image: Wikimedia commons (  link  )

image: Wikimedia commons (link)

In just about seven hours from now, the earth will speed past the point of the September equinox, where the sun's position along the line of the ecliptic will cross the line of the celestial equator.

From our perspective on earth, the ecliptic plane can perhaps best be envisioned by considering the line traced out by the sun's path each day as it arcs across the sky: if you imagined the sun leaving a visible, fiery line in the sky as it moves across the heavens, that line that the path of the sun would make would correspond to the ecliptic plane (so-called because when the moon crosses this same plane, there is the possibility of an eclipse: a solar eclipse if the moon comes between the earth and the sun along this line, and a lunar eclipse when the moon is along this line and the earth comes between the moon and the sun).

The celestial equator is an imagined line in the heavens which is "ninety degrees down" from the celestial pole around which the heavens appear to turn, due to the rotation of the earth. It is imaginary in the sense that you cannot look out into the sky and actually see a glowing arc where the celestial equator is visible, but is is a very real line in that the celestial pole is a definite point in the sky, and measuring ninety degrees down from that axial point will create an invisible circle which can be defined on a chart of the heavens.

Below is an image of the night sky, using the outstanding free open-source planetarium app Stellarium (available at stellarium.org), depicting the view to the south from a point in the northern hemisphere at this time of year and about 9 p.m. 

In the chart, the lines of celestial latitude and longitude are visible, and I have placed two small green arrows pointing towards the line of zero degrees celestial latitude (officially known as declination: see explanation here from Sky and Telescope). The arc between these two green arrows, crossing the heavens and arcing slightly upwards, is the celestial equator. 

Note that the point of the north celestial pole (ninety degrees up from this celestial equator) would be above and behind the viewer in the diagram -- it is not included in the small "window" formed by the rectangle above, which faces towards the south.

The plane of the ecliptic, along which we see the sun travel, is tilted to the plane of the celestial equator, due to the tilt of earth's axis (known as "axial tilt" and producing the "obliquity of the ecliptic"). Because our planet's axis is tilted by about 23.4 degrees relative to our orbit, the "line" we see sun follow throughout the day during daylight will go higher above the line of the celestial equator by a full 23.4 degrees at summer solstice, and will go below the line of the celestial equator by the same amount at winter solstice. You can see a visual image of the two circles,  representing the plane of the celestial equator with plane of the oblique ecliptic, on any armillary sphere, such as the one depicted in this previous post (scroll down about halfway through that long post for two images of an armillary sphere, the second one with labels). Half of the tilted ecliptic is above the celestial equator, and half is below it, with intersections at the equinoxes.

The line of the ecliptic is below the celestial equator in half of its circle, because this is the night side of the great circle. You can see the zodiac constellations (which are those constellations along the ecliptic band) located below the zero line in the diagram: Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, and the very beginning of the constellation Pisces. These are labeled in the diagram below, which is the exact same star chart as the one above, but this time with the celestial equator traced-out in red, and the zodiac constellations labeled, and marked with colorful outlines for added visibility:

The sun does not actually move along the full circle of the ecliptic line each day: that takes an entire year. As earth moves along its orbital ellipse throughout the year, our changing position with regard to the sun changes the background stars which appear "behind the sun" based on our position on our orbital path (see the diagram at the top of this blog post for a visual depiction of what that sentence is trying to say). 

The sun's path through the sky each day is a function of earth's rotation on its axis: the rotation of the earth causes the sun to appear to trace out a line in the sky each day because as we turn towards the east, we see the sun appear to move towards the west. In a single day, the sun does not move very far along the ecliptic line seen in the above diagram (it moves just less than a degree each day along the entire circle). During the summer months, the sun's position along the ecliptic line (in band of the zodiac constellations) is above the celestial equator during the hours of daylight -- but in the winter months the sun's daytime position is below that same celestial equator line.

The crossing-point from "above the line" to "below the line" for the sun's position along the ecliptic takes place at the fall equinox (or autumnal equinox). Here is an article from National Geographic explaining that the earth will whizz past that crossing-point at 1421 Greenwich time, which translates to  10:21 am along the east coast of North America and 7:21 am along the west coast of North America.

Here is a post I published some years ago explaining what I call the "earth-ship metaphor" which helps us to visualize why the earth "whizzes past" the equinox points but appears to "hang out" at each of the two solstices. 

The tilt of the earth's axis is envisioned by the bowsprit and stern-lantern of the ship, which stay oriented in the same direction as the ship moves around the central sun. When one of them is pointing more directly towards the sun, that half of the "ship" (the earth) will receive more hours of daylight than hours of darkness in each twenty-four hour period. At the solstice points, the bowsprit or stern-lantern are pointed most directly towards the sun, giving that hemisphere its summer solstice and longest day. The days will shorten as the ship approaches the equinox point ("broadside" to the sun) on the way towards the winter solstice. As the ship speeds past this point, hours of day and night will roughly balance each other.

Once we pass the fall equinox, the earth's progress (and the tilt of our axis) will cause the sun to move further and further below the line of the celestial equator, towards the lowest point at winter solstice. I have attempted to diagram this phenomenon in a couple previous posts, such as here and here

You can probably see from the diagram above which shows the outlined zodiac constellations in relation to the red line of the celestial equator that the ecliptic path crosses the celestial equator at a point in between the constellations of Pisces and Aquarius in the present epoch (and much closer to Aquarius -- in fact practically within Aquarius). 

The reason the sun is not anywhere near this point right now, however, is that that crossing is occupied by the sun at the March equinox (the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere), and we are approaching the fall equinox (which means that the sun is at the opposite end of the red ring and the opposite end of the zodiac band). The crossing point you can envision in the diagram above (between Aquarius and Pisces) is rising at the eastern horizon around sunset, but its opposite crossing point (between Leo and Virgo) is presently occupied by the sun.

The diagram below shows the zodiac wheel, through which the sun moves throughout the year (as our position on earth's orbit changes the background constellations which the sun occupies -- see again the diagram at the top of this post). The orientation of the diagram, and the position of the line of the celestial equator (orange horizontal line), is depicted for the Age of Aries, in a previous epoch. At that time, the crossing points of the equinoxes (each indicated with a large red "X") were located between the zodiac constellations of Virgo and Libra for the fall equinox (right side of the diagram, next to the orange arrow showing that the sun is on the way down to winter solstice) and between the zodiac constellations of Pisces and Aries for the spring equinox (left side of the diagram, next to the orange arrow showing that the sun is on the way up to summer solstice).

The sun can thus be seen to have occupied the background stars of the constellation Virgo during the entire month prior to the day when earth's orbit brought the sun to the crossing point of fall equinox -- which makes Virgo an incredibly important constellation in the ancient Star Myths of the world. 

The entire circuit of the circle above appears to have been used by the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories as representative of aspects of our dual material-spiritual cosmos -- a cosmos in which the visible or material realm is always in contact at every single point with a spiritual realm, and one in which (according to the ancient wisdom) the material realm actually flows out of or has its source within the spiritual realm. 

At the same time, the same circle appears to have been used by the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories as representative of our own human condition, because we too have our source within the spiritual realm, and come into this material condition of incarnation temporarily for some purpose. 

The myths appear to use the upper half of the cycle to represent concepts having to do with the spirit realm, and the lower half to have to do with the material realm and thus with incarnation. The plunge into incarnation, of course, would thus correspond to the point of fall equinox, the crossing point down into the material, incarnate condition. 

Thus, in a great many myths around the globe having to do with the fact of our fall out of the spiritual realm and into the incarnate condition, a female figure corresponding to the constellation Virgo can be observed to play a very prominent role. 

For example, in the story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent, in which all three of them are banished from the Garden of Paradise, the woman Eve can be shown to correspond to the constellation Virgo (see for example the video below, and the discussion here):

In that story, as shown in the diagram and discussed in more detail in my latest book, Star Myths of the Bible (the third volume in the series entitled Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them), being cast out of Paradise corresponds to the setting of the constellations into the western horizon (due to earth's daily rotation) -- the constellations literally plunge down out of the heavenly realm of air and fire (symbolic of the Spirit World) and into the lower realm of earth and water (symbolic of this Visible Realm, the material realm).

The presence of a Virgo-figure in sacred stories having to do with the act of taking on a material body is extremely widespread. In Volume One of the same series, we examined evidence that Maya, the mother of the one who is to become the Buddha, can also be shown to correspond to the constellation Virgo.

Previous posts and videos (such as the video posted below) have also explored the evidence that the goddess Durga in the Vedas and other sacred texts of ancient India can be shown to correspond to the constellation Virgo. In the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, the goddess Durga appears to Arjuna immediately before he plunges into the great battle of Kurukshetra -- and I believe that this battlefield in that epic may in some ways be used to represent our struggle to do what is right (and eventually to achieve spiritual growth) here in the incarnate condition of this life.

Note that Durga promises Arjuna that he cannot be defeated in this battle, and that he will eventually triumph.

Turning again to he cycle of stories in the scriptures of the Old Testament, the cycle of stories associated with the figure of Samson can be clearly seen to illustrate aspects of our plunge into the incarnate condition, using the metaphorical system that corresponds to the cycle of the sun's progress through the year.

Just as the sun can be seen to progressively "lose its power" as it crosses the line of fall equinox and descends deeper and deeper towards the low-point of winter solstice, so Samson also loses his divine strength as his hair is shorn by Delilah. In fact, the "seven locks of his head" which Delilah causes to be shaved off can be conclusively demonstrated to evoke the rays which emanate from the head of the Sun-god, as discussed in this previous post (and in the video below).

I am convinced that the clear use of celestial metaphor throughout the Samson-cycle of stories indicates that these stories are not about some ancient historical personage named Samson -- and they are not even ultimately about the sun we see in the sky (and which "crosses down" into the lower half of the year at fall equinox). The stories use the sun's "descent" towards winter solstice as a way of conveying truths about our own journey, down from the realm of spirit and into this material incarnate life. During this plunge, we are temporarily "shorn" of our awareness of our own spiritual nature and indeed inner connection to the divine, just as the sun is temporarily shorn of its power and the strength of its burning rays once it begins the plunge past fall equinox and towards winter solstice.

However, just as Samson's hair eventually begins to grow back again, and just as the sun eventually reaches its "turning point" at winter solstice and begins to move back upwards again (back up the ecliptic track towards the next crossing point at spring equinox, enroute to summer solstice), so we also have our own "turning points" along our own spiritual journeys.

And, as the goddess Durga promises Arjuna, eventual victory is actually promised as a result of this process (at least, according to my understanding of the significance of the hymn to Durga in the Mahabharata).

Note, however, that although the Samson story can clearly be shown to evoke the constellation Virgo in some of its episodes, there is reason to believe that Delilah herself corresponds to a different nearby constellation. This correspondence is discussed in greater detail in Star Myths of the Bible. Nonetheless, the descent of Samson -- and his connection to the Sun-god who in other traditions also had seven locks or hair or seven rays emanating from his head -- pointing us towards the section of the year when the sun's path is on its way down to the "low-point" of winter solstice is practically undeniable.

It is also important to point out that, although the characters who "take the plunge" into the incarnate condition in all of the myths, scriptures and sacred stories discussed above are all male figures as depicted, this is by no means always the case. For example, in the extended retelling of the myth of Eros and Psyche in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius (also commonly referred to as The Golden Ass, or the The Golden Tale of the Ass), the soul who takes the plunge down into the world of trial and error (with emphasis on the error) is most certainly represented by Psyche, who is a female protagonist in that myth. And there are other examples similar to this one which use a female figure to represent the soul in its incarnate condition.

The point is that these stories are not actually about literal figures -- they are used to convey profound truths about our human condition, which truths are actually of tremendous benefit to us as we make our way through this life. We can learn those truths just as well from the story of Psyche as from the story of Samson, regardless of our sex or gender.

The various positions around the great circle of the year bring palpable changes in the seasons, and in the interaction of light and darkness, warmth and cold -- changes which can be felt and which cannot be ignored.  But it is also very important to understand that the great points of demarcation on the cycle of earth's orbit around the sun also point towards spiritual truths, as part of the ancient, world-wide system of metaphor underlying and informing the myths and sacred stories of humanity.

As we begin to understand the symbolic and celestial language that they are using, we can begin to perceive patterns and teachings which might have otherwise remained completely invisible to us.

It is my sincere hope that this special equinox season, and the spiritual teachings that the great heavenly cycles represent, will be a blessing to you in some way.