Astrology, Synodic Periods, and the Rhythm of Nature — Turkey Buzzards Fly North With the First Day of Spring.

Dear Angelique (and anyone else who reads this),

I have enjoyed, while learning about Astrology, the connection I feel to natural rhythm. The annual departure of the Turkey Buzzards highlights these rhythms for me today. Every year these big black buzzards arrive in mid-October, and they leave again for their northern nesting grounds every year after the spring equinox. They spend their summers riding air currents outside our building where the sea breeze comes in from the bay. My son and I once took a snap shot of them circling outside our apartment window so we could count them, and there were over 200 of them in the frame. But today, the only bird in sight is Mr. Pretty Bird, our painted parrot. So it’s good-bye to the Buzzards and hello to the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere.

Mr. Pretty Bird

And here we are on the eve of our trip back down to Bahia, and as I write this, the theme of returning to natural rhythms is coming to me very strongly.

There are so many disruptions to natural rhythms. We just had a huge one with the arbitrary adjustment of the clock. Everyone last weekend had to set their clock forward in the middle of the night, and suddenly, everything shifted an hour. All of our appointments, start times for work and school, the time we get home from work and make dinner, the time we go to bed, our entire schedule just shifted an hour. Everything changes with the clock.

This just does not happen when we go to Brazil, where the birds wake us up in the morning–oblivious to the time. There are a few that make piercing calls starting about as long before sunrise as it takes to boil water for coffee. Then as the sky starts to glow, more and more join the cacophony. So each morning we wake up gently with the Sun, and our first inclination is to scratch our tummies and wander off in search of coffee.

So we stroll across the grass toward the kitchen, and then after a while we are all together eating breakfast, and then we start naturally flowing into an adventure or activity. If it’s raining we stay in a hammock with a book or do some writing, if its sunny maybe we ride the horses or go down to the beach or work in the gardens or on a project. In the afternoon it starts getting hot, so everyone returns to seek shade and lunch and then maybe some shade or the water. As the sun sets we tend to go out for a walk and to pick greens for a salad. Then the mosquitos start to come out, and we run for the showers and our long pants with BugsAway Socks, then we reheat some lunch for a light dinner, and fall asleep.

We do this entire schedule without a clock! When we make appointments with people, we typically make them for the morning or the afternoon. Rarely do we specify a time. After all, the meeting will occur according to the natural rhythm. This is the part that fascinates me.

I remember one time when we were at Ceu do Mapia (if you don’t know what that is, it’s worth a Google). There was a community “lunch” planned one day. Typically the mid-day meal is the main meal of the day down there, and what we call dinner is a light meal, and so you really don’t want to miss lunch. I wanted to take a hike in the forest that day, and so I asked around about the time for the community lunch. Everyone just sort of stared blankly at me. No one could tell me what time it would start. Oh well.

So we left that morning and went on our hike, and then it started getting hot and then it rained in a downpour. We scurried back to the village as the sun was coming out again. The rain had cooled the air temperature, and everyone was coming outside and making their way to the community center for the meal. It came together in calm and tranquility. I don’t think anyone ever pulled out a clock.

This rhythm continues at night with the stars and the moon. My favorite is the cycle of the moon as it waxes to a full moon, because from our place we look east over the Atlantic from about 300 meters elevation.

. Moonrise over the Atlantic in Brazil

As the moon waxes, it rises about an hour later each day. So about a week before the full moon, we see it over head as the sun sets, and then each day it is a bit lower in the sky, until finally, on the magic night of the full moon, she rises from the ocean at the point of sunset. There are birds that stay active throughout the night on these full moons, and you can easily walk without a flash light.

Then the next night, the moon comes up about an hour after sunset, and we remember the full moon the night before. The next night, she comes up two hours after, and each night another hour later. And before you know it, we are all in bed before moonrise. We don’t see her again until suddenly, a couple days after the New Moon, we see her in the western sky diving into the horizon after the setting sun, and then each day a little east as the cycle repeats.

Angelique (and anyone else who happens upon this), I’m going to try a fun experiment this trip to Brazil. I am going to go the entire week without ever doing anything based on the time stated by a clock. I’m going to meditate based on my feelings the right amount of time, I’m going to eat when I am hungry, get up when I wake up, go to bed when I’m tired, and visit with people when I see them. I think with a little diligence I can avoid considering time for the entire trip. My reward will be Venus conjunct the waning Moon on April 1, the day we return from our trip.

Our lives are so disconnected from natural rhythms here in the states. Even the Gregorian Calendar robs us of the rhythm of the Moon. Sure the Moon still continues her patterns, but we live apart from that rhythm. The date of the full moon is an afterthought, the tides and the moving ocean, they are not so relevant to our daily grind.

Our entire society runs on a system that has no reference to the natural world. We go by clock and calendar with no reference to the firmament. I believe this really cuts us off from nature, and so cut off, the destruction of the environment is enabled. People who go from air conditioned environment to their car, in traffic, to a garage, to an air conditioned office. We eat food that is either placed in front of us ready to eat, or we buy it in styrofoam from the market.

What significance does the cycle of the moon have? What significance is the heat of the day? When is the harvest? When is hunting season? When is it time to plant? When is it time to wake up, to go to sleep, to have a baby? All the birds know the answers to these questions, but we have lost the connection.

Astrology is starting to bring that back to me, and I’d like to share something I learned about the rhythms of planets and the Moon called Synodic Periods and Sidereal Periods. A Synodic period is the time it takes for a planet to return to the same point in the sky from the point of view of an observer on Earth. This is different from the duration of a planet’s orbit relative to the Sun or the background of stars–the Sidereal Period, because the Earth is moving too. This is most commonly applied to the Moon, because she goes around the earth once a month. Here is a cool article from Durham University that explains the difference between the Synodic and Sidereal Periods of the Moon.

There is a lot of complex math in there, but basically, the Synodic Period is a little longer than the Sidereal Period for the Moon because by the time the moon comes back around again to a certain point in it’s orbit around the earth, the earth has moved on a little bit in its orbit around the Sun, so the Moon has to catch up a bit to reach the same phase. So the Synodic Period is 29.5 days and the Sidereal Period is 27.3 days. This really did not surprise me very much.

When we consider the planets, however, the results are unexpected, or at least they were to me. Here is a chart from to which I added the Moon and one Column showing the ratios. I also kept the definitions they listed there.

Synodic Period – Time that elapse between two successive identical configurations as seen from Earth

Sidereal Period – True orbital period of a planet, the time it takes the planet to complete one full orbit of the Sun.

PlanetSynodic Period Sidereal PeriodSyn/Sid
Mercury11688 days1.31
Venus584225 days2.59
Earth1.0 yearN/A
Mars2.131.9 years2.36
Jupiter1.0911.9 years.092
Saturn1.0329.5 years.035
Uranus1.01484.0 years.012
Neptune1.008164.8 years.0061
Pluto1.005248.5 years.0040

Look at how different the ratio’s are between the various planets. This really surprised me just now when I first looked at it. I did not expect to see this pattern, but it makes sense when you think about it a bit. Let’s consider Pluto first. It takes Pluto 248.5 Earth years to orbit the Sun. The Plutonian year is so much longer than Earth’s year that Pluto really does not move much against the background of stars in a single Earth year. And so, as the Earth goes around, it catches Pluto in about the same spot. So the Synodic Period of Pluto is about one Earth year plus a tiny little bit longer for us to cross the extra distance Pluto covers in the same time.

The Synodic Period for Venus, on the other hand, is two and a half times as long as Venus’s actual year around the Sun. It takes 225 days for Venus to complete one orbit around the Sun (the Sidereal Period of Venus) but it takes two and a half times that long to come into the same alignment with Earth. This is because Earth and Venus are both moving pretty fast, and by the time Venus goes around the Sun, Earth is already two thirds the way around again. Venus has to go a lot farther to catch up!

Imagine living in concert with these natural rhythms. Imagine if we did not have lights on at night, so we could see the planets at night. Imagine you are a child gazing at Saturn at mid-heaven in the warm summer sky as it makes it’s two and a half year journey through Aquarius, and then imagine following it’s progress through the zodiac as you grew into adulthood. Then, 14.5 years later, you would see it at mid-heaven in Leo in the dead of winter. Saturn return would mean so much more if we watched it march across the sky through the course of our lives!

Imagine counting the passing of the year with cycles of the Moon. You see the leaves changing colors in New England and the velvety antlers of the deer growing, and then the Hunter’s Moon in October. Imagine the Full Moon of January, frozen and snowy, and imagine knowing that the next Moon would bring Crocus flowers pushing through the snow.

I feel that I have lost something very real and important to the sense of being human and being connected to nature. To think that some authority can announce that we are setting the clocks back and hour, and having everything in our lives changes. The dog wonders why we are getting up so early. The buzzards are on their way back to Canada, oblivious also as they cross the border.

And so Angelique, I am so looking forward to my week in Bahia watching the Moon catch up with the morning star. I promise to send a picture and write a post!


Peace Love Forgiveness

One thought on “Astrology, Synodic Periods, and the Rhythm of Nature — Turkey Buzzards Fly North With the First Day of Spring.

  1. Oh, Man. It’s gonna be a challenging week for me! And is this I pulled out my travel watch and discovered it has a dead battery?


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