3/19/2007 Vernal Equinox The first day of Spring! The nice thing about New Year's Day is that there are so many to celebrate. The Vernal Equinox is New Year's Day on the old Babylonian calendar, the zodiac. At 5:07 pm PDT it will be the moment of the New Year on the Persian calendar. This will start the year 6243 of the old Egyptian calendar. It is also the first day of the year on many Celtic calendars. It can be a different day, depending on whether it is defined as the day when daytime is equal to night time, the day the sun crosses the equator, or the day the sun enters Aries. This is the day or night for the Rite of Spring. In some places people dance naked in the dark. There won't be any moonlight this year, it's a new moon -- which also means New Year's by the lunar calendar in Bangalore. The next full moon will be the signal for Passover and for Easter. Easter is named after a Celtic goddess, Oestre, the goddess of Spring. Culturally, she was associated with Aphrodite, Demeter, Hathor, and Ishtar. This was a day to celebrate fertility, as the planting of crops was at hand. Snow was melting, and the plants were emerging from the ground. It was a natural time to celebrate death and rebirth. Some Druid priests and priestesses celebrated with sexual union, as the enhancement of fertility in the people brought forth fertility in the land. While it is no longer appropriate to put on a goat's head and deflower a virgin, one might privately celebrate this special time with both spiritual and carnal rituals. I suspect this actually would be a practice that transcends religion, anyway.
3/10/2007 Daylight Saving Time So, I was having a conversation with Dumbledore tomorrow morning between 2am and 3am. "What," I asked, "is the point of daylight savings time?" Dumbledore has been a wizard for centuries longer than I, so I was eager to know his point of view. He reminded me that time is an arbitrary concept. In India it is viewed as a circular rhythm. In Europe it is viewed more as a linear progression, because of all the pseudo-mathematicians. "All lines curve," he said, but he was getting off on a tangent. Until recently, time was marked by something observable. For example, a day started with a sunset. A month started as soon as a priest or prophet could actually make out a new moon in the sky. The Vernal Equinox (more of that later) started a year. In some Druidic and Wiccan traditions, the start of a year was midway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, but that was only made possible through a rigorous observation of solar movement over generations. And it was such a pity that Stonehenge was left in disrepair. Anyway, measuring time in seconds, and coordinating it, are relatively recent inventions. Railroads take the credit. World War II helped, as all the squadron leaders needed Timex watches to make sure all those large groups of soldiers moved at the same time. Somewhere along the way, the concept of "time zones" evolved. This was needed in part to get the arbitrary, measured time, back into agreement with something observable, like sunrise or sunset. As the sun rises earlier in the summer, daylight savings time was a natural consequence of this desire to make the arbitrary, measured time, agree with something observable. After all, if you don't have to get up in the dark to milk the cows, sunrise is probably when your day begins. Is daylight savings time necessary? No. Are time zones necessary? No. Computer system clocks count seconds from some agreed upon moment, usually on January 1, 1970 or January 1, 1980. International organizations, and the military, use Greenwich Mean Time to note when things happen. Now that space travel has become useful, Greenwich Mean Time has been replaced by Coordinated Universal Time. None of this has anything to do with sunrise or sunset. While it is totally unnecessary from a timekeeping point of view, it is absolutely necessary from a legislative point of view. Legislators, like all people, like to appear useful, so they legislate as much as they can. They make a point of passing at least three impossible laws before breakfast. So, it seems, almost all the legislatures on the planet have decided to mess with standard time, and decree a daylight savings time. Not that any two legislatures agree on when that should be. I thanked Dumbledore for his insight, and came back in time to observe the magical disappearance of that hour.