The sun – the source of life and light to every living physical thing – is a unifying force, a blazing fire, and the giver and destroyer of life. So it’s not surprising it has held so much importance through the ages, across distant continents, times, cultures, civilizations, and religions – some dating from periods completely unsuspected and unknown to the modern world.
Throughout the ages people gathered to honour and celebrate the sun during the solstice and equinox with special ceremonies, rituals, and observances.
The solstices and equinoxes are astronomical events marking the sun’s seasonal movement in the sky each year. At the summer solstice the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, while at the winter solstice it descends to its lowest point. The spring and autumn equinox’s mark the mid points in the sun’s movement between the two solstices.
These solar events mark four equidistant points in the cycle of the sun through the calendar year, and indicate the change between the four seasons. Yet to the ancients they also signified much more than that: they saw a deeper mystery to these solar movements.
So what made these cosmic events so important to the ancients? Why did so many seemingly unconnected civilizations align their alters, temples, households, courts, and monuments to the journey of the sun? The answer lies in understanding the deeper significance of the spiritual meaning of the sun.
A Deeper Symbolism
The harvest and the changing seasons are certainly key points in the cycle of life, death, and resurrection in nature, but within this cycle many ancient cultures perceived a powerful deeper message. Some researchers suggest many ancient cultures understood that these four focal points of the year illuminated stages of an inner spiritual journey – a solar path an individual can undertake within themselves – a path towards a spiritual enlightenment.
These cultures saw in the celestial movements of the sun a cosmic reflection of that universal spiritual journey they could undertake on earth within themselves. This seems to explain why monuments, cities, and lifestyles were modelled around the solstices and equinoxes and aligned to the journey of the sun and the stars. These ancient civilizations saw spiritual enlightenment as the real purpose of life, and sought to orient their entire societies to the spiritual principles they saw displayed above them in the heavens.
The spiritual significance to the sun’s journey also explains why deities through the ages have been linked with the sun, and sun gods and sun men have been venerated.
For example, sun-Christ savior figures have emerged time and time again through the ages within various traditions, and key stages in their lives often correspond to solar events. Researches have noted how many of these figures – such as Jesus, Mithra, Krishna, Quetzalcoatl, and countless others – often share similarities. They may be associated with the sun, born at the winter solstice, teach and perform wonders, die and resurrect at the spring equinox, and ascend to the heavens at the summer solstice. The future return of a sun-Christ figure is also often foretold, who will come again at a winter solstice (when the world is at its darkest) and bring light into the world once again.
Some say these similarities are the mere cultural transference of myths and tales. But when one examines these stories from a cosmic perspective, it seems more likely the similarities exist because these figures, through their own lives on earth, illustrated a universal path to enlightenment that is literally part of creation – depicted by the sun above us to illuminate the path to enlightenment on earth.
This cosmic correspondence reflects the hermetic axiom: “as above so below”.
Celebrating the Solstice and Equinox Spiritually
Those who understood the spiritual messages encoded in the sun’s physical journey were empowered to take up the journey it symbolized in their own lives. Various ancient societies therefore celebrated and marked these cosmic events in the fashion of their culture, although, overtime, their deeper understanding of these astronomical events generally diminished, and celebrations tended to lose touch with the metaphysical aspect as time went on.
However, a true celebration of the cosmic meaning of the solstices and equinoxes is not mere worship or an enactment of old rituals lacking life; rather, it commemorates the divine plan of life, displayed in the heavens so that it can be enacted in our own lives on earth. It recognizes the divine and creative powers latent in the cosmos, nature and within the individual, waiting to be kindled.
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