-zowie, Happy International Women’s Day, slave-sisters…”

On my drive over to the gas station (in my comfy, flat-soled, teal-velvet beaded Persian carpet-slippers) I thought about what I had seen these two women doing to themselves in the Target shoe department, and my mind, skipping about rabbit-like as it is wont to do, suddenly landed on Caroline Herschel, the astronomer (that’s her picture at the top of this post), who, thanks to custom and patriarchal ideas about what constituted proper female fashion-modesty in her time, had to do all her telescope-work in voluminous skirts, which are extremely unsafe on ladders and around machinery with moving parts– like telescopes. This was because a woman wearing pants was considered indecent by the patriarchal hegemony of her day. I then thought of my friend, Prunella Flynn, who is herself quite a student of astronomy, and I thought, “Even though she and I have both been saddled within our respective families with caregiving our aging parents– the main criterion for this selection being the fact that we are the family members who just happen to be packing vaginas– at least when we go outside and set up our ‘scopes, we can wear pants…”

So how far have we come, really? Do the two fashion-victims– and I do mean victims, literally– understand that when they make themselves “adorable” within the patriarchal fashion aesthetic, they make themselves oppressable, easier to ignore/pay less/marginalize? It’s a war of inches, where the 32-inch inseam of my jeans spells victory and a crippling, six-inch heel spells defeat.

When one considers the current attack being mounted on affordable, widely available female contraception in this country by a bunch of male religious reactionaries, who feel their female slave-owning rights are being threatened by women who should be less “uppity” and more willing to keep on injuring their bodies and their minds for the sexual gratification of their would-be overlords, a pair of red, toe-mangling, platform fuck-me shoes with six-inch heels makes quite a statement– and not the good kind, either. It’s something to think about.

So… Happy International Women’s Day, and Goddess Bless You, Saint Caroline, for reminding us that a woman’s place is at the eyepiece of an 18-inch telescope, charting the heavens– which activity provides a welcome sanity-break from all the nurturing and caregiving we women are said to enjoy above all else…