It is clear from the work of archaeoastronomers like Alexander Thom, Martin Brennan, and Robin Heath among others that our Neolithic Mothers and Fathers were keen observers of the heavens. But why? Being aware of the seasons to know when to plant and when to harvest might be one answer, but why the archaeoastronimical emphasis on the Winter Solstice (Newgrange, Maes Howe, Stonehenge, etc.) and its polar opposite, the Summer Solstice (again, Stonehenge)?
Summer Solstice Sunrise
Farmers don't need to know when the Winter Solstice is because nothing is happening agriculturally at that time of year, and if you wait 'till the Summer Solstice to plant your seeds, you've really missed the boat! Other Quarter and Cross Quarter Days might be useful, but I suspect that Farmers depend more upon what is actually happening out in Nature. Is the snow gone? Is the sap rising? Has the May Hawthorn blossomed? Are the ears of corn/wheat ripe?
So while there is some utility in keeping an accurate track of the heavenly bodies for agricultural purposes, there must have been other (dare I say more important?) reason(s) for Neolithic Peoples' attention to the cosmos. First of all, these stone rings and chambered cairns, long barrows and other ancient sites that indicate an interest in astronomy were sacred sites. So, how might the ancients have used the stars and planets in their stone rings for spiritual purposes? And concomitantly, how might we use them today ifor both ceremony and for working in circles?
Earth Energy power centres are not energetically hot throughout the year. John Michell tells us that when we were hunter-gatherers following the herds up into the mountains in the summer and down into the valleys in the winter because they were flowing with Nature, they were naturally at the right natural power centres when these sites were energetically at their peak. But when Stone Age people settled down to become farmers, They began to build permanent sacred sites to enhance the energies that they had at the power centre closest to their permanent home even to though it wasn't equally spiritually and energetically "hot" throughout the year. They probably used their instinctual "gnowing" to know where the natural power centres were, and then employed both sacred geometry and archaeoastronomy to enhance these energies so they would work for longer periods of time during the year.
As we have seen in the photos above, they aligned their site to the sun rise on the day when the earth energies would be at their peak. This would have been the first use of astronomy at these permanent sacred sites.
But there were, I suspect, other, more sophisticated uses of astronomy at these sites. First, because they lived outside, Neolithic people were much more aware of what was going on in the heavens. I believe that they soon became fascinated by the "wandering stars" (read: planets), and began to keep track of where they were at any given time - even when they were below the horizon. But first, let's talk about how the stars can assist in orientation.
Living mostly inside as we do, what are ways we can begin to tune into the heavens? As with the construction of any sacred space, after finding the centre, you need to locate North. If you are outside at night, and there are no clouds in the sky, find Ursa Major (also known as the Bear, Arthur's Wain, or the Big Dipper). Follow the two stars on the lip of the dipper that are furthest from the handle, and you will come to Polaris, the North Star. Point at it, and allow your arm to drop to the ground. That is North.
Finding the North Star/Polaris
(I want to thank Ron Fontaine for his permission to use this illustration.)
Or, of course, you can use a compass. (Remember to correct for magnetic deviation.) I use a compass called a Suunto Tandem. Go to <http://www.suunto.com> then to <Precision Instruments> and scroll down the page. The Tandem is the first instrument you will come to. You can find a list of local retailers there as well. It is not the least expensive one you can buy, but it is pin-point accurate, and has a built in clinometer as well as a compass. This Tandem Compass is especially useful if you want to get in to doing Archaeoastronomy as well as Archaeoastrology. To give you an idea of cost, in the US. they are available from Forestry Suppliers depending on which model you want from between $179 and $199 - more expensive ones with the very handy option of declination adjustment - magnetic deviation - (20° East and West).
Once you've found True North, you can find South with a piece of string, going through the centre of the circle. East and West are nineth degrees to that line.
We don't live outside today, so we have much less awareness where the planets are today. I use my iPhone and various Apps to tune into this kind of information. To work with naked eye astronomy, I find that Stellarium Mobile Sky Map ($2.99) - downloadable from Apple iTunes - is a really sophisticated way to easily identify both the constellations and the planets on their path along the ecliptic. While it it one of the most expensive Apps I have, it is well worth the cost as you can take it outside, and with a iPhone 6 or 7. As you tilt it around, the screen shows you what is in the heavens directly behind it! (It also has a compass that corrects for magnetic deviation, but it is not as accurate as the Suunto Tandem Compass I discussed above - but. as they say, probably "close enough for government work. ; )
There is a (free) way to find out the planets relationships with each other through the use of astrology. To find out where the planets are now, go to AstroMart. <http://astro-software.com/cgi-bin/astro/now>. Enter the information to build a birth chart for now. The Zodiac will not be correct astronomically speaking, but the planets are aspected correctly. (I have this URL as an App Icon on my iPhone. In Safari, go to the AstroMart URL <http://astro-software.com/cgi-bin/astro/now>, then tap the <+> button at the bottom of the Safari screen and then tap <Add to Home Screen>.)
An example of an AstroMart Birth Chart
Also, you can determine the azimuth (number of degrees from True North in a clockwise direction) of the Sun very accurately by using an iPhone/iTunes App called SunGPS ($0.99). In addition to both the azimuth of the Sun and its elevation, this App also gives times of sunrise and sets, latitude and longitude, temperature and other info for your location.
Naked Eye Astronomy
While the AstroMart link and the SkyVoyager astronomy App links will give you all of the planets in our Solar System, I am only interested in how our Neolithic progenitors related to the visible planets, so I am interested in naked eye astronomy; therefore, while the above chart includes NeptuneUranus,and Pluto,as you can not see them without a telescope, I do not include these outer planets in this discussion of Archaeoastrology.
Several Archaeoastrological Possibilities For Today
So, archaeoastronomers and dowsers have found that one use for astronomy at these sacred sites was to tell at what point in the year the site would be at its peak energetically. But I suspect there were other uses, and here is where knowledge of the location of the planets around - say - the circle comes in. Here is where the concept of archaeoastrology becomes relevant.
For Ceremony, align the chart to a planet you can see - in the day, this is usually the Sun or, sometimes, the Moon. If you can't see any of the planets due to clouds or you are inside, you can align your chart with the Sun by using your iPhone and SunGPS, which gives the azimuth of the Sun. When you know where North is, just aim the sun on the chart to North, and then rotate it to its present azimuth (number of degrees in a clockwise direction from North). The rest of the planets will then be oriented around the circle correctly. if you want to take on the energy of, say, Mars, go to that point of the circle, face the centre, and speak with that Martian energy coming through your back. You can do this with any of the planets. So if you want to take on a specific planetary energy, go to that point in the circle, and use that energy to speak for that planet.
Here is a chart of my Astrological Keywords that I use with the visible planets:
|Sun||The Essence of the Issue/Ceremony, Ego, Our True Self, Will, Yang|
|Mercury||Communication, Mind, Thinking, Messages, Truth & Lies|
|Venus||Loving or Being Loved, Heart Energy, Beauty, Harmony|
|Moon||Reflective, Instinctual, Receptive, Unconscious, Am I Safe?|
|Mars||Action, Assertiveness, Drive, Making Things Work Out|
|Jupiter||Increase, Understanding, Investment, Joviality, Expansion|
|Saturn||Boundaries, Restrictions, Responsibilities, Structure, Wisdom|
Know that I am reasonably certain that you may have your own set of key words for the planets, so please use them.
If we lived in India where they use sidereal astrology where the planets align to the sky constellations of the same name; however, here in the West, we use the tropical zodiac which is based on a system that began when the Sun was at 1 degree Aires, so is over 2000 years off. But this actually makes no difference in terms of astrological interpretation because it is internally consistent. So please remember that the Zodiacle signs in which the astrological chart above shows "behind" any planet will not be accurate. The Sun hasn't been in Aries at the Spring Equinox for over 2000 years!
Due to a small wobble in its axis, our planet goes through something called the Procession of the Equinoxes. According to Wikipedia, "The duration of the precession cycle, the time it takes for the equinox to precess 360 degrees relative to the fixed stars, is often given as 25,920 or 26,000 years. In reality the exact duration cannot be given, as the rate of precession is changing over time. This speed is currently 243.8 microradians (50.3 arcseconds) per year which would give 25,765 years for one cycle to complete." <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axial_precession>. This is the what is being referred to when you hear about "the dawning of the Age of Aquarius," so at the Spring Equinox (in Tropical Astrology, one degree Aries), the Zodiacle sign behind the Sun (if we could see it) is no longer in Aries, but it is close to 30 degrees Aquarius. So forget the Zodiac in the AstroMart planetary aspect chart. Use SkyVoyager to find out where the planets really are in relation to the astronomical zodiac - the constellations that mark the ecliptic.
II. Reading What Is Going On In Groups that Work in Circles
In a discussion that is taking place in a circle, align the chart the same way, and see who is sitting where in relationship with the planets. The person whose shadow would hit the centre of the circle speaks for the Sun/for the group. (Remember the Sun and the other planets constantly move throughout the day.) If the person who is speaking where Saturn is on the circle, and is talking about limitations to the issue at hand, pay attention to them.
You sit next to your friends and will probably share similar points of view. In astrology, this is called a "conjunction." The person sitting directly across the circle from you (in astrology this aspect is called being in "opposition" to you. This opposition might offer you two different possibilities - you well might catch the most problems from them, but also, as they have what you don't have, they can also be your teacher. If you divide the circle in three equal parts from where you sit, this is called "trined." You may well find that you flow rather easily with these people. People who are "squared" to you (go out to the centre and turn ninety-degrees) while not as potentially difficult as an opposition, they are ones you will have to learn how to work with. There are other astrological aspects, but this should be enough to get you going.
The Four Directions
Depending upon what culture you come from or which spiritual path you follow, the Four Directions can have different meanings. For me, these are the meanings I use - please understand that your may well/probably will be different.
East - this is where the day begins. So any beginning. Birth, Ah Ha! Eureka! Given a level horizon, using naked eye astronomy, the Sun rises due East only two days of the year anywhere on our planet - Spring and Fall/Autumn Equinoxes. These are the only days where you can use the Sun to know where East is.
South - This is where the Sun is the highest, so the physical world is most visible. The mid point of any project. The physical world. The North - behind me is where the Spiritual World can be found, so Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, a Native American Seneca Wolf Clan teacher of mine identified the South as the direction of Faith. You can use naked eye astronomy and the Sun to find where South is on any day when there are no clouds. At noon, the Sun is at its highest point in the sky in the due South (North of the Equator). But, of course, this is a good way to go blind, so I wouldn't recommend it. : )
West - This is where the Sun sets, so it has to do with goals of a project. Death. Transition. Given a level horizon, using naked eye astronomy, the Sun sets due West only two days of the year anywhere on our planet - Spring and Fall/Autumn Equinoxes. These are the only days where you can use the Sun to know where West is.
North - as we saw above with Polaris/the North Star, North is the only direction where on any cloudless night, one can find that Direction using naked eye astronomy. So, if you know where you are going, that's called Wisdom. It is also the direction best IMHO to communicate with the Spirit World.
These Four Directions can be used both in Ceremony and with reading a group that is working in a Circle. If in a ceremony, you seek clarity in your/the group's goal, face West in the West. Likewise, if the person in your group who is sitting in the West starts talking about the group's goals, pay special attention to what they say.
So, if it is possible, depending what you want to accomplish, using the planetary locations and/or the Four Directions, you can choose where you sit in the circle before the meeting begins to empower yourself in the group's process. No one else in the group needs to know anything about what you are up to unless you choose to inform them.
But using these archaeoastrological techniques you can enhance your awareness and your effectiveness in any group that works in a circle.
Sacred Geometry >>