Sunday, 23 June 2013

On Liturgical Uses for a Sundial

Simply because it's that time of year, I've been asked to say a few words about the Sundial in liturgical usage.

Now, the sundial is a perfect Beaker worship focus. At least in the summer, it can be used to great effect outdoors. In the winter, inside to stay out of the weather, it's frankly a bit pointless. Not least because of the effort involved in dragging it in from the croquet lawn, and all the mud you get everywhere. And, obviously, the fact that it doesn't work.

But a sundial in the summer, on a sunny day if at all possible, is a thing redolent with spiritual insight and power.
A working sundial
First up, it's a poignant reminder of the human condition. Once the sun has gone round once, that's another day gone. Or is it half a day? How does it fit in with 12 versus 24 hour clock? Or am I thinking about the tides? Anyway - whatever. Once the sun has gone round, that's either 12 or 24 hours you'll never get again. Gone forever - like thistledown blown on the wind of fate, the moving finger writes and having writ moved on.

Also, the sundial in the picture above is, you will notice, casting its own shadow. By putting stakes in the ground around a sundial, you can use the sundial itself as a gnomon, to the better use of all kinds of concepts including the prefix meta-. And you can't beat a concept that begins with the prefix meta-.

And then, the way in which the sundial brings the circles of the earth into our domestic setting - the great circles of sun, moon and stars, the universal wheel, the wheel of fortune and the Giant's circle that we call Stonehenge - all these combine to tell us that we must dance around the sundial. Preferably while wearing tie-dye or voile, and almost inevitably to the song "Teach me to dance".

Yes, it's a world of power, is a sundial. Unfortunately, we thought that the best place to put ours was in the "Mediterranean gravel garden", which all the gardeners and weather forecasters told us would be so sensible when Global Warming made us as hot as the Algarve. Which means that the sundial is currently laying on its side, in a pile of glacial murrain that used to be the gravel garden, surrounded by saturated lavender and frost-bitten yukkas, at the bottom of the slope where the melting snow carried it in April. Just as soon as the water level has gone down, we'll be retrieving it. Still, the rhubarb is doing well.


  1. I got one and they said it needed a gnomon. So now I'm lookin for a wee chap with a fishing rod.

    1. We keep ours on the Aga in the winter, to keep it dry.

      Gnomon the range.

  2. it is a good year for rhubarb,........ but a bad year for sundials.

  3. At least the rhubarb keeps you regular, which is more than the sundial can do, when here's no sun


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