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Solstice, synonyms and etymology

The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”) or -stitium (“stoppage”), because at the solstices, the Sun’s declination appears to “stand still” (for three days); that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction. The Ancient Greeks use the term “ηλιοστάσιο” (heliostāsio), meaning stand of the Sun. In Norway they use the terms Solverv (verv?) and Solsnu, sola snur means “the sun turns “(*).
Synonyms for the solstice in Old English/Anglo-Saxon are Sunnstede (*), stede: standing as opposed to moving, stopping, standing still. v. sunn-stede (*); and Sungíhte (*), gihte: time, staying, station, refuge (*). Cf. gebed-giht: bedgoing (*), bedtime (*).

According to the Austrian linguist Lessiak, the German word for the gout -Gicht- (Du. jicht) is related to the Old High German jehan (=speak). Both words come from the Germanic word *jehti which means „utterance‟ or „confession‟. Gicht, according to Lessiak, actually means: “a disease caused by an incantation; a spell”. Among the people was the idea that one got gout as a result of sorcery, and that one could also be cured by magic spells. The word Gicht in the sense of „incantation‟ or „sorcery‟, according to the Austrian researcher, can be found in the Middle High German word for solstice, Sunngiht. This word literally means „sun enchantment‟. The rationale behind this is that one could empower the sun by magical acts. (*)(*)

In Dutch the solstice is known as Zonnewende, in German as Sonnenwende or Sonnwende. The verb wenden means to turn, to change, give a different direction. Sometimes the change of direction is not central, but only the movement towards something (hence English ‘went’). See Du. ‘wandelen’ (to walk, wander) for a similar transition of meaning. (*) Wenden is used in relation with chariots (cf. Helios, Sunna’s chariot), ships ‘scheepswending’ (cf. Sunship). The Dutch substantive “wende” (wendakker, trappeleinde) means a (cross-plowed) strip of land located at each end of a field or, in the case of longer parcels to be subdivided, whenever plowing involves turning the yoke (*). (cf. the plowing goddess Gefjon, axe-ploughs on broken stele at Carnac)

In folklore during midwinter all things that could turn were halted, no spinning wheel turned, no knitting and no coffee was milled, potatoes were peeled the day before (*). In Norway on vintersolverv, one should not work with anything that was turned around, nor bake. The Christmas beer (Juleølet)was also to be finished by 22 December so that there was no “solverv” in it (*).

Egyptian symbols for the solstice

In ancient Egyptian zodiacs there are a few symbols linked to the summer solstice situated round Gemini, according to this article:
(1) A pillar, sometimes with a bird on the top of it, or in between two poles bending away from each other;
(2) A man with a raised hand. These both may indicate an idea of something “high,” for example the highest point or a kind of a local maximum of something.
(3) A laying bull, sometimes with a women standing behind and shooting an arrow over the bull. On some zodiacs, the figures of a bull and a woman are shown on the same or separate boats.

The laying bull may indicate the standstill needed for turning the yoke. In folklore there are many sayings that should point to the predictive behavior of animals and plants. So it was sometimes claimed that cows lie down before the storm and rain arrives (*).

Announcing the flood

The man with the raised hand represents the constellation Orion. The laying bull is in fact the Sothis cow, and represents the star Sirius (*), also known as the Dogstar and in German astronomy as Loki’s Brand (Reuter Der Himmel über den Germanen). The heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt and the “dog days” of summer for the ancient Greeks (*).
“When Sirius parches head and knees, and the body is dried up by reason of heat, then sit in the shade and drink,” (Hesiod *). Sirius rising is preceded by Procyon (Latin Antecanis), which means “Rising before Sirius“, “The Dog in Front”, “The Preceding Dog”. It is noteworthy that the ideas of water and drowning seem to be universally associated with this constellation (*). The annual flooding of the Nile occasionally was said to be the Arrival of Hapi. Since this flooding provided fertile soil in an area that was otherwise desert, the god Hapi symbolised fertility. Living virgins were sacrificed annually as “brides of the Nile” (“Arous El Nil”) (*).
Cf. At Baldr’s funeral his wife Nanna died of grief and was placed alongside him on his pyre. Hringhorni, Baldr’s ship, was the largest of all such vessels and was to serve as the god’s funeral ship. No one, however, could seem to launch the boat out to sea. The Æsir gods then enlisted the help of Hyrrokkin, who came from Jötunheimr, arriving on a giant wolf with vipers as reins. When she dismounted, Odin summoned four berserkers to look after the animal but they were unable to control it without first rendering it unconscious. With her seismic strength, the giantess rolled the boat into the water. (Snorri Sturluson – Gylfaginning)
Hyrrokkin seems to play a similar role as the god Hapi, her arrival marking the annual flood, the force needed to move Baldr’s ship and Nanna the bride who’s sacrificed. The stranded ship can point to the standstill of the sun.


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