The concept of the solstices was embedded in ancient Greek celestial navigation. As soon as they discovered that the Earth is spherical they devised the concept of the celestial sphere, an imaginary spherical surface rotating with the heavenly bodies (ouranioi) fixed in it (the modern one does not rotate, but the stars in it do). As long as no assumptions are made concerning the distances of those bodies from Earth or from each other, the sphere can be accepted as real and is in fact still in use.
As someone whose connected to the earth and therefore aware of the passing of seasons, the summer solstice is the time of year when the most work goes into the field. The term solstice can also be used in a wider sense, as the date (day) that such a passage happens. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In some languages they are considered to start or separate the seasons; in others they are considered to be center points (in English, in the Northern hemisphere, for example, the period around the June solstice is known as midsummer, and Midsummer’s Day is 24 June, about three days after the solstice itself). Shakespeare writes about this very day in his famous play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In many cultures, the solstice’s signify the midpoint of a season thus midsummer and midwinter. Since ancient times, June is the time for weddings, feasts, and revelry. For the gardeners out there, June is also the time to harvest strawberries, plant your tomatoes if you haven’t already done that, and tend to the weeds.
One of the most famous symbols in ancient history symbolizing the sun is the imagery of Tonatiuh. Tonatiuh was the sun god as is famously depicted in the center of the Aztec calendar. The Aztec considered him a leader of heaven, Tollan. The Aztecs were fascinated by the sun and carefully observed it. Tonatiuh was said to be the god of the fifth sun. Aztec people believed that each sun was a god with its own cosmic era. The Aztecs lived according to their solar calendar, a seasonal calendar, second in accuracy only to the Mayans’. The Aztec and the Mayan calendar were very similar. Where the Aztec’s differed most significantly from the Mayan’s was in their more primitive number system and in their less precise way of recording dates. Normally, they noted only the day on which an event occurred and the name of the current year. This is ambiguous, since the same day, as designated in the way mentioned above, can occur twice in a year. Moreover, years of the same name recur at 52-year intervals, and Spanish colonial annals often disagree as to the length of time between two events.
Other discrepancies in the records are only partially explained by the fact that different towns started their year with different months. The most widely accepted correlation of the calendar of Tenochtitlan with the Christian Julian calendar is based on the entrance of Cortes into that city on November 8, 1519, and on the surrender of Cuauhtemoc on August 13, 1521. According to this correlation, the first date was a day 8 Wind, the ninth day of the month Quecholli, in a year 1 Reed, the 13th year of a cycle.
The Aztec calendar kept two different aspects of time; tonalpohualli and xiuhpohualli. Each of these systems had a different purpose. The tonalpohualliwas the ‘counting of days.’ It originated by ancient peoples observing that the sun, crossed a certain zenith point near the Mayan city of Copan, every 260 days. So this first system is arranged in a 260-day cycle. These 260 days were then broken up into 20 periods, with each period containing 13 days, called trecenas. Each period was given the name of something that was then shown by a hieroglyphic sign, and each trecena was given a number 1-13. Each trecena is also thought to have a god or deity presiding over each of the trecena. They kept these counts in tonalamatls, screenfold books made from bark paper. The Aztecs used this as a religious calendar. Priests used the calendar to determine luck days for such activities as sowing crops, building houses, and going to war.
The xiuhpohualli was the ‘counting of the years.’ This calendar was kept on a 365-day solar count. This was also the agricultural and ceremonial calendar of the Aztec state. It was divided into 18 periods, with each period containing 20 days, called veintenas. This left five days that were not represented. These were called “nemontemi.” These were the five transition days between the old and the new year, and were considered days of nothing. This was a time of festivals. People came to the festivals with their best clothes on, and took part in singing and dancing. This is also when the priest would perform sacrifices, most of these sacrifices were human, but others were preformed on animals and fruit.
The solar year was the basis for the civil calendar by which the Mexicas (Aztecs) determined the myriad ceremonies and rituals linked to agricultural cycles. The calendar was made up of 18 months, each lasting 20 days. The months were divided into four five-day weeks. The year was rounded out to 365 days by the addition of the five-day nemontemi (empty days), an ominous period marked by the cessation of normal activities and general abstinence. The correlation of dates in the Gregorian calendar is uncertain, although most authors on the subject affix the beginning of the Aztec year to early February. A variety of sources were consulted in developing the following chart of some of the ritualistic activities associated with each month.
Many of the Aztecs’ religious ceremonies, including frequent human sacrifices, were performed at the Great Temple, located in the center of their capital city of Tenochtitlan.
Some helpful hints for the midsummer season:
Since the sun is at it’s northernmost point in the sky, make sure to protect your skin from UVA/UVB rays, use sunblock and cover up as much as possible. It’s time to dust off your favorite gardening hat and bring it with you while you pull weeds, water, and harvest those potatoes! Last week I harvested the last of the broccoli with some of my neighbors. The heads were full and beautiful! As the 4th of July is quickly approaching, pay attention to your potato plants. By now they should be turning yellow and dying. When you plants “die,” they are ready for harvest. My plants still need a few more weeks in the ground before the harvest.
May each of you find your northernmost point in your year and your season today and may you connect with your indigenous roots in the garden and in your life. Good tidings to you! And remember to face sunward every chance you get.