The Significance of the Solstice and Equinox in Spirituality

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summer solstice sunrise Stonehenge

Tens of thousands gathered at Stonehenge to witness its alignment to the summer solstice sunrise (photo copyright Andrew Dunn)

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This article is an extract of the first chapter of the eBook called The Path of the Spiritual Sun, which you can download free here.

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The ancient veneration of the sun is one of the greatest celebrations in history. It has been encoded in sacred texts and sites by peoples separated by vast distances for thousands of years across the world—all the way from the Great Pyramids of Egypt to the huge stone statues of Easter Island. The sun is one of the oldest and most universal themes connecting the ancient wisdom traditions of the world, and yet its deeper meaning has continued to elude our modern society.

It’s estimated ancient cultures built hundreds (if not thousands) of huge megalithic structures, stone circles, temples, and secret inner rooms that aligned with the sun at its major annual stages—the solstices and equinoxes—across Europe and Britain, in Egypt, North and South America, Easter Island, Australia, Asia, and many other parts of the world.

Most today see it as a form of sun or agricultural worship and pagan celebration to do with the seasons—and yet some of these sites have endured as the most enigmatic and mystical places in the world, and remain some of the most advanced sites astronomically, mathematically, architecturally, and spiritually in history and even still today, echoing a Golden Age of spirituality from the depths of our pre-history into a modern world so distanced from natural and cosmic principles that it has failed to recognize what is hidden in plain sight.

The sun, source of all light and life, is central to a cosmic spirituality that is both ancient and timeless—and as ever-present as always. Its principles have formed the basis of many of the world’s religions—unbeknownst even to many of their adherents—and are just as relevant to people searching for spirituality today.

This book delves into the profound spiritual significance of the veneration of the sun, pulling together the sites, texts, traditions, and symbols from around the world that were based on the solar cycle to reveal the common thread of spirituality running like a current of eternal knowledge through all of them. This knowledge has then been used to form a practical guide to celebrate the spiritual sun just as it was in ancient times, incorporating sacred symbols and texts from Egypt, to the Druids, Mayans, and Hindus, for peoples to re-enliven and experience the spirituality of the cosmos again all over the world.

But it is important to note that the ceremonies in this book are not about a worship of the sun; they are like plays that enact the process of individual enlightenment which can be found in the progress of the spiritual sun throughout the year. They were used in the past, and can be used today, to assist in the understanding of the principles and purpose of the sun and creation which are found in manifest nature and can be experienced and understood through celebrations that enact these principles in tune with the cycles of the cosmos.

A diagram of the solstices and equinoxes from the viewer’s perspective of the sun from the earth.

A diagram of the solstices and equinoxes from the viewer’s perspective of the sun from the earth.

The journey of the sun through the sky (or rather our planet’s journey around it) can be marked at four distinct points: the spring equinox, summer solstice, autumn equinox, and winter solstice, each at equidistant points of the year forming the symbol of the cross within the “wheel of the year” with the sun at the center. These points mark the movements of the earth around the sun and the sun’s varying influence over light and darkness, day and night, and the passage of the seasons, but they also hold a greater spiritual significance.

As Above, So Below

maier, atlanta fugiens, 1618

Here the alchemist (who transforms the lead of the personality into the gold of the spirit) draws our attention to the relationship between the world contained in the smaller circle in which we find ourselves, and the world contained in the larger circle – that is, between the microcosmic and the macrocosmic, as well as the mathematical principles that apply to both. The alchemist looks above, whilst the figure of the man in the drawing, points below.

It is easy to write ancient spiritual people off as simple-minded nature worshippers. But there is a reason why natural principles are found throughout sacred texts and ancient sites—this is because there are universal principles that govern all of creation, including all life in the largest to the smallest of scales. Thus we can see the same principles of the macrocosmic movement of the planets, in the microcosmic structure of an atom. Mathematically, in the spiral of a galaxy, we see the spiral of a shell, and the unfolding of a fern. The principles that govern all life above us, also govern life here below on earth.

“Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from Tao; but the law of Tao is its own spontaneity.”
~ The Tao Te Ching

The sages of old studied living things to a point of realization that God is most perfectly understood through a knowledge of His supreme handiwork—animate and inanimate Nature. Every existing creature manifests some aspect of the intelligence or power of the Eternal One, who can never be known save through a study and appreciation of His numbered but inconceivable parts. When a creature is chosen, therefore, to symbolize to the concrete human mind some concealed abstract principle it is because its characteristics demonstrate this invisible principle in visible action.
~ Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

Going further, not only do the principles of life and creation govern the outer world, but they also govern the inner, spiritual world, which can’t be seen, yet is felt and experienced nevertheless. Spirituality exists in the very fabric of life. Thus when someone studies natural principles, they find spirituality and the supernatural, and why scientists are now theorizing about the existence of other dimensions, parallel universes, and the inexplicable realm of possibilities, energy, and matter, from the study of the behavior and structure of minute particles. The sun in its movement throughout the course of the year then becomes a symbol of something much, much greater than a physical object bringing the change of seasons.

The Spiritual Sun

Egyptian Totenbuch

In sacred texts and traditions around the world there are references to an ancient spiritual veneration of the sun—it can be found in Egypt, the beliefs of the Druids, the Essenes, Mayans, and Incas, in the esoteric texts of Christianity, the Eleusinian mysteries of ancient Greece, the esoteric schools of Mithraism originating in Persia and found underground in Rome, and in many other places around the world.

This is because the annual journey of the sun is symbolic of the journey to enlightenment. Ancient peoples expressed this wisdom according to their time and culture, yet their sacred teachings and symbols share many similarities because many of them were based on the same universal principles common to all life.

This is why the Christ, the divine Son, or solar hero, was born at the winter solstice, and died and resurrected at the spring equinox in sacred myths throughout the world. The Christ is not unique to Christianity—Jesus portrayed the work of the Christ in his life, just as Osiris, Krishna, Hu, Mithras, and Tammuz did hundreds and thousands of years earlier, and Quetzalcoatl and Hun Hunahpu did vast distances away. The correlation between the process of enlightenment and the movements of the cosmos is no coincidence, but part of the greater design of the universe, revealing the process of spiritual awakening to humanity.

In times now lost, different groups of people understood this profound teaching and message that literally comes from above, and knew that the outer drama enacted in the heavens was actually an inner representation of a human becoming spiritual, with the sun representing the spiritual force that merges with a person. For those who partake in the process of enlightenment, the sun is shown in dreams and out-of-body experiences in this spiritual context.

The sun worship of the past in the more advanced societies was really the worship of the spiritual sun, not the physical sun.

Osiris, Jesus, Krishna, and many other great spiritual figures throughout history, have identified themselves with the sun and its fire and light, as the divine Son, and as the source from which all creation came forth—indicating the connection between their incredibly profound spiritual teachings, and the sun, stars, and cosmos.

Thou shinest in the horizon, thou sendest forth thy light into the darkness, thou makest the darkness light with thy double plume, and thou floodest the world with light like the Disk at break of day. Thy diadem pierceth heaven and becometh a brother unto the stars, O thou form of every god.
~ Hymn to Osiris, The Egyptian Book of the Dead

That light of the sun which illumines the whole universe, which is present in the moon and in fire likewise – know that splendour to be Mine.
~ Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita

It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend.
~ Jesus, The Book of Thomas the Contender from the Nag Hammadi Library

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
~ Matthew 17:1-2

A European scholar wrote of the Druids that they followed the pure worship of the great luminary [the sun], the visible agent of a great invisible first cause.

Paracelsus, the great alchemist of the Middle Ages, wrote:

There is an earthly sun, which is the cause of all heat, and all who are able to see may see the sun; and those who are blind and cannot see him may feel his heat. There is an Eternal Sun, which is the source of all wisdom, and those whose spiritual senses have awakened to life will see that sun and be conscious of His existence; but those who have not attained spiritual consciousness may yet feel His power by an inner faculty which is called Intuition.
~ Paracelsus

The physical sun is a blazing fire—it gives light and life to all things physical. From the physical sun, all creation comes into being. Literally, science theorizes that all matter burst forth from the “Big Bang,” from within the fiery furnace of the stars.

But life is multi-dimensional. Mystics have known this throughout time—that there is more to our world that what we perceive with our five senses. With improvements in technology, there are now huge numbers of compelling accounts of life beyond the physical body in other dimensions from near-death experiences, reported by people all over the world; and these numbers are increasing rapidly by the day. Even scientists are theorizing about the existence of multiple dimensions from the behavior of particles existing in multiple places at the same time (in the field of quantum physics).

Because the universe is multi-dimensional, creation also happens in higher dimensions; the creation from the “Big Bang” that we see here and now is only the three-dimensional manifestation of it. In Taoist texts, creation is described as moving from the subtle and unseen realms (which are higher dimensional), into physical manifestation. The source of these subtle energies is said to be the stars, and the sun is the star with which we share our closest relationship.

Trees and animals, humans and insects, flowers and birds: These are active images of the subtle energies that flow from the stars throughout the universe. Meeting and combining with each other and the elements of the earth, they give rise to all living things.
~ The Hua Hu Ching

The sun that exists in the physical world as the fire we see in the sky also exists in the higher dimensions as a spiritual fire and the spiritual source of all creation, which is why there is an overlap in accounts of creation in spiritual cultures between natural and supernatural phenomenon. The natural phenomenon is the physical, tangible manifestation of the supernatural phenomenon. This is why we see spiritual cultures throughout the world venerating the sun—they knew of its supreme, spiritual side.

In the ancient text the Pistis Sophia, Jesus speaks of the multi-dimensional nature of the sun:

For the light of the sun in its shape in truth is not in this world, for its light pierceth through many veils and regions.
~ Jesus in Pistis Sophia

Manly P. Hall writes in his extensive study of the esoteric teachings of the world:

In the majority of cases, the religions of antiquity agree that the material visible sun was a reflector rather than a source of power. The sun was sometimes represented as a shield carried on the arm of the Sun God, as for example, Frey, the Scandinavian Solar Deity. This sun reflected the light of the invisible spiritual sun, which was the true source of life, light, and truth. The physical nature of the universe is receptive; it is a realm of effects. The invisible causes of these effects belong to the spiritual world. Hence, the spiritual world is the sphere of causation; the material world is the sphere of effects; while the intellectual–or soul–world is the sphere of mediation. Thus Christ, the personified higher intellect and soul nature, is called “the Mediator” who, by virtue of His position and power, says: “No man cometh to the Father, but by me.”
~ Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

The Ancient and Timeless Solar Religion

Ahu Akivi of Easter Island

The 7 Maoi facing the equinox sunset at Ahu Akivi on Easter Island (photo copyright Ian Sewell)

This understanding of creation has existed since ancient times. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita refers to an ancient Sun dynasty whose knowledge was given to Manu, the Noah of the Hindus, and passed to the divine kings of the new age after a flood destroyed the previous civilization, but which was eventually lost. This is a reference to the sun worship of the Atlanteans and its passing to the beginnings of the current human age. The ancient Egyptians who had connections to Atlantis had a solar religion, which the mystical group the Essenes were said to be the inheritors of. The Essenes had a sun temple, conducted prayers to the sun, and called themselves the Children of Light. Jesus was said to have spent time with the Essenes and the events of his life followed the solar year (i.e. he was born on the winter solstice, John was killed at the autumn equinox, Jesus was crucified at the spring equinox).

The imperishable philosophy I taught to Viwaswana, the founder of the Sun dynasty, Viwaswana gave it to Manu the Lawgiver, and Manu to King Ikshwaku! The Divine Kings knew it, for it was their tradition. Then, after a long time, at last it was forgotten. It is the same ancient Path that I have now revealed to thee, since thou art My devotee and My friend. It is the supreme Secret…Whenever spirituality decays and materialism is rampant, then O Arjuna, I reincarnate Myself! To protect the righteous, to destroy the wicked and to establish the kingdom of God, I am reborn from age to age.
~ Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita

Manly P. Hall writes that sun worship originated from Atlantis:

Sun worship played an important part in nearly all the early pagan Mysteries. This indicates the probability of their Atlantean origin, for the people of Atlantis were sun worshipers. The Solar Deity was usually personified as a beautiful youth, with long golden hair to symbolize the rays of the sun. This golden Sun God was slain by wicked ruffians, who personified the evil principle of the universe. By means of certain rituals and ceremonies, symbolic of purification and regeneration, this wonderful God of Good was brought back to life and became the Savior of His people. The secret processes whereby He was resurrected symbolized those cultures by means of which man is able to overcome his lower nature, master his appetites, and give expression to the higher side of himself. The Mysteries were organized for the purpose of assisting the struggling human creature to reawaken the spiritual powers which, surrounded by the flaming ring of lust and degeneracy, lay asleep within his soul. In other words, man was offered a way by which he could regain his lost estate.
~ Many P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

There are thousands of ancient sites aligned to the solstices and equinoxes, some of the most famous sacred texts encode solar events and venerate the sun, and supreme deities in many ancient spiritual teachings are associated with the sun and its attributes. Both the Druids and mystery schools of Greece conducted their initiation rituals and mysteries on the equinoxes and solstices. Throughout the world we see evidence of an ancient solar religion that was not specific to any culture or place, and that is timeless and universal.

This is why so many ancient cultures, such as the Essenes, Hindus, Sumerians, Egyptians, the Indians of North and Central America, the Inca and the Maya, all referred to themselves as the “Children of the Sun” or “Children of Light.”

“While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.”
~ Jesus, John 12:36 from the Bible

Krishna, is the famous text The Bhagavad Gita, actually refers to the path of the sun—the path of enlightenment, which takes one to the Supreme Primeval Abode beyond birth and death, as being related to the summer solstice, also saying that this path has always existed. Here, in this famous Hindu text, again we find references to the ancient and timeless solar religion.

Now I will tell thee, O Arjuna, of the times which, if the mystics go forth, they do not return, and at which they go forth only to return. If knowing the Supreme Spirit the sage goes forth with fire and light, in the daytime, in the fortnight of the waxing moon and in the six months before the Northern summer solstice, he will attain the Supreme. But if he departs in gloom, at night, during the fortnight of the waning moon and in the six months before the Southern solstice [winter solstice], then he reaches but lunar light and he will be born again. These bright and dark paths out of the world have always existed. Whoso takes the former, returns not; he who chooses the latter, returns. The sage who knows this passes beyond all merit that comes from the study of the scriptures, from sacrifice, from austerities and charity, and reaches the Supreme Primeval Abode.
~ Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita

These same paths in and out of the world, connected to the winter and summer solstice can be found in Mithraism. An author describes the design of the secret caves of Mithras as follows:

“But this cave was adorned with the signs of the zodiac, Cancer and Capricorn. The summer and winter solstices were chiefly conspicuous, as the gates of souls descending into this life, or passing out of it in their ascent to the Gods; Cancer being the gate of descent, and Capricorn of ascent. These are the two avenues of the immortals passing up and down from earth to heaven, and from heaven to earth.”
~ John P. Lundy, Monumental Christianity

Belsebuub & Angela Pritchard

Copyright © Belsebuub & Angela Pritchard 2011

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This is about 1/3 of chapter one. Keep reading in the free eBook The Path of the Spiritual Sun.

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Specific articles on the solstices and equinoxes

General
The Significance of the Solstice and Equinox in Spirituality
A Guide to Celebrating the Solstice and Equinox

Winter Solstice
The Spiritual Meaning of the Winter Solstice
Ancient Sacred Sites Aligned to the Winter Solstice
Mantras to Celebrate the Winter Solstice
A Ceremony to Celebrate the Winter Solstice

Spring Equinox
The Spiritual Meaning of the Spring Equinox
Ancient Sacred Sites Aligned to the Spring Equinox
A Ceremony to Celebrate the Spring Equinox

Summer Solstice
The Spiritual Meaning of the Summer Solstice
Ancient Sacred Sites Aligned to the Summer Solstice
A Ceremony to Celebrate the Summer Solstice

Autumn Equinox
The Spiritual Meaning of the Autumn Equinox
Ancient Sacred Sites Aligned to the Autumn Equinox
A Ceremony to Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

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