A basic tenet of many indigenous cultures and spiritual traditions the world over is that we are more than just our bodies and all things are made up of a vital essence or energy which can be contacted. They taught, and still teach, that each organism’s energy is unique and moves in specific ways, creating a field that expands beyond the physical form, intermingling with other fields and that all thoughts create actions that can have a physical effect. This worldview maintains that, rather than being separate and isolated in the universe, we are all interconnected—all interdependent strands in the web of existence—that all life exists in relationship—and that changes in our vital essence/energy are affected by, and mirror changes in, environmental and planetary energies. As part of a greater energy network, then, we are constantly engaged in a dynamic interplay between what is within us and what lies outside of our physical boundaries.
Research in the field of Bioelectromagnetics (Bem) is now confirming what the ancients knew centuries ago-that inherent in all living things is a vital essence or energy. This energy affects and interacts with, but is separate from, our physiological and psychological processes, and moves in specific ways both within and beyond the physical body, not only impacting and being impacted upon by the energies of those around us but are effected by other factors that include disturbances in the earth’s electromagnetic field, weather changes and planetary cycles.
The sun, moon, planets and stars have provided us a reference for measuring the passage of time throughout history. All cultures before recorded history charted the heavenly skies to make some sort of sense out of their environment and its relationship to their lives. As civilizations developed, structures were created to provide consistency and to organize and document time as well as plan for future dates. Calendars, by their very nature, allowed people to plan and order events as well as a way to communicate about the events relative to one another. Originally revolving primarily around agriculture or religious occurrences, many ancient calendars were based on the phases of the moon or other natural phenomenon, with specific days being chosen as markers to provide orientation of time and space at significant points during the yearly cycle,
The most commonly utilized set of days, seen the world over, is based on the solar cycle; by observing its rising and setting, the journey of the sun through the sky has been marked at four particular moments in time. Named as the Spring or Vernal equinox, Summer solstice, Autumn equinox, and Winter solstice, each is at equidistant points of the year, forming the symbol of the cross within the “wheel of the year” with the sun at the center. These points mark the movements of the earth around the sun and the sun’s varying influence over light and darkness, day and night, and the passage of the seasons. These observable celestial occurrences ultimately underpin all calendars and have been absolutely predictable since ancient times; in fact, it has been determined that many archeological sites and structures all over the world, of which Stonehenge is one, were probably built for observance of these solar events as they are oriented to point directly to their points of sunrise or sunset every year.
As phenomenon, an equinox and a solstice could be thought of as opposites. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin “sol,” meaning sun, and “sistere,” meaning “stationary.”
This refers to the fact that, during a solstice, the sun rises and appears to stop in the middle of the sky for a while before it sets. As a result, the Summer solstice marks the time of the longest day and shortest night, while the Winter solstice marks the time of the shortest day and the longest night. The Winter solstice occurs December 21/22 in the Northern hemisphere and on June 20/21 in the Southern hemisphere, while the Summer solstice occurs June 20/21 in the Northern hemisphere and December 21/22 in the Southern hemisphere.
The word “equinox,” on the other hand, comes from the Latin “aequus,” meaning equal, and “nox,” meaning night. On the equinox, day and night last for exactly the same amount of time all over the world, as the sun is positioned directly above the equator. The Vernal, or Spring, equinox happens typically between March 21-23 in the Northern hemisphere and September 21-23 in the Southern hemisphere, while in the Southern hemisphere, it is reversed, with the Autumnal equinox occurring between September 21-23 in the Northern hemisphere and March 21-23 in the Southern hemisphere.
As a direct result of the recognition and integration of these consistently predictable phenomenon, the concept of cyclicity or circularity became central to the belief and cosmological framework of many cultures; Philip Carr-Gomm, the head of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (UK) provides a beautiful explanation when he states:
“Life is perceived as a circle, endlessly turning in a cycle of life, death, regeneration, and rebirth, with the human soul being at the center of the wheel, the true identity that endures through every life. The seasons, too, are clearly cyclical, with one following another to create the circle of the year. We can place the life of each day on a circle too-it is born at dawn, reaches its peak at noon, and passes from dusk into night, before being reborn again the next day. Also, the circle of the year and the circle of the day have affinities as well. Winter is like the dead of night, when all is still. Spring is like the dawn of the day when the birds awaken and praise the sun. Summer is like noon-a time of maximum heat and growth. And autumn is like the evening, when the autumn colors seem like the colors of the sunset.” (Elements of the Druid Tradition, pg 68)
The energy and movement unique to each season are also reflected in our physical and psychological processes as humans. We, like the earth, experience the changing energies and phases of the seasons, with each season offering a corresponding and opportune time for personal development. This is exemplified, once again, in portions of teachings offered by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids as seen below:
The spring equinox, located in the east, represents the time of reception—reception of wisdom, as we face the dawn rays of the rising sun on the first morning of spring. The east has always been associated with wisdom and enlightenment, because it is from the east that the sun rises. And it is on the spring equinox that it rises due east. At this time we can open ourselves to wisdom and the powers that can bring clarity to us. It is the time of our childhood and youth—we are in the spring of our lives—and it is with this energy we can awaken and experience to the greatest degree transformation, new beginnings, rebirth, regeneration and renewal.
The summer solstice, in the south, represents the time of expression, when we can open ourselves to realizing our dreams and working in the arena of the outer world. Light is at its maximum, and this is the time of the longest day. It is the time of our adulthood—of our maximum strength, work, and maturity—when we can experience the fullness of life, and it is with this energy we can best realize and manifest our potential, celebrating the light of consciousness within ourselves and our wholeness.
The autumn equinox, located in the west represents the time of recollection-the quiet in-gathering of past experiences. It is dusk, when the light is beginning to fade, and is the time of maturity and old age—a time of introspection and harvest—and it with this energy we are best able to reflect upon and celebrate our life’s bounty, giving thanks for all we have been given, understanding that in its harvesting, we become open to begin the inner preparation for the next transformative process.
The winter solstice, located in the north, represents the time of death and rebirth, a time when from out of the womb of night and darkness, we can open to the forces of conception and inspiration. It is midnight and the time of greatest darkness, ancestral realms, holding all potential, where seeds of light, intuition and inspiration lie waiting, ready to awaken with the first rays as the sun returns. It is with this energy that we are best able to transform darkness, manifest hidden potential and give birth to our own light’s renewal and creativity.
The occurrence of these celestial events have been marked and honored by most of humanity since the earliest times by special observances. Often called the “four great sun festivals,” in many cultures, their celebration came to have two distinct purposes. The first was to assist and regulate the necessary mechanics of survival—hunting, planting and reaping in the proper season. The second was to foster increased consciousness of the people through the recognition to, and celebration of, the relationship between the macrocosmic movement and cycles of the outer world and the microcosm of their own lives. Far from the notion many have that celebration of these festivals was primitive nature-worship, the observance of these markers of time was based on natural principles that govern all life and created a structured, supportive guide that could assist and facilitate the people with their journey through life. It is important to note that, even though these events occur at one specific time, the recognition and attunement to each one, and its attributes, is considered to last throughout the entire quarter until the next is reached.
To be aware of and acknowledge these festivals is to not only honor times which have been considered sacred for over 4,000 years; even more importantly, to recognize and acknowledge these natural cycles as moments in time that mark our own life’s passages as well enables us to attune our own personal rhythm to the rhythm of the cosmos and of nature.
Indeed, encouraging understanding of the relationship that exists between the energetic movements and attributes of seasonal cycles and our internal biochemistry and bio-electromagnetics, and knowing in what way events in the natural world potentially impact us, not only offers a framework for better understanding ourselves, it can also provide opportunities for in-depth exploration of our capabilities for healing and wholeness. As we allow ourselves to observe and experience this interconnectedness, our understanding grows deeper, resulting in expanded awareness and sensitivity to the relationship between the world around us and our internal processes. Growing more cognizant of the innate and intimate connection that exists between the above and the below, the without and the within, boundaries begin to shift, the illusion of separation dissolves and we find that we are no longer operating alone, without resources. We are no longer adrift in a sea of societal chaos—our anchor, instead, becomes the planet upon which we live and the stars beyond. Moving in unity within this collaborative partnership can provide a source of strength, enhance our ability to walk in balance and facilitate an expanded sensitivity and self-awareness.
CIRCLE OF THE YEAR & CORRESPONDENCES