Friday, March 20, 2015

Isis and Nephthys: March Equinox 2015

foreground image: Book of the Dead, Papyrus of Ani, c. 1250 BC (modified), Wikimedia commons (link).
background image: Zodiac Wheel, Opus Medico-Chymicum, Johann Daniel Mylius, AD1618 (link).

As the earth speeds past the point of March equinox, days in the northern hemisphere begin to grow noticeably longer than nights, "crossing over" from the half of the year in which night rules over day, and ascending into the "upper half" of the year in which day, light, and warmth become more and more dominant.

The spinning earth will hurtle past the exact point of the equinox at 2245 UTC on 20 March this year, which corresponds to 1845 or 6:45 pm for observers in North America on the east coast, and 1545 or 3:45 pm for observers in North America on the west coast (and, if you are not in one of those two slices of the planet, you should be able to calculate the local time for your particular spot on the spinning globe based on the difference in longitude to your location from the line of UTC).

As previous posts have explained, the equinox marks the crossing of the plane of the ecliptic (the arc along which the sun appears to travel each day, due to the fact that we are standing on a spinning earth) and the celestial equator (that imaginary line in the sky that is 90 degrees down from the north celestial pole, or 90 degrees up from the south celestial pole, which are best visualized using the diagrams in this previous post, in which the celestial equator is the third and largest of the circles in each diagram), such that the sun's daily arc is north of the celestial equator during the day, which means it will be "above" it and closer to the apex-point of the sky for viewers in the northern hemisphere, and "below" it or closer to the horizon for viewers in the southern hemisphere.

Other significant actions will be taking place this year on the same day -- even as the "ship" of the earth passes "broadsides" to the sun (in the "earth-ship metaphor" in which the prow or bowsprit of the ship equates to the north pole, and the lantern in the stern of the ship equates to the south pole, as described in this previous post from winter solstice of 2011, the solstices being the two points at which either the bowsprit or the stern are pointing at the sun), the moon which is orbiting in circles around the earth is also passing directly between the earth and the sun itself, creating the monthly phenomenon of New Moon. The moon will pass that point of New Moon at 0938 UTC on 20 March.

Additionally, because the moon will simultaneously be crossing the ecliptic plane as it passes through the point of New Moon this month, it will create an eclipse of the sun which will be visible to many observers in northern portions of the eastern hemisphere

Because the moon does not orbit the earth on the plane of the ecliptic, but along a plane that is inclined to the plane of the ecliptic, it does not create an eclipse every time it passes between the earth and the sun. However, during its monthly orbit, its tilted orbital plane crosses once from "above to below," and once more from "below to above," the plane of the ecliptic. These lunar "crossing points" are referred to as the two "lunar nodes," also known as the "draconitic points." When the moon crosses through a lunar node at the point of New Moon, it blocks the sun for observers on some parts of our globe, and creates a solar eclipse (and when it passes a lunar node at the point of Full Moon, the earth blocks the sun and creates a lunar eclipse). These lunar nodes or draconitic points are discussed in this previous post, along with some diagrams and helpful links.

So, as the earth hurtles past one of the two annual "crossing points" that cause the ecliptic line to cross the celestial equator, the moon is also passing through one of the two monthly "crossing points" at which its path crosses the ecliptic, and it is doing so at the point of New Moon, to create a solar eclipse (the moon is "crossing down" on this particular New Moon).

Truly a stunning array of crossings! And one which cannot fail to produce feelings among us here on earth that these motions must somehow have significance in our own lives and persons.

In fact, the March equinox, when we leave the "lower half" of the year (for those in the northern hemisphere), was invested with profound significance in the ancient systems of sacred metaphor. 

It was encoded in myth and sacred scriptures and legends as the point of crossing up out of the land of bondage, or out of the underworld, such as in the Old Testament story of the escape from Egypt by means of the crossing of the Red Sea (see discussion in this previous post).

It was also seen as a place of sacrifice, as was the downward crossing point on the other side of the year, at the September equinox. 

As discussed in this previous post, the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the sacred mountain in order (he thinks) to sacrifice him contains numerous clues which show that it encodes the point of the year of the March equinox, when the sun and its ecliptic path are "climbing up" towards the summit of the year (for observers in the northern hemisphere). Because the upward crossing point at the March equinox took place each year when the sun was rising in the sign of Aries the Ram (during the precessional Age of Aries, discussed here and explained further in the video here), that story of sacrifice involving a trip up the mountain concludes with the substitutionary sacrifice of a Ram rather than of Isaac himself.

Similarly, the sacrifice of the Passover lambs took place immediately prior to the escape from enslavement in the land of Egypt (the "house of bondage," an esoteric and allegorical portrayal in myth of the lower half of the year), and the crossing of the Red Sea discussed earlier. The lamb is another indicator of the sign of Aries the Ram, the sign in which the sun would rise on the spring equinox during the Age of Aries. This is why the date of the Passover is tied to the March equinox, as is the Easter celebration of the sacrifice and subsequent rising of the Christ (described in Revelation 13:8 as "the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world"). 

These sacred writings are describing the annual crossing upwards, from death (the lower half of the year) to life. 

But it is very easy to make the mistake of concluding that this discovery means these ancient sacred stories are "only" about the natural phenomena of the annual cycle, the return of spring, the rebirth of flowers and growing things, etc. 

In other words, some who have noticed the undeniable connection between the scriptures and the motions of the heavens have concluded that this somehow diminishes their message, and makes it less about spiritual things and merely an ancient attempt to explain and perhaps to honor our amazing physical world.

This conclusion would be mistaken. 

It is in fact self-evident that the ancient scriptures and sacred traditions of humanity are concerned with  imparting profoundly spiritual truths, in addition to the fact that they demonstrate an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the glories of our universe and the motions of the earth in relation to the sun, moon, planets and stars, and the cycles of the seasons and the heavenly bodies and even the cycles of the subtle motion of precession.

The originators of the myths and sacred stories and ancient scriptures of the world do not go to the trouble of encoding all these motions in their stories about men and women, gods and goddesses, giants and demons and spirits, just because they were trying to explain where lightning came from or why eclipses occurred: they were using these cycles of heavenly bodies that we can see in order to impart knowledge of what we cannot see -- the invisible realm of spirit which lies within and behind everything in this physical universe, and which may actually be the true source from which the material universe is projected

And, by the very act of turning the motions of these heavenly bodies into stories involving men and women, they are showing that we are intimately connected to the entire universe, and that thus we ourselves have a physical and a spiritual nature, a dual nature just like the dual nature of the infinite universe which we ourselves embody and reflect and even contain. 

This dual nature -- of both the macrocosmic universe and the individual man or woman who contains and represents the universe as its microcosmic reflection -- is conveyed in the world's myths through the dual nature of the zodiac wheel (divided into the upper half and lower half, the land of spirit and the land of incarnation), the dual symbols of the equinoxes (one marking the crossing point down, into material incarnation and hence into the underworld of incarnation and death, and one marking the crossing point up, into the realm of spirit and spiritual life), and the dual nature of the moon (passing from New Moon to Full Moon, and crossing through the lunar nodes upwards and downwards just as the ecliptic crosses upwards and downwards during the solar cycle).

As has been discussed in countless previous posts, this dual nature of our incarnate existence is seen in the ancient symbols of the Cross and the Ankh, each with its horizontal beam (representative of being cast down into matter, and hence representative of our physical, animal nature while incarnate in these physical bodies) and its vertical pillar (representative of the spirit rising up, the invisible aspect of our nature which overcomes and transcends the physical body and which, unlike the body, does not experience physical death).  

It was also conveyed in the ancient myths involving the Djed column of ancient Egypt, which was cast down when Osiris entered the realm of death and was layed out horizontally, and which is then raised up to represent the same "vertical component" of spirit and triumph over death and incarnation.

The equinox points, then, represent the "crossing" points of the spirit, down into incarnation (depicted by the lower half of the year, and by the underworlds of myth, including the "house of bondage" of Egypt in the Old Testament, or of Tartarus and Hades and many others around the world) and up into greater spiritual awakening and transcendence (and ultimately into spiritual life beyond the body).

Alvin Boyd Kuhn has offered the tremendous insight that, in order to convey this important understanding of our dual physical-spiritual nature, these two crossing points were sometimes depicted in mythology around the world as the two mothers of the god, sometimes seen as two goddesses stationed at those two important crossing points of the year, the fall and spring equinoxes. There, they would give birth to the hero, or the god, one being a birth down into physical incarnation, and the other being a second birth or spiritual birth, upwards into greater consciousness and spiritual life.

He notes that these two goddesses, or two mothers, are depicted on either side of the Ankh cross of ancient Egypt in some important representations -- such as the Ankh with upraised arms shown above, from the Papyrus of Ani, in which the goddesses Isis and Nephthys are shown on either side of the Ankh itself, in the positions corresponding to the two equinoxes (the upraised arms represent summer solstice and the constellation of Cancer the Crab at the top of the year during the Age of Aries, as discussed in previous posts such as this one).

Elaborating on the importance of these two goddesses and the two births, Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes in Lost Light (1940):
Man is, then, a natural man and a god, in combination. Our natural body gives the soul of man its baptism by water; our nascent spiritual body is to give us the later baptism by fire! We are born first as the natural man; then as the spiritual. Or we are born first by water and then by fire. Of vital significance at this point are two statements by St. Paul: "That was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural"; and, "First that which is natural, then that which is spiritual." Again he says: "For the natural man comprehendeth not the things of the spirit of God, neither can he." [. . .]
Using astrological bases for portraying cosmic truths, the ancients localized the birth of the natural man in the zodiacal house of Virgo and that of the spiritual man in the opposite house of Pisces. These then were the houses of the two mothers of life. The first was the Virgin Mother (Virgo), the primeval symbol of the Virgin Mary thousands of years BC. Virgo gave man his natural birth by water and became known as the Water-Mother; Pisces (the Fishes by name) gave him his birth by the Fish and was denominated the Fish-Mother. The virgin mothers are all identified with water as symbol and their various names, such as Meri, Mary, Venus (born of the sea-foam), Tiamat, Typhon and Thallath (Greek for "sea") are designations for water. On the other side there are the Fish Avatars of Vishnu, such as the Babylonian Ioannes, or Dagon, and the Assyrian goddess Atergatis was called "the Fish-Mother." Virgo stood as the mother of birth by water, or the birth of man the first, of the earth, earthy; Pisces stood as the mother of birth by spirit or fire, or the birth of man the second, described by St. Paul as "the Lord from heaven." Virgo was the water-mother of the natural man, Pisces the fish-mother of the spiritual man.
[. . .]
The ancient books always grouped the two mothers in pairs. They were called "the two mothers" or sometimes the "two divine sisters." Or they were the wife and sister of the God, under the names of Juno, Venus, Isis, Ishtar, Cybele or Mylitta. In old Egypt they were first Apt and Neith; and later Isis and Nephthys. Massey relates Neith to "net," i.e., fish-net! Clues to their functions were picked up in the great Book of the Dead: "Isis conceived him; Nephthys gave him birth." Or: "Isis bore him; Nephthys suckled him," or reared him. 6 - 8.
Just to make the positioning of the two goddesses or two mothers discussed in this passage by Kuhn more visually clear to the reader, note in the diagram below that the positions of Virgo and Pisces are each directly before the crossing points of the year, and are outlined on the zodiac wheel in blue (for the birth by water, into physical incarnation) and red (for the birth by fire, into spiritual life) on the modified picture here:

One of the passages of the Book of the Dead that Kuhn quotes above is, interestingly enough, section 134, which can be found on page 39 of this online pdf version of the old translation by Budge (1895). That section is known as the Hymn to Ra on the Day of the Month (the Day of the New Moon) When the Boat of Ra Saileth

The title of that Hymn to Ra seems most appropriate for this particular day of the year, which is the Day of the New Moon as well as the Day of the Equinox, and of the equinox in which the sun in the Solar Bark is leaping upwards, across the horizontal line of the equinoxes, into the upper half of the year, out of the lower house of bondage and into the heavens!

In that hymn (as translated by Budge) we read:
The heart of the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, shall live. His mother Isis giveth birth to him, and Nephthys nurses him, just as Isis gave birth to Horus, and Nephthys nursed him.
This is very significant, as Ani was a human priest of ancient Egypt, and yet he is here identified explicitly (by name) with "the Osiris" and he is told that he too shall have two births, by two goddess mothers, one of whom gave birth to him and one of whom nurtured him towards his spiritual birth.

In other words, this description is not a myth: it is teaching a truth that applies to actual human beings in this incarnate existence -- it teaches us of our dual physical-spiritual nature (in a universe which itself has a dual physical-spiritual nature), and that we are to be aware of and growing in awareness of our spiritual life even as we inhabit a physical body in a world that tries to tell us that the physical is all that matters.

Note also that just because Kuhn uses the masculine pronoun, and just because the ancient symbology uses two mothers for a male god (such as Osiris and Horus in ancient Egypt), does not mean that this truth is not meant to apply equally to every man or woman who has ever lived. Elsewhere we cited the extremely memorable and helpful quotation from Alvin Boyd Kuhn in a different work, in which he said that "the actors [in the sacred myths of humanity] are not old kings, priests and warriors; the one actor in every portrayal, in every scene, is the human soul."

And so, as we ponder this important day of equinox (and of New Moon!), we realize that it can point us towards deep spiritual truths concerning our own human condition. It can remind us of the invisible spirit-world around us, and within us -- and as we become more and more aware of the truth of this dual nature, it may cause us to be resolved to live a life that is more and more about blessing (lifting up the spirit of others and of creation, and our own as well), and not cursing (casting down the spirit, degrading, or brutalizing). This is what the ancients intended, when they encoded these awesome and majestic celestial motions into the actions of the sacred stories and scriptures of the human race.

And, as we participate in celebrations (such as Easter, or Passover, or Equinox observances, or others) which tie the motions of the heavens to our own motions and actions here on the ground, we declare the truth "as above, so below" -- that we ourselves contain an invisible and infinite spiritual side, the very truth that the heavens proclaim.