Now that we’re approaching the winter solstice, light is pretty much on the minds of those of us in the northern hemisphere. Or lights. The use of Christmas lights and Hanukkah lights may have symbolic value to the religions that promote them, but both also reflect the pagan use of sympathetic magic to bring back the light. Human beings tend to be visually oriented, and many of us feel the increasing darkness deeply. Days are brief enough to be awake for the entirety of daylight’s duration, and then you still have to get home after work. After dark. All our enlightened hours are spent for the benefit of the company. It takes its toll. And so we string holiday lights, bringing cheer into the preternaturally long hours starved for illumination.
Although the snow hasn’t stayed around here, I did notice an interesting reflection of light outdoors the other day. The windows of a house were casting a light-shadow on a fence that had the look of a cross. It took some convincing to assure me that this was pareidolia—the assigning of intentionality to random “signal.” We see faces where they don’t really exist, and when we see crosses in this evangelical haven of America we have to assume they’re intentional. Sometimes, however, they’re simply a trick of the light. The sun has a low angle this time of year, and the light that is otherwise scattered back into what is wonderfully termed airglow—the natural illumination caused by sunlight as its luminosity brightens the daytime sky—is focused lower. Light takes shape and sometimes it seems religious.
In New York City, where repeated patterns are pervasive, such reflections often appear on neighboring buildings as “X-Files” symbols of Xs in circles, giving the city a mysterious look. Out here, however, they appear as crosses. You see what you want to see. Or, sometimes you can’t help seeing what appears utterly obvious to credulous eyes. I’ve had people insist that crosses like this are intentional. In reality, they’re a natural result of rectangles reflecting the morning light when the sun follows its low profile ecliptic during the waning of the year. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be read for something else, of course, Religion is all about interpretation. Light forms patterns and seems strong enough to banish darkness. And given how many hours it’s dark these days, I’m willing to take what help I can get. The solstice will soon be here.