Four Ways / Observe to Orientate

Greetings on the Winter Solstice. In our second ‘way’ we explore the importance of understanding our position on the surface of the Earth. Using the primary compass points, the major solar stations of the Sun and the pole star, as we harness our general sense of bearing and orientation within the wider landscape.

The daily drama of the sky is no longer the back drop of the gods as it once was. Its actions today have been reduced to algorithms, foretelling the predicted weather patterns and the times of sunrise and sunset via apps on our mobile phones. However, for tens of thousands of years these observations and concerns linked cosmological myths with a vision of life borne out of the fabric of the cosmos, which in turn influenced how we fitted into the landscape canvas below.

Astronomical phenomena in relation to landscape features or ancestral monuments contributed to this perceived unity between the sky and the land. Skyscapes provide a framework for thinking about how beliefs were shaped by the observations and patterns witnessed above or against the horizon. The horizon is of widespread mythical significance, the place where the earth meets the heavenly vault, and has strong associations with the power of the underworld and ‘places of emergence’. [1]

Symbolically, the two horizons of the East (sunrise) and West (sunset) represented the ‘hypnopompic’ and ‘hypnagogic’ states in the waking (day) and sleeping (nightcycle). The ‘below world’ – the place below the horizon where the sun disappeared to and rose from – was the underworld; the chthonic realm of dark and destructive forces.

Positional power established spheres of spatial influence, through “the surveying, mapping, planning and foundation of dwellings, towns” and religious architecture that was built in harmony with these solar cycles. [2] Orientations were not just reflecting a social activity, they were an active part of it. [3]

Due for publication in 2022, ‘Four Ways’ by Jeremy Taylor and Mark Offord is a series of active and transformative techniques designed to enhance our relationship with place, helping us regain and rediscover our lost ritual landscapes and skyscapes.

Join us as we learn to walk the landscape, mindful of solar observation, orientation, bearing and alignment, paying particular attention to the solstitial risings and settings, the cardinal points and the celestial pole.

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  1. Krupp (1997) & Ruggles (1999)
  2. Rappengluck (2016)
  3. García & Belmonte (2014)