Persephone, Goddess of Spring, by Howard Johnson
The Spring Equinox
The first great Gate stood open wide. A voice came through that portal: "Hercules, my son, go forth. Pass through the Gate and enter on the Way. Perform thy labor and return to me, reporting on the deed." With shouts of triumph Hercules rushed forth, running between the pillars of the Gate with over-weening confidence and surety of power.
The Vernal Equinox is the time when the Sun reaches the balancing point in its path through the tropical zodiac, when the length of the day is equal to the length of the night. It marks the beginning of the new astrological year, as the Sun enters the first degree of Aries, the Ram. Although the Equinox is formally celebrated on March 21, it happens in 2011 on March 20 (23:22 UT – but the Equinox is a day and a night, a phase not a moment). It is marked in the Christian Calendar by the Festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin (Lady Day) on March 25.
Aries is the sign of the exaltation of the Sun, for it marks the time when the days of light begin to outstrip the nights of darkness (for this reason the Ram is also the Fall of Saturn). This year it is highly stressed, if you hadn't noticed, by massive cosmic forces reflected in the sublunary realms by the political upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as horrendous geophysical phenomena, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, earthquakes in other parts, floods and landslides, snow-ins and so on. It marks the death of the old year and the rebirth of the new, celebrated since time immemorial on or around the spring equinox, which is why the death and resurrection of Jesus is celebrated at this time. In ancient pagan cultures, the resurrection of Persephone from her stretch in the Underworld with Aidoneus is also celebrated. The esoteric meaning of the descent into Hades is a code for the rebirth of the spirit after the ritual of initiation. This is what the Christian idea of the death to the world and being born anew really means. A major calendrical event, the Equinox is the focus of religious and social festivities in all cultures, and is the key to the timing of Easter.
The word equinox means "equal night": the length of the daytime being equal to that of the night. This event only occurs twice a year, the vernal equinox marking the astrological beginning of spring and the autumnal equinox marking the ending of summer. Interestingly, the actual equal duration (equilux) need not occur on the official Equinox, which is more cultural and celebratory than scientific. The Autumn, or Fall Equinox marks the harvest celebrations in September, outlined later in this article. [See NOTE for Southern Hemisphere.]
Spring is a time of new beginnings, both spiritually and physically. Crops germinate and shoots peek through the earth, flowers bloom, young animals gambol about and everything feels new. It is a truly energising time, when people feel bold and ready to take on the world! In an earlier era, the Equinox marked New Year's Day (in Christian times, the New Year marker was taken on by Lady Day – up to 1752 when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced in England). It is still the beginning of the year in various calendars, including the Iranian and the Bahai. India has many calendars, but for most Indians, the solar year begins at the equinox.
Astrologically, the March Equinox marks the beginning of the tropical astrological year, being the entry of the Sun into the Cardinal Fire Sign of Aries, the Ram. Aries is traditionally ruled by Mars, so the ancient Roman festivals of the equinox centered around Mars (hence the name of the month "March"). The Lupercalia was a fertility festival at this time, said by Cicero to be so ancient as to have been instituted before civilisation and law existed. Interestingly, the name "Easter" derives from the ancient fertility festival of the goddess Eostre, the teutonic goddess of spring. All cultures have spring festivals of this type and the Vernal Equinox is still widely celebrated as a holiday in many countries across the world.
The Autumnal Equinox
And Hercules, who is a son of man and yet a son of God, passed through the seventh Gate. The power of the seventh sign passed through him. He knew not that he faced a dual test, the test of friendship rare and the test of courage unafraid.
The Autumn, or Fall Equinox is the time when the Sun reaches the opposite balancing point in its path through the tropical zodiac. The word equinox means "equal night": the duration of the day being equal to that of the night, an event which occurs but twice a year, the one marking the astrological beginning of spring and the other the ending of summer. It is the time of ripening and harvest, marked astrologically as the Sun enters the first degree of Libra, the Scales, hence Saturn, the "grim reaper", is exalted in Libra.
Libra is not just the season of "Fall", but as night begins to outstrip the day, is also the "Fall" of the Sun – being the opposite sign to Aries, the sign of the Sun's exaltation. The Official Equinox is on the 21st, but this year, the ingress into Libra occurs on September 23 at 09:06 UT, marked in the Christian Calendar by Michaelmas, the Feast of St Michael the Archangel, on September 29 (but remember that the Equinox is a day and a night; a phase not a moment).
The equinox is also a day of sacrifice. This is the day of the year when the ancient god of light is defeated by his twin and alter ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day. This sacrifice is illustrated in the lyric:
There were three men came out of the West,|
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn must die....
The sacrifice of John Barleycorn, however, is a symbolic one: it is the spirit of the vegetation that is 'sacrificed' to harvest the food that will sustain the people through the winter months and into the next growing season.
Ancient agricultural societies celebrated the harvest with festivals of one kind or another, usually marking them with sacrifices to ward off the evil spirits and spirits of the dying year. The burning of the Corn Dolly is associated with the death of the corn god, and the crossing of the the border between long days of light and long nights of darkness.
NOTE: in southern latitudes, of course, the equinoxes are reversed, so that the spring character of Easter in the Northern Hemisphere becomes an autumn celebration in Australia, South Africa, South America, New Zealand and other places south of the equator. This presents something of a problem for Christianity and for Astrology, or any other seasonal philosophy with claims to universality, a question which is partially addressed on this site in Ian Thurnwald's article on the Elemental Qualities, the building blocks of astrology. However, the tropical zodiac seems to delineate cultural forms (archetypes) within the Cosmic Mind. Our connection via the collective unconscious (see The Living Signs by Steven Birchfield on this site) enables us to interpret these forms using astrology, even though the physical seasons may not actually comply with the symbolism.
The Solstices mark the other points of the Cardinal Cross. Click here to read more on The Solstices
Click here to view a Table of Equinoxes and Solstices