image: Wikimedia commons (link); image has been altered in its colorization.
Earth will speed past the point of equinox at 0229 GMT on 23 September, which will be 10:29 pm Eastern time on 22 September for those along the eastern edge of North America, or 7:29 pm Pacific time on 22 September for those on its western edge.
As it does so, the northern hemisphere will pass from the "upper half" of the zodiac wheel into the "lower half," as nights begin to be longer than days (a phenomenon which takes place a few days after the fall equinox, owing to the fact that the size of the sun disc plus the bend of light from the earth's atmosphere act to lengthen the days ever so slightly at each sunrise and sunset, delaying the actual day upon which night takes over as being longer than daytime: see the previous post on "Equinox versus Equalday/night").
For those in the southern hemisphere, of course, this equinox marks the complete opposite phenomenon, being the gateway to the return to the "upper half" of the year and the climb towards the point of southern-hemisphere summer solstice.
But for the northern hemisphere, this equinox marks the point of descent, an annual crossing point of very great metaphorical import in nearly all the sacred scriptures and traditions the world over. The passage down to the lower half of the year, enroute to the very Pit of the year at the low-point of winter solstice, symbolized the incarnation: the plunge of the soul from the fiery realms of spirit into the miry realms of matter.
It is perhaps for this reason that the Chichen Itza pyramid was designed to manifest the "serpent of light" going down from heaven to earth upon the day of the equinox (above).
This descent into the body was figured in ancient myth and legend in countless metaphors: as the death of Osiris and the corresponding "casting down" of the Djed-column or backbone of Osiris, as the plunging of Narcissus into the pool of water, to the myths of the god or goddess who was held captive in the underworld for half the year, such as Balder in northern Europe and Persephone in the Mediterranean -- the latter being central to the rites and rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which included symbolically rich metaphors such as the taking of piglets down to the waters of the ocean by the initiates, and of their being mocked and humiliated as they crossed over a bridge on the way to Eleusis, and finally of searching all through the night for the missing or hidden goddess Kore (Persephone), symbolizing the hidden and nearly lost state of our spiritual or immortal part within our animal nature during the incarnation.
The annual Eleusinian Mysteries, by the way, commenced at the end of September each year and ran through early October -- until they were finally shut down by the Roman emperor Theodosius in AD 392.
The ancient writings of the philosophers were filled with references to the fact that this material world through which we pass in our incarnate state is not the real world, but is rather the shadowy projection of that real but invisible world of spirit -- a worldview we have seen to be common to shamanic cultures worldwide, and which thus supports the argument that this worldview is part of the shared heritage of humanity (which the forces of which Theodosius was a part have been trying to stamp out and deny to the people of the world for at least seventeen centuries).
In his masterful 1940 text, Lost Light, which traces this theory regarding the ancient teaching of the soul's plunge into the body and its manifestation in metaphorical myth and in the discourse of ancient philosophers, Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes on this subject:
In the Phaedrus Plato, in the beautiful allegory of the Chariot and the Winged Steeds, portrays the soul as being dragged down by the lower elements in man's nature and subjected to a slavery incident to corporeal embodiment. Out of these conditions he traces the rise of numerous evils that disorder the mind and becloud the reason. [. . .] The rational element, formerly in full function, now falls asleep. Life is thereupon more generally swayed by the inclinations of the sensual part. Man becomes the slave of sense, the sport of phantoms and illusions. This is the realm in which Plato's noesis, or godlike intellect, ceases to operate for our guidance and we are dominated by doxa, or "opinion." This state of mental dimness is the true "subterranean cave" of the Platonic myth, in which we see only shadows, mistaking them for reality. 145.
All this, Alvin Boyd Kuhn argues, was associated with the fall into the "lower half" of the year, when darkness begins to dominate again -- the half of the year which represents our earthly sojourn in this body which commences metaphorically at the fall equinox and ends with the triumphant return of the spirit to the heavenly realms at the "opposite horizon" of the spring equinox.
Discussing this realm of darkness further, he writes:
"The dark night of the soul," no less than the Gotterdammerung, was, in the ancient mind, just the condition of the soul's embodiment in physical forms. [. . .] All this is the dialectic statement of the main theme of ancient theology -- the incarnation of the godlike intellect and divine soul in the darksome conditions of animal bodies.
The modern student must adjust his mind to the olden conception -- renewed again by Spinoza -- of all life as subsisting in one or another modification of one primordial essence, called by the Hindus Malaprakriti. This basic substance was held to make a transit from its most rarefied form to the grossest state of material objectivity and back again, in ceaseless round. Darkness was the only fit symbol to give to the mind any suggestive realization of the condition of living intellectual energy when reduced in potential under the inertia of matter. 146-147.
From all of the foregoing, we can readily see why the points of equinox were metaphorically portrayed in myth-systems across the planet as points of sacrifice. For the September equinox which falls between Virgo and Libra in the astrological system that informs much of ancient myth, this often involves myths about the sacrifice of a virgin, as with the sacrifice of Iphigenia (discussed in the first three chapters of The Undying Stars, which can be viewed online here; the Iphigenia discussion begins on page 34 of the book pagination) or the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter.
These myths, and some of the philosophical passages cited above, depict the point of incarnation in negative and even horrifying tones, but the counter-balancing component present in all of these same myth-systems is the restoration of the spiritual component, the raising up of the Djed-column that has been cast down, the remembering and recognition and then elevation of the divine spark within the individual, which the ancient myths portray as one of our central tasks here in this "lower realm of darkness."
If the point of incarnation depicts the temporary burying of spirit within matter, and the temporary increase of darkness over light, the act of calling forth the spirit again and letting it shine through and ultimately elevate the material world which is "covering it" is an act of great importance, and one which was discussed in the previous post about "blessing" as a daily requirement, and one with an individual component that "faces inwards" (so to speak) but also one that "faces outwards" towards others and towards the natural world. Such is the opposite of the burying and hiding of the spiritual, in that this concept of blessing is one of evoking the spiritual and enlivening the material world which after all contains and is infused with the hidden realm of spirit, and which in fact ultimately springs from the world of spirit, as even the passage from Plato discussed above asserts.
These are uplifting thoughts to consider at the significant point in the year at which the sun's path again crosses the celestial equator. The human condition may be deeply confusing, and our "mixed" state of "spiritual-animal" may cause us to feel like the participants in the Eleusinian mysteries, stumbling about in the darkness and tripping over everything, but the human condition is after all a wonderful mystery as well, and one in which we can experience the increase and eventual triumph of the light again, the restoration of the Djed, and the shining through of the world of spirit which permeates and sleeps within all of the natural universe around us, as well as in ourselves.