The Sunday News
Cultural Heritage with Pathisa Nyathi
MOVEMENTS of celestial bodies impact on the seasons and therefore, the various economic activities that humans on Earth engage in. Solar movement is responsible for day and night and concomitant changes in temperatures and available light. It is the movement of the sun that is used to reckon time. The day thus becomes the basic unit in functional and practical terms.
On the other hand, the moon has its own movement which equally impacts on events and activities on Earth. Lunar movement reckons lunar months, a bigger unit of time in comparison to day and night. In a way lunar movement reckons, not the day as a unit of time, but the month, more specifically the lunar month and there were thirteen of them in a year. In Southern Africa a New Year commenced in the month of September.
Each lunar month was characterised by natural environmental phenomena resulting from solar movement. For example, while writing about my birth in the month of July, that month in IsiNdebele was characterised by gusty winds and whirlwinds which blew dust into people’s faces. It is not the moon that results in the weather conditions but the sun. The month was accordingly known as Ntulikazi in our language.
In December movement of the sun creates conditions where the rain falls and temperatures are warm. Animals are breeding at this time when there is food available for the young. Otherwise in the winter months the embryos are growing in the wombs of their mothers. Impala breed in December and hence the month is known as Mpalakazi, the month when impala breed.
Let us give the last example. In the Gregorian month of January in Southern Africa the rains have been falling for quite a while by now. Grass has grown to a point where it conceals the paths along which humans travel. The covering of paths, izindlela, is described as “ziba.” Accordingly, the month is known as Zibandlela. This is the case with all the thirteen lunar months in a year.
When a baby is born it was confined within a hut, in seclusion with its mother, until a new crescent moon appeared in the western sky. It was at that point when, for the first time, the bay was taken out and its face turned towards the moon which is then pointed at with the following chant, “Nanguya umnakwenu!” That was to say that is your age mate. That became the month when the baby was born and became an important baseline in reckoning a child’s age.
The year was equally important to record as a marker and reckoner of time or age. He who saw the sun first was said to be the older within a reckoning system where time moves from Source — the time of creation of the universe on the one hand and the human race on the other. Terrestrial and cosmic events mark and describe the year. Those born closer to Source are said to be ahead, phambili and therefore older. Those born further away from Source in temporal terms are said to be behind, emuva and in practical terms, younger. The proverb, “Indlela ibuzwa kwabaphambili” should be understood in that context. Wisdom is associated with age and proximity to Source.
Let us give an example of how the year of one’s birth was recorded and reckoned. In 1910 there appeared in the night sky a comet (inkanyezi to the Ndebele) which appeared to have a tail (cloud of dust). That cosmic event marked the year. This was taken to the point where those born in that year were named Nkanyezi, in reference to the comet.
One more example should suffice. In 1947 there was some crippling drought which resulted in starvation due to failed crops. It was a serious drought culminating in indlala embi. The babies born in that year were named Ndlalambi. In my forthcoming autobiography I deal with these issues specifically as they related to my own birth and reckoning of time and personal circumstances pertaining to social conditions at the time of my birth in 1951.
What I have unpacked above may seem to be unrelated to Stonehenge which is the cultural site that we are seeking to explain and interpret. There is indeed some very strong relationship between solar and lunar movements and the resulting energy and potency. Sunrise is welcomed as it heralds the coming of the sun which brings with it energy, power and potency. Sunset is the opposite. With the sun disappearing, and darkness setting in, certain parts of the world become devoid of the much-desired energy, power and potency of the sun.
Rituals were performed at the time of maximum potency, power and energy. This translated to mornings rather than sunsets. These are changes on a small-scale (micro level), during the day and night dichotomy. At the macro level, the same phenomenon happens in terms of seasons. Immediately, it becomes clear that solar movement comes into play. The sun never rises and sets at the same point throughout the year. This comes about as a result of the tilt that characterises the earth in relation to the sun.
Seasons result from this movement of the sun. Energy, potency and power in a spiritual sense vary accordingly that is in consonance with changing movements. It is within this context that timing of holding of rituals takes place.
Supplicants seek to tap into the energy, power and potency of the sun when it is aligned to certain parts of the cultural landscape. Within the context of these movements there will be a day that has the longest hours of sunshine.
In the northern hemisphere that will be in June, about the 22nd. The summer solstice therefore, is a day which is special in so far as rituals are concerned. “Full sunshine” is equivalent to “full moon.” These are times when potency, energy and power are at their maximum. Rituals for spiritual purposes were never conducted during solar or lunar ebb.
To this day the Druids in England still gather at Stonehenge during the winter solstice to perform rituals relating to spirituality. What is clear in terms of seeking interpretation and purpose for building Stonehenge is to realise that within the cultural site the summer solstice was marked. In fact it had to be marked for the timing of when to conduct the rituals including those relating to agriculture. The Heel Stone, on the morning of the day of the Summer Solstice, was in line or alignment with the rising sun. In a way the Heel Stone marked solar position and indirectly the time of maximum energy, power and potency which must coincide with the performance of rituals.
In view of what we have pointed out in relation to varying power, energy and potency the day was special and had to have a structure that marked it so that rituals were conducted on the right day and at the right time both of which are determined by solar movement. The day is the Summer Solstice and the morning was the time of day. When researchers argue that Stonehenge was built to monitor the movement of celestial bodies, they are indeed correct.
What has not been explained and interpreted is how that movement results in changing energy, power and potency and hence the determiner of time of performing rituals associated with Stonehenge.
There is thus complementarity between potency, energy and power as resulting from celestial movements and the siting of Stonehenge within the network or hub of ley lines which translated to concentration of energy and potency.
Energy, Spirituality, power and potency are related and closely linked and interwoven. Movement of celestial bodies varies the content of energy, power and potency. As the sun moves, its energy, power and potency on earth vary.
Celestial bodies and their positions in relation to the Earth, results in changing energy, power and potency.
Spirituality is closely linked to the three, all of which are tapped into for the good and welfare of the humans who approach the sites in search of their well-being.
There is no way a spiritual site such as Stonehenge would not have been linked to celestial movement and the network of ley lines. There is a high chance too that its siting and location were determined by factors that we have not as yet identified, but which the ancients knew about. Potency is at the centre of spirituality whose energy wanes or increases in line with position of celestial bodies as a result of their movement.
This may not be the reserve of the sun where there are billions of other suns in the expanding universe. Religion to ancients was linked to heavenly bodies. Energy emanating from ley lines was an important determinant of location and siting of ritual sites, including churches and other ritual places.
For me what emerges at Stonehenge is its living spiritual life back then. Spirituality seeks to establish communication between the living (humans, the supplicants) and the living dead (the ancestral spirits and the deity as represented by bones at the site). That communication is facilitated through rituals which lie at the centre of spiritual communication.
Where African Spirituality is termed an astral religion that was true of other peoples who we term the ancients. They shared a common worldview, beliefs and cosmology. The ancients saw their well-being as dependent on the stars and their movement and the role of ancestral spirits whose potency was tied to cosmic movements which either enhanced or reduced positional potency, energy and power.
The next article will seek to interpret the link between the Hill Stone, Slaughter Stone and the Altar Stone within the context of solstices and the changing energy, power and potency that they represent.