Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer solstice, 2014

image: Summer solstice sunrise behind heel stone, Stonehenge (2005).  Andrew Dunn.  Wikimedia commons (link).

The sun has been toiling "up the mountain" ever since making the turn at the very bottom of the year (at the winter solstice) and it reaches the veritable summit of the year today: the day of summer solstice (for the northern hemisphere).  

The north pole will be tilted most directly towards our sun at the moment of this year's solstice, which occurs on June 21st at 10:51am Greenwich time, which is 6:51am Eastern time for those in North America, and 3:51am for those in the happy condition of being located along the Pacific coast in the Pacific time zone. Of course, this means that the south pole will be tilted most directly away from our sun at the same moment, and thus the June solstice marks the winter solstice for observers in the southern hemisphere.

For those in the northern hemisphere, this tilting of the north pole most directly towards the sun means that the sun's arc across the sky (caused by the daily rotation of our planet on its axis) will be the furthest "up" towards the north pole out of all of the arcs that it makes across the sky throughout the year.  The mechanics of this phenomenon are described in many previous posts: those interested may find that the most helpful of these include "How the earth-ship metaphor helps explain the sun 'standing still' at the solstices" and "Winter solstice 2011" (which contains some helpful sketches).

In the system of celestial allegory we have been exploring together in some of the most recent posts, we have seen that the myths and sacred traditions of the world almost universally depict the "upper half" of the year -- that part rising up from the spring equinox all the way to the summer solstice before descending again all the way to the autumn equinox, during which days are longer than nights (and yes, it is true that days remain longer than nights just a bit prior to and after the spring and fall equinoxes, due to the properties of physics and the size of the solar disc) -- as a heavenly mountain (including Olympus, Sinai, Mount Meru, and many more), as a shining city, or as Paradise. In contrast, the lower half of the year is depicted as a pit, an underworld, a place of toil and imprisonment, and as Hell (or Sheol, Tartaros, Niflheim, or Amenta).

Previous posts which deal most directly with the esoteric and allegorical aspect of these two halves of the year, with their summit at the point of summer solstice and their lowest pit at the point of winter solstice, were entitled "A land flowing with milk and honey . . ." and "No hell below us . . .". The critical crossing points between these two halves of the year (the two equinoxes) were allegorized as places of sacrifice, as well as of passing through a narrow and dangerous door or gateway (or channel between two clashing rocks). These allegories for the equinoxes are discussed more fully in the first three chapters of The Undying Stars available to preview online here, as well as in previous posts such as "Why St. Peter was crucified upside-down," "The old man and his daughter," and "The horizon and the scales of judgment."

Esoterically, these beautiful allegorizations of the annual circle with its four most important yearly points of the two solstices and two equinoxes were used by the ancient sages who gave us the scriptures and sacred traditions of the world to represent their view of the human condition: plunging into incarnation at the autumn equinox, to toil through the underworld of this life until reaching the point of spring equinox and release from the present incarnation, there to rise up and soar into the heavenly realms of spirit until impelled again to descend into the material world. 

Alvin Boyd Kuhn, who is perhaps the most thorough expositor of this interpretation of the esoteric meaning in the world's ancient myth-systems, explains in Lost Light (published in 1940) that the horizontal line between the two equinoxes was seen by the ancient sages as representative of the soul of the man or woman "cast down" into incarnation, as if the spirit had "fallen upon its face" or was going about horizontally like an animal (because the spirit was now incarnated in an "animal" body), but that the vertical line which ascends from the winter solstice up to the pinnacle of the summer solstice represents the spirit ascending again, overcoming its "death" in the body, reclaiming its divine nature even though for a time it was imprisoned in the flesh of the material world.

The two lines together, of course, form a cross (as can be seen on the zodiac wheel).  Of this concept, Kuhn writes:
This most ancient, perhaps, of all religious symbols (by no means an exclusive instrument of Christian typology) was the most simple and natural ideograph that could be devised to stand as an index of the main basic datum of human life -- the fact that in man the two opposite poles of spirit and matter had crossed in union. The cross is but the badge of our incarnation, the axial crossing of soul and body, consciousness and substance, in one organic unity. An animal nature that walked horizontally to the earth, and a divine nature that walked upright crossed their lines of force and consciousness in the same organism. 414 - 415.
Kuhn goes on to explain that in Egypt, the Djed column (which he calls "the Tat cross") and which was representative of this concept, would be cast down upon its face at the time of the autumn equinox, but then raised again in a mighty ceremony at either the spring equinox or the summer solstice.  He writes: 
The Egyptians in the autumn threw down the Tat cross, and at the solstice or the equinox of spring, erected it again. The two positions made the cross. The Tat is the backbone of Osiris, the sign of eternal stability.  And Tattu was the "place of establishing forever." 416.
This "raising of the Tat cross" or elevation of the divine spark inside each man or woman was the purpose of our material incarnation, according to the ancient sacred traditions: "This transformation," Kuhn writes, "is made by man here on the cross of material life" (359).  Thus, the "pillar of the year" (which is embodied in the Djed column or "backbone of Osiris") is represented in the zodiac metaphor by the vertical "pillar" which runs from the pit of the winter solstice to the summit of the summer (see diagram):

Kuhn also connects this raising of the Djed column, in the Old Testament, with the raising up of various staffs by Moses, including the staff with the fiery brazen serpent in Numbers 21, but also with the raising of the staff of Moses and his two arms in the famous battle-scene described in Exodus 17.  In that story, the Old Testament scriptures tell us:
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.
So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 
But Moses' hands were heavy: and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.  
Exodus 17:8-12. 

image: Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us, Charles Foster (1897).  Wikimedia commons (link). 

The battle with the Amalekites here may be representative of the "battle" between the upper and lower halves of the year, and the raising and lowering of the staff almost certainly represents the column of the solstices, going up to the summer solstice and down to the winter solstice. When the staff goes down towards winter solstice, of course the Amalekites (representing the forces of the lower half of the wheel) would prevail, and when the staff goes up towards summer solstice, then the Israelites (representing the forces of the upper half of the wheel) would prevail.

Note that Moses is here depicted as located at the "top of the hill," which would generally correspond to the summer solstice in the system of celestial metaphor found throughout ancient mythology.  In Lost Light, Alvin Boyd Kuhn explains that the symbology of the upraised arms of Moses also relate to the upraised arms of Shu in Egyptian mythology, saying that "Shu, who upholds the heaven with his two arms," resembles "his Hebrew antitype, Moses on the Mount" (483).  

Shu was an Egyptian deity associated with the air, one of the four elements of fire, air, earth, and water, and he was almost always depicted with both arms upraised, often holding up the body of Nut, the goddess of the sky or heavens.  In the image below, from the version of the Book of the Dead inscribed upon the Papyrus of the priestess Nesitanebtashru of Egypt (circa 1025 BC), we can see that the upraised arms of Shu are held up by two assistants, just as in the Exodus passage the upraised arms of Moses are held up by Aaron and Hur:

image: Shu god of air holding up the body of Nut, goddess of the heavens; Geb god of earth reclines beneath.  Papyrus of Nesitanebtashru, 21st Dynasty (aka Greenfield Papyrus).  Wikimedia commons (link).

Now, according to the process described in the previous post in which we demonstrated that if the "land flowing with milk and honey" truly relates to the summit of the zodiac, we should be able to find connections to the zodiac signs located next to the juncture of the June solstice (that is, to either Gemini or Cancer, or to both of them), let us examine this symbolism of Shu (or Moses) with his upraised arms, assisted by two companions.

Sure enough, there at the summit of the year, with his section of the year beginning right at the point of the solstice, we find the sign of Cancer the Crab, an animal with two prominent arms which are typically extended in an attitude very similar to the depiction of the arms of Shu in the ancient papyrus reproduced above. Below is an illustration of the sign of Cancer the Crab from a book printed in 1511 or 1512:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

As can be seen from the zodiac wheel diagramed earlier (with the cross composed of the horizontal line of the equinoxes and the vertical line of the solstices), the sign of Cancer was sometimes previously depicted as a creature we would today call a lobster (rather than a crab). Nevertheless, these creatures also feature the same outstretched or "upraised" arms, very suggestive of the upraised arms of Shu. 

The Reverend Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844), whose analysis of the celestial metaphors present throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is described at greater length in The Undying Stars, also makes this identification of the "arms" with the sign of Cancer the Crab.  In his text Astronomico-Theological Lectures, published in 1857 (after his death, and containing sermons he delivered on the celestial metaphors in various parts of the Bible, sermons which were sufficient to get him thrown in jail in England for a total of three years), Robert Taylor asserts that the "everlasting arms" described in Deuteronomy 33:27 are the arms of Cancer the Crab:
From the domicile of the Sun in the Lion of July adjoining on that of the Crab [. . .] when the Sun begins to descend, the claws or arms of the Crab in the Egyptian diagrams of the Zodiac were represented as spread out or extended below the path of the Lion; and hence affording the idea of support and security from falling, which is the solution of those beautiful figures of the allegory, 'the eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.' It is none other than the claws of the Crab, which, had they been duly depicted according to their position in the heavens, would have presented to your eye the exact position of the everlasting arms [. . .]. 263.
Note that despite the charges of heresy leveled against him (which landed him in jail), Taylor always treats the scriptures themselves with the utmost reverence (it is the literalist misinterpretations against which he levels his sometimes razor-sharp sarcasm), and asserts that interpreting them in the way they were intended to be interpreted is the only way to truly render them their due honor.

As discussed in the previous post on the land flowing with milk and honey, the summer solstice point is located at the beginning of the sign of Cancer, but at the end of the sign of Gemini, and so the two signs together really flank the solstice and "share the duty" of upholding the summit of the year. And so, just as with the appellation of the Promised Land as a land flowing with milk and honey, in the imagery from the ancient Egyptian papyrus from around 1025 BC, elements of both Cancer and Gemini are present. In the papyrus, we see two helpers assisting Shu, who are certainly nearly identical in their appearance -- perhaps suggestive or representative of the Twins of Gemini.  

These two figures become Aaron and Hur assisting in the holding up of the arms of Moses in the Exodus version of the same symbol. 

Just as with Robert Taylor, the aim in illuminating the solstice connection of these ancient depictions is in no way meant to detract from our appreciation of what he calls "those beautiful figures of the allegory." Far from it! In fact, the profound truths that they depict can only be fully realized if the esoteric and allegorical nature of the passages is unlocked (see discussions in this previous post entitled "Montessori and 'thinging'" and in this one entitled "The ancient torch that was lighted for our guidance").  

In this case, as previously alluded, the esoteric message conveyed by the summer solstice imagery concerns the "raising up of the Tat cross" or the "Djed column," which has to do with the realization of our spiritual and divine nature, a major part of our labor here in the material realm (where our spirit has been cast down "between the two horizons" and imprisoned in the material or the "animal" flesh and blood of the body).

One more image is appropriate here as we reach the summer solstice, one which has been shown and discussed in previous blog posts and which is discussed at greater length in The Undying Stars, and that is the image of the Djed column shown below from the beautifully-illustrated version of the Book of the Dead from the Papyrus of Ani (Ani was a priest thought to have lived during  the reign of Seti I, between 1290 and 1279 BC).  

Here, the upright column can be clearly seen to possess the horizontal bars reminiscent of the vertebrae, and it also is surmounted with the Ankh, or cross of life (incorporating the two parts of the zodiac wheel and the two parts of our human nature, animal and divine). The Ankh also incorporates the circle symbol on top of the cross, which is representative of eternity since a circle has no beginning and no end. It is also representative of the feminine force, joined together with the masculine symbol of the column. And, surmounting it all (of course) we see again the "everlasting arms," uplifted in an expression of blessing, victory, and support.

All these things are worthy of deep consideration this Summer Solstice, 2014.  Peace.

image: Wikimedia commons (link).