By Heather Eland,
Throughout history, our ancestors have held a deep and profound understanding of the significance of our connection with the cycles of nature and the cosmos. For thousands of years, humans have recognized the innate power of the natural rhythms of the Sun and Moon and tracked these cycles very closely, observing the physical, emotional and psychological effects of the mysterious cosmic dance between the two luminaries. In ancient times, these cycles were used to track time, to predict events and weather patterns, and to plan for the perfect time to travel, plant crops, hold ceremony, and give offerings to the gods, goddesses and Mother Earth.
In modern times, through various means of suppression and control, we have been cut off from our connection with these potent natural cycles. The introduction of the Gregorian calendar, daylight savings time, artificial lighting, and the 40-hour workweek have all contributed to our unfortunate disconnect from the cycles that are intimately connected to our human existence on this beautiful planet we call home.
Today, humanity is once again beginning to appreciate the importance of these seasonal and cosmic cycles, thus aiding our species in reconnecting with the innate universal rhythm that drives all of creation.
Astrological Significance of the Solar Holidays
In Western astrology, the solar cycle holds a special significance. The Tropical Zodiac, upon which the Western astrological system is based, is intimately connected with the natural cycles of the seasons, with the solstices and the equinoxes providing the framework for the entire Western astrological system.
In astrology, the Sun is the energy source that ignites the spark of life into the birth chart. It is both the center of our solar system and the source of energy for all life here on Earth. The sign position and aspects to the Sun in the birth chart reflect our vitality, consciousness and physical expression of creative energy. The Sun represents the heart, and the placement of the Sun indicates the way in which we find meaning and purpose in life (hence the term, “living from the heart”).
The Sun moves through an energetic cycle throughout the seasons, similar to the waxing and waning cycles of the Moon. The solar cycles have been used as a means for measuring the passage of time throughout recorded history. Known by many names, these important physical and energetic markers of time are often referred to as the “Eight Directions of Time,” and are also known as “The Wheel of Time” or the “Witches Wheel.” The eight points in the solar wheel consist of the solstices and equinoxes (corresponding to the “cardinal cross” in astrology) as well as four cross-quarter days at the midpoints of each seasonal marker.
Each point in the cycle is roughly six weeks apart and corresponds to a different energetic theme, moving in a sequence that is repeated throughout all of creation. These cycles are reflected not only through the seasons, but also through everything we experience in this lifetime. These are the cycles of birth, death and rebirth reflected in the life cycles of plants, animals, solar systems and galaxies. This pattern is also reflected in our creative processes and the physical manifestation of those processes.
The Eight Directions of Time
The first point in the solar cycle is the Winter Solstice, or Yule— a time of darkness, retreat, and solitude. This point represents the beginning of a process, often unconscious in its influence and effect.
Next we have Imbolc, also known as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day. This is a time when the processes seeded at the Winter Solstice are beginning to show progress. This is a hopeful time, ripe with potential. The Earth begins to warm, showing early signs of spring and prompting us to make plans for the year ahead.
Following Imbolc is the Spring Equinox, one of the most widely celebrated points in the solar cycle across time, continents and cultures. This represents a period of fertility, manifestation, rebirth and renewal. The equinoxes denote points of balance between day and night, East and West, and the masculine and feminine energies.
Next, we have Beltane, also known as May Day or May Eve. This is a time of relative ease when we celebrate all of the progress made thus far. Beltane marks the final preparation for the culmination of the solar cycle— the Summer Solstice.
The Summer Solstice is widely celebrated and goes by many names. It is the festival of Litha, Alban Hefin, and Midsummer. The Summer Solstice is a joyous time marking the culmination point of the solar year.
Following the Summer Solstice, the Sun begins its “waning phase” with the celebration of Lammas. Also known as Lughnassadh or La Lunasa, this solar holiday marks the beginning of the harvest season when the fruits of our labors are easily enjoyed.
Next is the Autumn Equinox, also known as Mabon, a time associated with the western horizon, the setting Sun and the shortening of days. This is a time when day and night are equal in length once again as we prepare for our descent into the cold, dark winter months.
Finally, we celebrate the festival of Samhain, also known as Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween. This is a celebration of the descent into darkness, the thinning of the veil and the increase in psychic, intuitive awareness. Samhain is a time when we can all connect more easily with our ancestors and traverse between realms.
A Time of New Beginnings
In Western astrology, the Spring Equinox is known as the astrological New Year. It is the point in time when the Sun moves out of Pisces, the final sign in the Zodiac, and into Aries, the Zodiac’s first sign. Aries is associated with the element of Fire, denoting action, energy, initiation, and physicality. Being a sign associated with the change of seasons, Aries is also what’s know as a Cardinal sign, meaning the fiery, masculine energy of Aries is highly focused and channeled into action and new beginnings. The energy and themes associated with Aries are reflected in the energy of springtime— a period of movement, warmth, initiation, fertility, renewal and rebirth in which we are given a clean slate and all things seem possible. The Spring Equinox is associated with the eastern horizon and the rising Sun. It is the dawn of new possibilities, a perfect time for a fresh start or a new lease on life. Spring is the season when the Sun begins to shine more brightly, the ground begins to warm and the flowers begin to blossom. We become more active as we venture outside once again, and we may feel a renewed sense of energy and vigor to take on projects we’ve been contemplating throughout the dark winter months.
Festivals of Fertility
The abundant fertile, life-giving energy present at the Spring Equinox has been celebrated through various festivals and religious rites throughout history. Evidence of these celebrations can be found all over the world— spanning across time, cultures, and continents. The most notable and commonly referenced of these fertility festivals is Ostara, or Eostre, a celebration of the German goddess of the dawn and springtime rebirth who was said to have created all of nature. This pagan festival, from which the name “Easter” was derived, celebrates various symbols of fertility, including eggs, bunnies, seeds and flowers. Although there is little recorded history of the celebration and customs associated with Ostara prior to the rise of Christianity, it is said that in Old Europe, eggs were decorated around the Spring Equinox and given as gifts to promote fertility, prosperity and abundance for the coming year.
The Druids celebrate this potent portal of fertility with a festival called Alban Eilir, meaning “Light of the Earth.” The Spring Equinox is the time when the goddess bride, married at Imbolc, conceives the sky god’s child which is due to be born midwinter. The Spring Equinox is also the time of the Astraru festival of the Summer Finding, the Norse celebration honoring the goddess Freya, who is associated with beauty, love, fertility and sensuality.
Resurrection and Rebirth: Persephone’s Return
The Spring Equinox has long been associated with the themes of rebirth and resurrection. It is the time of celebration of the rebirth of various solar gods across cultures and time, including the Greek gods Adonis and Attis, the Zoroastrian divinity Mithra, and the Sumerian god Tammuz. This is also the time when Aphrodite returns from the waters of the deep and Athena is born, fully-grown from her father Zeus’s head.
The Eleusinian Mysteries, which were among the most widely practiced religious rites in ancient Greece, were intimately connected to both the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes through the myth of the agricultural goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. In the mythology of Persephone and Demeter, the maiden Persephone is separated from her mother and taken hostage by Pluto, the Lord of the Underworld, who conspired with Zeus to arrange for her kidnapping. Persephone is held captive in the Underworld where she is stripped of her innocence and forced to marry Pluto. As Pluto’s wife, Persephone is Queen of the Underworld, responsible for receiving and initiating the souls of the newly dead.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Demeter is enraged and devastated at the loss of her daughter and, in protest of the grave injustice suffered at the will of Zeus, she refuses to let the crops continue to grow and the Earth becomes barren. After several months, the humans begin to starve and the gods feel worried. With no humans left, there will be no one to give offerings to the gods, and as a result, they too will perish. The gods get together and convince Demeter to return the surface of the land to its once fertile state, but only under the condition that Pluto must release her daughter. Pluto agrees to allow Persephone to return to the surface, but since she has eaten a few pomegranate seeds, the food of the dead, she must split her time between her husband and her mother, spending several months out of the year in the underworld with Pluto, receiving and initiating the dead each winter while Demeter mourns her loss, eagerly awaiting her return each spring.
At its most basic level, the myth of Demeter and Persephone has been interpreted as a story the ancient Greeks used to explain the changing of the seasons. To put it simply, Demeter’s agony over the yearly period of separation from her daughter is responsible for the cold weather and hibernation of plants and animals throughout the winter months. When Persephone returns from her stint in the underworld, Demeter rejoices. As Demeter’s heart warms at the return of her beloved daughter, so does the Earth, allowing the plants to bud and flower, once again providing nourishment for all of Mother Earth’s creatures.
Within her myth, Persephone’s story embodies a very obvious theme of transformation through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth. The Eleusinian Mysteries were major initiation rites held annually in ancient Greece, which involved a celebration and ritual re-inactment of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, with the “lesser mysteries” being held at the Spring Equinox and the “greater mysteries” taking place at the time of Persephone’s descent in the fall. While the exact content of the ceremonies has been kept tightly guarded, many believe that the Elusianian Mysteries were meant to invoke a change in consciousness by allowing initiates to experience firsthand the “middle world” between the living and the dead. While open to people of any gender or social class, initiation into the Elusianian Mysteries was primarily undergone by women and was believed to directly unite the initiates with God.
The Springtime Portal
The Spring Equinox opens a potent energetic portal of fertility, renewal and rebirth in which we are better able to attune ourselves to the unique rhythms of nature and the cosmos. From this time onward, the days grow longer and Sun continues to grow stronger in the skies until we reach the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the solar year. It is a time of increasing energy and vitality when the flowers bloom and the birds begin to sing their songs once more. Spring is the time associated with the goddess in her maiden form, young and naïve and full of curiosity and enthusiasm. It is a time when we can feel rejuvenated and re-energized and our deepest passions can be reborn.
Recognizing and honoring the annual cycles of the Sun through the seasons helps us to forge a greater connection to the divinity of nature, and facilitates a deepening of our understanding and respect for Mother Earth. Aligning ourselves with the ebb and flow of these natural rhythms allows us to become a part of something much greater than ourselves and can help us to uncover a deeper layer of meaning within the seemingly mundane developments in our day-to-day lives. Rediscovering this process allows us to develop a fresh perspective on life and our connection to Mother Earth and the cosmos.
About the Author
Heather Eland is an astrologer and multidisciplinary healer living and thriving in Sedona, Arizona. You can contact Heather through her website at www.persephonereturns.com.