Sunday, March 19, 2017

At the East of Heaven: Spring Equinox 2017

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The earth is hurtling towards the point of March equinox for 2017, passing through that point less than twenty-four hours from now, at 06:29 tomorrow morning on the east coast of North America (03:29 in the morning on the west coast of North America, and 10:29 in the morning along the Greenwich meridian). 

It is the moment when the path of the sun's arc across the sky matches the line of the celestial equator,  that line in the sky that is ninety degrees from the celestial north pole and the celestial south pole, and the arc of the sun's path will continue further and further north of that celestial equator as we continue towards the summer solstice.

You can visualize the cause of this motion if you envision the earth orbiting the sun while also rotating around its axis. The rotation on the earth's axis causes the "daily cycle" by which heavenly bodies are seen to move from east to west across the sky. Because the axis of rotation is tilted relative to the plane of earth's annual orbit around the sun, the path that the sun traces out to an observer on the rotating earth will either be above or below that "ninety-degrees down" line of the celestial equator, except at the equinoxes. 

This phenomenon is easiest to envision by imagining the earth at one of the solstices, such as the June solstice -- which is the solstice at which earth's north pole axis of rotation is tilted most directly towards the sun, causing the line of the sun's path to be well "above" the line of the celestial equator for observers in the northern hemisphere:

image: Wikimedia commons (link); modified.

In the image, depicting the earth at the point of June solstice, when the north pole is "most directly" pointed at the sun, we can see that an observer in the northern hemisphere (such as one positioned at the tiny red dot located in the region of Egypt in north Africa) will see the sun's arc across the sky traced out by a line indicated by the direction of the red arrow labeled "Sun Path." If that red arrow were a  red laser-pointer, in other words, the rotating earth would cause that laser pointer to burn an arc through the sky that would indicate the path of the sun through the sky on summer solstice. 

Note that the arc would be well above the line of the celestial equator, which can be envisioned as the arc across the sky that is ninety-degrees down from the point of the celestial north pole, around which the entire sky appears to rotate (this is most visible at night, when the stars are visible). The line of the celestial equator is indicated by the blue arrow in the diagram; if the blue arrow were a blue laser-pointer (or a purple laser-pointer, since creating a blue laser is actually very difficult), then the rotation of the earth around its axis would cause that laser pointer to trace out the great circle of the celestial equator.

The above diagram helps us understand why the sun's path arcs so high above the celestial equator at summer solstice, and the reverse is true at winter solstice, when the sun's path arcs well below the line of the celestial equator as the sun traverses the sky. 

Obviously, if the arc of the sun's path gets so far above the celestial equator at one solstice, and so far below it at the other, then there must be times when the sun's path crosses the equator -- and that takes place two times a year, at each of the equinoxes, crossing once on the way down (fall equinox) and once on the way back up (spring equinox). 

Within the incredible system of celestial metaphor underlying the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred stories, this annual cycle (along with the many other celestial cycles) was imbued with spiritual significance, to convey truths about infinite and invisible subjects difficult for our mind to grasp except through metaphor. For an in-depth discussion of that system, including the spiritual significance implied by the positions of summer and winter solstice, as well as each equinox, see for example this previous post from 2015.

The sun's crossing back upwards at spring equinox, from the "submerged" position that it has occupied during the "lower half" of the year when its line was below the celestial equator, can obviously be seen to represent a rebirth, a soaring back heavenwards out of the "underworld" condition of the winter months. 

In a very valuable chapter in Lost Light, entitled "At the East of Heaven" (the east being the place of rising and renewal), Alvin Boyd Kuhn explains how these themes come to life in the Isis-Osiris-Horus cycle of myths of ancient Egypt, and how these same themes animate the events described in the New Testament scriptures -- including those in the book of Revelation discussed in the previous post exploring the many parallels in Revelation and the so-called "Book of the Dead," which is more appropriately called the "Coming forth by Day."

As I write in Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them, Volume Three (Star Myths of the Bible):
At the risk of over-simplifying the elaborate explication provided in Kuhn's massive study, he argues that Osiris the god of the underworld in one sense represents the "shattered divinity," sleeping in the realm of the dead -- our very condition in this life -- and that Horus the son of Osiris represents the resurrection force which comes to restore the sleeping divinity, in exactly the same way that Jesus does when he stands at the tomb of Lazarus and shouts "Lazarus, come forth!" Our underworld journey, in which the divine spark of our spirit is joined to the dead matter of our body, is all for the purpose of bringing us to a state that we could never have achieved without experiencing incarnation.
"The soul, by incarnation," Kuhn explains, with reference to a passage in the Pyramid Texts in the pyramid of Unas (some of the oldest surviving extended texts to which the human race has access at this time), "becomes mightier than the virgin deities that have never been wedded to matter. In the texts of unas there is described the terror of the gods when they see Teta (the soul) arriving triumphant. They discover that he is mightier than they."
Horus is the "above the line" counterpart to Osiris, described as the son of Osiris because representative of renewal, rebirth, new life which arises out of the underworld experience of the Osiris journey. Horus describes himself as "the persistent traveler on the highways of heaven" and his job description is to go "wherever there lieth a wreck in the field of eternity," Kuhn explains, citing passages from the Book of the Dead (or the Book of the Going Forth by Day, also known in earlier generations including Kuhn's simply as The Ritual). We ourselves are those wrecks, scattered between the horizons beneath the line of matter -- and Horus comes to re-animate the "shattered wreckage" and reawaken it to spiritual life and resurrection. 706 - 707.
Readers are invited to read the entire original chapter in Kuhn's work for his full explication of this beautiful ancient wisdom.

The soaring of Horus above the two horizons is specifically associated with the spring equinox (where the sun finally leaps upwards out of the underworld), and thus with the "upper half" of the year between the two "horizon-points" of the equinoxes, with the summer solstice at the apex. But, as the quotations in the above-cited passage hint, the "persistent traveler on the highways of heaven" is not only present at one particular point on the cycle, or at one particular point in our lives: the figure of Horus restoring the "shattered wreckage" of the hulks strewn across the plane of incarnation is present and available to us at all times. That is the purpose and mission of his persistent travels upon the highways of heaven.

In reality, the realm of the invisible and infinite is not "somewhere else," in some far-removed "heaven," but present and available at every point in this seemingly-material life: the material realm in fact proceeds from and is sustained by it everywhere and at every moment. 

And, we are working with our spiritual self at every moment even as we go through this incarnate life. As Alvin Boyd Kuhn declares in a passage from the same chapter which was quoted at greater length in the preceding post: 
The ancient Messiah was a representative figure coming from age to age, cycle to cycle. He came "each day" in the Ritual; he came periodically; he came "regularly and continuously." He came once through the cycle; but his solar and lunar natural types came cyclically and in eternal renewal. The Egyptian Messiah was one whose historical coming was not expected at any date, at any epoch. The type of his coming was manifest in some phenomenon repeated as often as the day, the year, or the lunation came around. The constant repetition of type was the assurance of its unfailing fulfillment. [ . . . ] The coming was taking place in the life of every man at all times. 546 (Italics as in the original).
It should be noted that Kuhn explicitly states that he is referring to both men and women in several places in his writing -- his use of masculine nouns and pronouns should not be mistaken to indicate otherwise but rather as a convention from the period in which his writings were being published.

Just as Durga says to Arjuna immediately prior to the battle of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata of ancient India that "within a short time thou shalt conquer thy foes, O Pandava [ . . . ] Thou art incapable of being defeated [ . . . ]" (Mahabharata 6: 23), so also the ancient sacred texts of Egypt promise that this process of transformation through our cycle of incarnations in the material realm cannot be stopped and will inevitably result in the restoration of the divinity that has been cast down. 

In chapter 84 of the Ritual, the chapter "of making the transformation into a heron," we read: "the light is beyond your knowledge and ye cannot fetter it; the times and seasons are in my body." Kuhn says of this passage: "To know of a certainty that with all our stupidity we can not fetter the light, is a truth that should be republished and pondered by an age intent only upon outward accomplishment and heedless of the light within" (552).    

The inevitable and endless return of the equinox, and the soaring upwards of the sun -- representative of the soaring of Horus upwards to his place between the two horizons -- was anciently seen as "the assurance of the unfailing fulfillment" of these truths. This unstoppability should give us great comfort and great confidence as we toil along through this material incarnation.

However, this same inevitability should not serve to make us complacent. As Kuhn points out at the beginning of the chapter, "At the East of Heaven," the writer who calls himself Paul proclaims that "the body is the temple of the living God, and emphasizes that 'the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are (I Cor 3: 17)." 

Kuhn asserts that Paul is speaking literally at this point, "that Paul was delineating an actual physiological fact" (537). He argues that E. A. Wallis Budge (1857 - 1934), writing in his introductory treatise upon the Egyptian Book of the Dead, was mistaken when he says that the Egyptians conceived "the sahu, or spiritual body, the ka, or double, the ba, or soul, the ab, or heart, the khu, or shining spirit, the sekhem, or vital force, the ren, or name, and the khabit, or shade, all as coming forth into existence after death" (537). On the contrary, Kuhn writes, "these inner bodies are vital to the very existence of the physical, and must subsist with it. Man is on earth to bring these subtle bodies into development" (537).

In this task, the ancient wisdom given to humanity in the world's sacred myths and traditions is here to  help us. And they point us towards that "persistent traveler" who soars across the "highways of heaven," ready go wherever there is a "wreck in the field of eternity." 

image: Wikimedia commons (link).