When I think of Stonehenge, one of the first things that comes to mind is that it’s aligned with the sun at the solstices. It’s thousands of years old, it’s associated with burials, there’s so much we don’t know about its history…but it’s the alignments that caught my interest. I was always a bit disappointed as a kid that this only seemed to be a feature of ancient monuments—ancient monuments that were far away so I couldn’t visit them and watch the sun rise or set in a special way.
For several years now, though, I’ve been wondering if a few modern buildings are also oriented towards the sun—specifically, the Cathedral of Saint Paul. It took me a while, but I’ve noticed that around the equinoxes, the sun rises closer and closer to the east doors. Once the thought occurred to me, then I wanted to see if it was true: would the sun shine straight onto the doors on the morning of either the spring or the fall equinox? But checking this out proved to be trickier than expected. Quite often, I’d forget until a few days after the equinox, and by the time I waited six months until the next one, I’d forget again. Sometimes I’d remember, but it would be a cloudy morning or I wouldn’t be able to be at the Cathedral.
This year, it all came together. Sunny weather, still a decent temperature to be outside taking pictures, and this year I remembered in time! Et voilà:
And…inconclusive. That shadow covering half the building is cast by a skyscraper in downtown St. Paul that obviously wasn’t there when the Cathedral was completed in 1915. I suppose I could contact people at the Cathedral and ask if it was meant to face the equinox sunrise, but where’s the fun in that? (And how disappointed would I be if they said it wasn’t?) But now it’s got me thinking: if one building may have been oriented to the equinoxes, maybe it’s not the only one in town. And does anyone do this with modern modern buildings?
You can tell it’s fall . . .
- Through observation: see the trees changing color, feel the temperatures dropping, notice the days shortening and the nights growing longer
- Through research: look up the date and time of the autumnal equinox in a calendar, almanac, or ephemeris
- Quantitatively: count the growing number of charitable solicitations in your mailbox
As I understand it, charitable giving follows its own seasonal pattern, just like the agricultural cycle so many of us Pagans base our spirituality on. Whether it comes from holiday cheer or a last-minute attempt to get a tax deduction, we’re entering the time of year when people are most likely to donate to charities, and recognizing that fact, the charities are bumping up their efforts to attract those donations.
Mabon often serves as a Pagan Thanksgiving, and a common theme for the sabbat is giving thanks for what you have harvested from your efforts this year. And as you’re rejoicing in the abundance—if you’re among those fortunate enough to enjoy abundance—you’re often advised to think of those whom the charities serve. I saw that touched on in Ann Moura’s Grimoire for the Green Witch. Her Mabon ritual calls for the celebrant to put canned goods on the altar and bless them as offerings during the ritual. It’s a cool idea, and it got me thinking.
See, while the fall equinox is the “natural” time to share good fortune, be it through canned goods or other donations, need is year-round. And at some point it occurred to me that there were seven other sabbats that could inspire me to donations if I’d just let them. So here’s my plan for the year to come: make a donation at each sabbat, ideally tied to the holiday in some way.
Some were fairly easy to come up with ideas for:
- Mabon: Give to a food shelf. After talking to a friend who knows about such things, I’m opting for a cash donation rather than canned goods. I bet they can stretch the money further than I can at a grocery store, and maybe they can even use it to buy something like fresh fruit and vegetables, which are difficult to give in person.
- Samhain: Giving to a grief support center is one possibility. Or perhaps knitting or crocheting a prayer shawl for someone who’s grieving.
- Yule: Sometimes the easy option is a good one; in this case, giving to an organization that provides toys for children who might not otherwise get any.
- Imbolc: Around here, January and February are brutal. A donation for winter clothing—coats, hats, scarves, gloves/mittens—will probably be more useful than trying to think of something related to, oh, say, lambing. (Of course, lots of winter clothing is made out of wool…!)
- Beltane: I’m thinking a donation to Planned Parenthood or a similar organization may be in order here.
Which, yes, still leaves me with three sabbats unaccounted for, but I have time to come up with ideas. And (unfortunately) there’ll always be something that needs donations, whether or not they’re thematically related to anything.
Having taken a liking to Moura’s Mabon ritual, I used it with a few adaptations this year. For one thing, instead of canned goods, I put my credit card on the altar and blessed it. It’ll be doing things it hasn’t done before.