When we look across the globe at many different cultural traditions, there seems to be an emphasis on the importance of the astronomical periods known as the Solstice and Equinox times. Many of the most ancient landmarks that have ever been discovered, such as Stonehenge, Newgrange, the temple at Karnak, Macchu Picchu, and Chichen Itza have all been oriented to these four points, the winter and summer solstice, and the spring and fall equinox.
Why is that the case? Well, we may not know all the reasons why. Historians point out that these times needed to be known in order to know when the seasons were coming, to know when to plant seeds, and to know when to harvest them. So there is likely a practical reasoning behind it, but there also seems to be a profound spiritual logic behind the awareness of these four times. In this post I will try to clarify the importance and meaning of the astrological and astronomical significance of the solstices and equinoxes, which have been called the “Celestial Cross”.
First lets clarify what these terms “Solstice” and “Equinox” actually mean. The Solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year as the Sun reaches its highest or lowest point in its apparent year long course across the equator and back down. And the equinoxes are the two middle or “equal” points that the Sun hits as it goes up and down across the ecliptic as we see it from the Earth. The Equinoxes are the exact days when the day and night are of equal length.
(Note: Astrology is an Earth based science, and as such, it is not important whether the Earth actually is moving around the Sun, or the Sun around the Earth. The symbolic importance is what appears to be happening from the perspective of being on Earth. So we say that the Sun moves north and south, even though it is commonly understood that the Earth is what is moving around the Sun. From the perspective of the relativity of motion, it really cannot be proven that the Earth is moving around the Sun, as the entire Universe could equally be said to revolve around the Earth, as the famous physicist Ernst Mach has contended.)
THE VERNAL EQUINOX
The vernal equinox is usually around March 20th of each year and marks the beginning of “Spring” as we commonly call it. This is astrologically the beginning of the sign of Aries, “the ram”, and the beginning of the Sun’s course through the Zodiac again. As this is the point where there begins to be more daylight than night, and all of nature begins to awaken and “spring” up from dormancy, we can see why this is symbolized by a ram. Rams are powerful and fearless creatures that climb mountains and smash into their enemies head first. They push the boundaries of what can be possible. We can see how this fits as a perfect symbol for the time of year when nature itself seems to awaken and burst forth into activity. Aries individuals are very comfortable with this sort of activity and are courageous, adventurous, pioneering, and love initiating new projects.
THE AUTUMNAL EQUINOX
The autumnal equinox is the exact opposite point of the solar path, and marks the first day of “Fall” or “Autumn”, and is astrologically the first day of the sign of Libra, “the scales”. Libra is the sign of the balancing scales, and that should make sense to us as we now know that this is the middle point, or “balancing point” of the zodiac. Naturally Libra is a sign that seeks balance, equality, and harmony, and we can see the logic behind that, in the Sun’s yearly course. Also, Libra is the sign where the Sun is weakest, and the weakest sign for a planet is referred to as its “fall”. Its as if the planet falls from its natural strength at that place. Hence, we call this time of year, “The Fall”, as it is the time when the Sun “falls” astrologically, but also this means in actuality that the light on earth is diminishing more quickly each day as winter approaches. So the fall equinox marks the equal point of the Sun’s descending path, after which there will be more darkness than light for 6 months.
THE WINTER SOLSTICE
This brings us to the Solstices. After the autumn equinox, the next major change will be at the winter solstice, which occurs on December 20th or 21st. This is the shortest day of the year, where the Sun is seen from Earth’s perspective as being the furthest away and dimmest that it will be. If one is far North enough above the equator, then the sun can appear to disappear or not even rise on this day. At the north pole, the sun does not rise at all. For three days the sun’s path stays the same, and so in the northern regions of Earth, the Sun is apparently gone (or barely visible) for three days after the 21st. Then on the 25th of December, the Sun rises just a bit further North, and is just a bit more visible, and the day is just a bit longer. This day marks the beginning of the Sun’s 6 month journey northward across the equator and the beginning of the longer days. This winter solstice point is astrologically the first day of Capricorn, the goat-fish in western tradition, and the crocodile in the Indian tradition. Both symbols represent the same energy of coming from darkness into more light. The crocodile is often half submerged when seen, and lays low but can be quite powerful and fearsome when it moves up onto dry land. This fits the nature of this time, when the Sun is most hidden, but is beginning to make its journey towards more light. The goat or goat-fish in the western tradition, has the same symbolic meaning. The fish-half can represent the submerged, hidden, or darker emotional aspect of ourselves or our karmas that can sometimes surface during the winter time. The goat, being a natural mountain climber and survivor, symbolizes the inevitable rising up into life and light of the Sun on its 6 month journey that begins at this stage of Capricorn. The goat will always make it to the top of the hill eventually, but may take its time. This is how capricorn natives behave, they are focused on long term goals, security, moving up in the world, and on metaphorically “getting through the winter”.
THE SUMMER SOLSTICE
After 6 months of the Sun moving north, it reaches its peak of northern movement on the summer solstice on June 21st. This is the brightest day of the year, and the Sun is as far north as it will ever be. For 3 days the Sun stays at about that same place, just like the opposite winter solstice. Then on June 25th, the Sun actually starts descending and moving south. This is astrologically known as the sign of Cancer, the crab. And as crabs are easily seen to side-step as they move, this is exactly how the Sun behaves here. The sun was moving north, north, north, then it stops at cancer…. and then side steps for 3 days, and then retreats back south, like a crab running back to its hole in the sand. Cancerian individuals are known to be a bit fickle, and often dont address issues head on like the ram, they tend to pause and side-step around the issue if possible. They are able to yield to the moment, and enjoy receding from the world into their home or something they are comfortable with. This makes sense as this is the point at which the Sun actually stalls and yields from moving any further north, and then changes direction, and begins to move south. Cancer natives are very receptive and are similar in that they can stop and check in with their emotions and say, “is this the right course for me? Perhaps I should change the course”.
Hopefully it is beginning to make sense that this course of the Sun, along with the Moon’s monthly course around the Earth, are the cycles that create our seasons and therefore our sense of time and rhythm as we live on Earth. That is very important! It makes sense that these cycles will also have a big influence on our psychological states, and this is obvious when we take even a basic look at the signs that are associated with the four major points of this solar cycle, as we did earlier. These four major points that correlate to Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn are places where the Sun and the Earth are in an alignment, and so naturally we would assume that these signs would have importance. And even those with a basic knowledge of astrology know that this is true, as these four signs are called the “cardinal” or “chara” (changeable) signs. These cardinal signs are naturally the most active, and the most changeable. This makes sense as these are the actual points where the sun “changes” its course. The Sun represents the “Soul of All”, or Saarva Atman, as discussed in a previous post. Logically it makes sense that if these signs are where the Soul of everything changes its course, the people born under that sign will also be more likely to change course throughout life, and be more comfortable with change.
We can also think about this and see that it is likely not some star constellation that looks like a ram that is making an aries person so impulsive, but the very framework of the Sun and Earth’s movement (these equinoxes and solstices) that is the factor. This makes more sense when we contemplate it, as stars can burn out or appear in different areas over time, but the Sun and Earths relationship appears to be much more consistent over the long term, and hence a better framework for time.
We have been dealing with these cycles our whole lives, so we may not notice the effects from day to day, but these cycles can definitely be noticed and felt to varying degrees, depending on the consciousness of the person experiencing them. This is a very important pattern and the ruins of ancient cultures across the globe are all aligned to this “celestial cross” as it has been called. In the next post about the Solstices and Equinoxes I will elaborate more about the spiritual and yogic symbolism of this same cycle.