Autumnal Equinox and Religious Myth

At the time of the Autumnal Equinox, September 22/23, when the days and nights are of equal length around planet Earth, the Sun is passing through part of the ecliptic corresponding to the dominance of constellation Libra, the symbol of balance.  The name by which constellation Libra was known among prehistory cultures reveal that the symbol of balance was associated with attaining favorable consideration from a higher source.  For example, the Coptic name for the constellation we know as Libra was Lambadia, which translates loosely as “station of propitiation,” implying the time to appease or resolve differences, to gain heaven’s good will.  The Arabic name for this constellation is Al Zubena, meaning “redemption” or “purchase,” implying that what one extracts from life must eventually be paid for.

The autumnal equinox occurring within the dominance of constellation Libra also carried a subtle reminder to the people of the ancient world regarding the double nature that is embodied in all life—the blend of spirit and matter, male and female, the positive and negative—the polarity that defines individuality.  The understanding that the constellation symbol offered was that life is most constructively lived by establishing a working balance between extremes.  To do otherwise was to bring with it a sinking of life’s ultimate purpose—the advancement into refined energy continuation. 

The widespread understanding associated with the group of stars which define constellation Libra was to live so the heavens would become favorably inclined.  This equinox period happens to be the general period of various religious commemorations.  In conjunction with the sign of the Balance the Jews celebrate Yom Kippur, day of atonement, the holiest Jewish holiday celebrated on the tenth day of Tishri; fasting and prayer for atonement of sins are prescribed.  Succoth (or Sukkoth),  which commemorates the alleged temporary shelter of the Israelites in the wilderness, is a harvest festival celebrated for nine days beginning on the eve of the 15th day of Tishri.  Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that precedes these observances, is a solemn occasion celebrated on the first and second day of Tishri (a month in the Babylonian, Persian and Jewish calendars corresponding to late September/early October).

In regard to the New Year being observed in autumn by orthodox Jews, the tradition is due to Canaanite influence.   Geography and climate conditions in the Canaanite region were such that summers were long and dry.  When autumn approached, the move toward rainy conditions was signaled by morning mists that drifted in from the valleys.  In Genesis 2, these regional autumn conditions are mirrored as circumstances in which Creation was initiated.  Hence, the first of Tishri is observed as the true New Year’s day by orthodox Jews.

In Christian belief Jesus serves in the capacity as conciliator, meaning the one who reconciles humankind’s sins so that the necessary balance  for evolutionary realization may be restored.  Unfortunately this interpretation has been presented in such a way that the evolved factor that is to be striven for (personified as Christ) is said to assume responsibility for everyone’s failure to seek balance, which only encourages the notion that individuals can sidestep personal responsibility for their actions. 

The Christian storyline was fashioned upon extremely ancient zodiac representations (figures associated with constellations, which are known to us through the zodiac, can be traced back at least 12,000 years).  There are three near-by constellations to Libra that provided interrelated inspiration for story elements in the alleged life events of the key characters in the myths of several  pre-Christian religions.  These story elements are also suspiciously prominent in Christian literature and they were drawn from constellations Crux (Cross), Lupus (the Victim-beast), and Corona Borealis (the Crown).   In the Romanized passion-play account based this ancient wisdom Christianity received its most dramatic illustration of spiritual triumph over physical dominance.  The representation of Libra as the Scales of Balance—the only inanimate figure in zodiac representation–depicts  what is basically a cross-form in itself.  It should be noted that in ancient cultures the cross symbol represented this plane of matter upon which spirit is temporarily nailed.  The event of the autumnal equinox during Libra dominance was consequently interpreted in Pagan cultures to correspond to man’s spirit-in-matter incarnation which is in search of necessary stability. 

Throughout the much maligned Pagan cultures, physical life was understood to position man at the threshold of higher potential where he is to take up the higher transformational powers of love, compassion, truth, mercy and justice.  The ancient ones believed that these transformational powers exist only potentially in this material-matter dimension of energy, and they develop only in accordance to one’s personal pursuit and reverence of wisdom earned in this matter-life experience.   The ancient Pagans understood that it is the regard that one experiences in this matter plane for those transformational powers that brings balance to spirit so it may proceed into elevated existence.  This is echoed in modern religious practice. 

The connection of the autumnal equinox with Muslim tradition is not as transparently associated to celestial movements as in Judaic-Christian traditions.  Nevertheless, the stipulation of atonement was, one might say, recycled from Jewish and Christian influence and incorporated as a period for Muslim  penitence.  Due to the more equatorial location in which Mohammad lived the seasons were not strongly pronounced, and for that reason the observance of Ramadan is not recognized as having been based on a noticeable seasonal change.  But Mohammad is said to have fled from Mecca at the height of summer, and arrived at Yathrib (present day Medina) on September 20—time of the autumnal equinox—which coincided with the Jewish day of atonement.  The word Ramadan is derived from an Arabic root, rhm, or “ar-ramad,” which denoted intense heat—an autumnal condition.  There were three Jewish tribes at the Yathrib oasis, and it was during the association with these tribes that Mohammad fine-tuned most of his faith’s concepts—there is but one God, for example.

Because yearly dates are constructed on a lunar calendar, Muslim religious observances come earlier each year by about eleven days, so the observance is not recognized as having been influenced by the event that in the past took place at the time of the autumnal equinox.  Ramadan is the period in which Muslims fast for the sake of Allah, and ask for forgiveness for past sins and attempt  to purify themselves through good deeds and self-restraint. The professed reason for the atonement observance is given as in honor of the time in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Mohammad.

Related posts:

  • Spring Equinox and Religious Myths, March 2010
  • Summer Solstice and Religious Myths, May 2010
  • Myths Built Around Winter Solstice, November 2009


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