Orientations . . .

This morning’s sunrise at Sparty Lea

Everyone knows that the ancients who built Stonehenge orientated it to align with the sunrise at the solstices. Similarly, barrows in Scotland may have a long passageway that is only fully illuminated on one morning of the year. The due diligence of the ancient astronomers who built their calendars so precisely is justly lauded.

But sometimes there’s an unconscious at work in alignments that occur. A few years ago, an aerial photographer made the serendipitous discovery that cattle grazing in open fields tend to align themselves along a north-south axis. Apparently this trait is shared by other ruminants, but it is also a function of herd density, and the animals’ resting or standing state. The consensus is that there’s an unconscious orientation with the magnetic north pole involved in this behaviour. Another scholarly investigation suggests that electromagnetic ‘noise’ in the vicinity of such herds may disrupt their natural orientation.

I built our garden picnic table recently to replace a similar model that had become dangerous after a decade of outdoor service. Why do you suppose I orientated the slats to point towards the rising sun? I would tend to think that the position was mere happenstance, of course, but lately I’m more mindful of the unconscious than I have been. We humans are a product of the natural world, just as other animals are.

As much as we’d like to think that our conscious minds control our behaviour, more and more research indicates that we are often compelled to act and even to think by circumstances and stimuli over which we have no conscious control. I’ve been reading a lot about the human dream of ‘free will’ and its illusory promise. We seem to be much less ‘free’ than we might have thought.

Perhaps a recognition of the impulses and triggers that might possibly motivate us can be a kind of ‘freeing.’ Seeing our natural predispositions on the one hand, and opening our minds to the extra component of our intellect, on the other, might be a kind of unshackling, a kind of self-aware consciousness. I suppose this kind of grappling with who we are, who we wish to be, goes right back to the apocryphal story of Adam and Even in the garden.

For now, especially for my struggling capacity, for I’m usually with Winnie, the bear of very little brain, just smiling at the way the garden table slats line up with the rising sun at the heart of the overwhelming panorama, this morning, is enough to elicit a feeling of great joy, even in the middle of bemusement.

3 responses to “Orientations . . .”

  1. Larry, Interesting observations. Is the alignment magnetic or true north? When in Boy Scouts I remember using a compass, map & visible high points to hike to an unknown but pre-determined destination. I was disappointed to learn that when in Boy Scouts my Grandsons were not being taught navigation with a compass bc most the kids have tech on phones replacing the compass. The use of celestial observations for building alignments in the ancient world is fascinating. Precise alignments have also been found in ancient construction of indigenous peoples of the southwestern US. Did you know that a 7th grader in US using astronomical alignment of the already known locations of Aztec temples found one that was swallowed by jungle & undiscovered? He found it bc logically it should have been there and it was! Fortunately an adult archeologist took his observations seriously. I think I need to align my bed to magnetic North & see if my sleep improves.


  2. Fascinating comments, great food for thought! I was wondering if there’s any magnetic orientation to the traditional feng shui method of habitation furnishing, but I suppose that’s not very likely! I think that the sport of orienteering still uses compasses, though I’d be hard pressed to say why an analogue magnetic needle should be any better than a gps tracker, for example, except that the traditional compass doesn’t require batteries. As for the direction of defecation, it was fascinating a couple of nights ago to see Mary Beard’s television piece on ‘forbidden art’ which included a rather squirm-making segment on the way our own elimination of waste is something we don’t want to think about.


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