We’re living in the 21st century. Western civilization is far removed from the jungles, the plains and the tundra – so why is the equinox important to us today?
Often associated with the first day of spring, the vernal equinox — when day and night are equal in length all over the world — happens on March 20 this year. The autumnal equinox occurs September 20.
At equinox, the sun crosses directly over the equator and the earth tilts neither away nor toward the sun. Because the equinox is based on the earth’s movement around the sun, there’s a three-day window in which the spring equinox can occur — as early as March 19 and as late as March 21.
But why do we take an interest in the equinox? Humans have always been stargazers. Early on in our coming of age, the ancients made up the constellations and stories about the sky. Today, we’re still gazing at the same sky but with a little more oomph. We’re sending out advanced satellites, telescopes, and Rovers to bring back information from the stars and planets, and we’re writing scientific documents, basically new stories, extolling what lies outside our atmosphere.
So even though we’re in a sophisticated, high-tech world, we still celebrate the importance of the relationship between our sun and our planet, the earth.
In agrarian times, spring was ushered in by the equinox, which meant it was time to plant crops. That may not be so important to us today, but have you ever wondered why Easter is a floating date rather than the same day each year?
Easter’s date, even in these modern times, is the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This year that full moon is March 27, and Easter falls on March 31. So even though we may feel we’re far removed from any consequences of the equinox, we are still rooted in a pagan cycle of historic events due to the date of that celestial occurrence. Because the spring equinox has ties to Christianity’s most important event, Easter, many believe it centers on the theme of resurrection, and not only of the earth’s waking call from a dark winter.
One of the most famous equinox ceremonies in North America takes place at the Maya pyramid site of Chichen Itza in Mexico. If you’ve had a chance to be there during spring or fall equinox, you’ve witnessed an astounding performance. About 4 p.m. the sun casts a remarkable shadow onto the looming Temple of Kukulkan due to its placement in the sky, the building’s position, and the Maya’s precise mathematical calculations prefigured more than a millennia ago for this event. The shadow slithers down to the bottom of the staircase and ends at the serpent’s mouth. This spectacular feat was made possible by the Maya’s ability to calculate the sun’s effects on earth at equinox.
In the Maya world there are many buildings built to specifications that coincide with the equinox. Some scholars believe the importance placed on it relays to the resurrection of the Maize God, Hunahpu, and the turning from the darkness of winter towards the light of spring, ushering in planting time. The fall equinox no doubt pays homage to the harvest.
On the other side of the globe in Egypt, the equinox also represents a time of resurrection, for the god Osiris. Because of this it is said, the Great Sphinx of Giza is positioned to look directly at the rising sun of the spring equinox. In Cambodia, where scholars say the equinox represents the winning of the forces of light over darkness, the main temple Angkor Wat also aligns with the equinox sun. This seems to be the universal meaning of what is represented by the equinox: rebirth, awakening and light overcoming darkness, exactly what happens as we tilt into spring.
So even though we may be entrenched in this modern world, über-connected with our smart phones and computers and all forms of social media, it’s important to remember there’s a bigger picture out there, and it affects all humanity.
It is a thing as simple as how the sun and the earth relate, two days a year, on the equinox.