Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Midnight, literally "the middle of the night", was a time arbitrarily designated to determine the end of a day and the beginning of the next in some, mainly Western, cultures. Originally midnight depended on the time of the sunset and dawn, varying according to the seasons.
Solar midnight is that time opposite of solar noon, when the sun is closest to nadir and the night is furthest from dusk and dawn. Due to the advent of time zones, which makes time identical across a range of meridians, it rarely coincides with midnight on a clock, but can be computed on a number of websites that perform solar time calculations. Solar midnight is dependent on latitude and longitude rather than on a time zone.
Midnight marks the start of the day in civil time throughout the world; however, some religious calendars continue to begin the day at another time — for example, at dusk in the Hebrew calendar or the Islamic calendar. With the advent of clocks and the division of the day into 24 hours, midnight is fixed at "12:00 am" on the 12-hour clock. Using the 24-hour clock it is fixed at "00:00", though in some circumstances such as train schedules, midnight will be used to end the previous day by using "24:00". There is no provision for doing this using the 12-hour clock.
In traditional magical thinking, midnight refers to solar midnight, which is opposite solar noon. These form an axis linking the mundane world with otherworlds by being the apogee of darkness and the perigee of light. Thus, traditional midnight is associated with chaos, death, underworld and mystery. It was seen as moment when sacrum manifests itself and epiphanies were most likely. Of course the epiphanies expected were that associated with darkness, so it was thought that at midnight visitation from spirits, ghosts, demons and devils were common.
All the supernatural creatures of darkness - reminiscence of feared nocturnal predators - were believed to haunt the night, their potency greatest at its central point, midnight. According to Slavic folklore, midnight was time when strzygas have risen from graves to suck blood of mortals, zmoras assailed sleeping to steal their breath and devils came for sinners. Polish Jews believed that it is time when dybbuks possessed folk causing insanity.
As night's attributes are chaos and primordiality, all the acts of summoning from otherworlds were easiest to perform at the culmination of the night. Supernatural entities like demons and devils universally answered human call - be it death wish, curse of famine, prostration or pact with devil. All the acts of sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy were easiest then. While some beliefs stated that elaborate rituals were needed, some other folk lore ascribed unholy power to such simple acts as calling the devil at crossroads at midnight. Even peeking into mirror at night (without a reliable clock one could never be certain what time it is) was dangerous as devil himself could have looked back.
Midnight was also the time to gather the ingredients used in magical acts done at other times, so various herbs were thought to be most potent when harvested at midnight.
Midnight in some Western languages
- Dutch: middernacht
- Finnish: keskiyö
- French: minuit
- Gaelic: Mheán Oíche
- German: Mitternacht
- Greek: Μεσάνυχτα (mesanikhta)
- Italian: mezzanotte
- Norwegian: midnatt
- Old English: middaneaht
- Polish: pólnoc
- Portuguese: meia-noite
- Russian: по́лночь
- Serbian: ponoć
- Slovak: polnoc
- Spanish: medianoche
- Swedish: midnatt
- Midnight sun
- Midnight Commander
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
- Midnight Cowboy
- Midnight Oil
- Midnight's Children
- Captain Midnight
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