This article is an extract taken from the book The Path of the Spiritual Sun.
Ancient people of nearly every race and culture have celebrated the solstices and equinoxes as evident in hundreds if not thousands of ancient sites, myths, and texts, and the most famous spiritual figures of the world such as Jesus, Osiris, Hu Gadarn, Mithras, Dionysus, Hun Hunahpu, Quetzalcoatl, etc., who experienced major events in their life stories at these times. While some of these traditions were simple and based on an appreciation of the natural world, many celebrated the profound and universal spiritual significance of these special times of year.
Many ancient people knew that the natural world and its cycles contain the principles of creation, and that these principles are spiritual in their nature. That is why some of the world’s most famous and universal religious symbols can actually be found in the natural world, such as the yin and yang, the swastika, cross, spiral, etc., and why the study of science and mathematics ultimately comes upon a fabric of life that is intelligent in its design.
The maxim of wisdom, “as above, so below,” indicates how cosmic and natural phenomena are intimately connected to the human being and journey of consciousness. We are undeniably part of the universe, and so too therefore is the process of awakening. The sun (and stars) is the source of light and life in our universe, just as the spirit is the source of light and life within us. Spiritual figures and texts placed so much emphasis on the journey of the sun, as the path of the sun is symbolic of the path of consciousness/spirit in its journey to awakening, and the solstices and equinoxes are this journey’s major stages.
Why Celebrate the Solstice and Equinox?
Some ancient peoples and mystics throughout history were in touch with a different way of gaining knowledge than most are familiar with. This way of learning is timeless, and is gained through individual practice, experience, and observation of the natural world, rather than just reading.
Today, although we as a human race have become distant from and even hostile toward our environment, the principles of creation remain eternal. They are there within and all around us for anyone who opens their eyes enough to see.
These principles have, throughout history, been extremely relevant to every human being, no matter what race, sex, religion, or nationality, and are in fact what has the ability to unite us.
Although the solstices and equinoxes are celestial events, they are also very personal ones. They communicate not only cosmic principles, but inner ones too, as the inner and outer world are connected.
Each individual can have their own reasons for celebrating the solstices and equinoxes, but these celebrations give everyone participating an opportunity to experience spiritual principles directly. The spirit in life teaches—through these celebrations an individual can learn something personal about their own journey of consciousness, and a group celebrating can learn and perceive something together. Some people who celebrated the ceremony for the summer solstice given here for the first time found afterward that they had all felt something powerfully spiritual and significant from it, and that they had been so moved by it that they would never be the same again.
Celebrating it According to Your Circumstances
Your circumstances will really determine how you’ll be able to celebrate, but there is still lots of flexibility and room for creativity. It can be celebrated all the way from a detailed ritual to simply being present for the sunrise/sunset.
In a Group at a Dedicated Location
The ideal way to celebrate any solstice and equinox is out in the open air, where the sun is clearly visible, with a large group of people who are open to the spiritual side of the event. Chanting mantras becomes especially moving with lots of voices, and the energy of a focused gathering of people can be really uplifting. It would be great if every city had a place where people could go and celebrate together in a large group.
The ceremonies I’ve created in this book are really tailored for a group who has their own dedicated sacred space where they can feel comfortable and relaxed in practicing the spirituality of their choice.
If you’re unable to do it outside due to a lack of privacy or difficult weather conditions, a gathering of people could always practice in a room that lets the light of the sun in at the moment of sunrise or sunset on the solstice or equinox. There are many examples of ancient peoples celebrating in this way. For example, the Pueblo peoples of North America created kivas (which were their temples) that were entirely enclosed except for a window that let in a shaft of light on the winter solstice.
While it’s not within everyone’s budget to build a room like this, there are some fairly simple ways of doing it. A cheap do-it-yourself tepee or cabin could be put on a site and its door aligned to the solstice or equinox. Then, only the door need be opened, or perhaps a cabin window could be aligned instead.
In a Group at a Public Location
If you only have venues open to you where people who are not involved in the celebration may be staring or even insulting, then you will probably want to simplify the ceremony to the point where you feel comfortable, and may omit special clothing and ceremonial items—perhaps just chanting mantras together and doing readings.
Another idea could be to find ancient or sacred sites in your area and watch the sunrise or sunset together there. For example, there are ancient standing stones, mounds, mountains, springs, etc., across Europe that are hardly visited. North and Central America are also full of sacred sites and places. It’s important though, whenever visiting ancient sites, to take care not to damage or alter the site in any way. Make sure not to climb on or walk over things that are fragile and liable to break or move, nor to remove anything from the site as a souvenir, or to show someone, etc., as each stone and plant may form a unique part of the site’s character and history. Some of these sites may still be considered sacred by peoples today, so it’s important to be respectful and to treat the site as if you wanted it to remain intact and protected as far into the future as possible.
On Your Own
If you’re celebrating on your own, you could find a nice private spot in your garden or patio to watch the sunrise or sunset. You could even create a very simple outdoor sacred space with stones and candles. Alternatively, you could also celebrate indoors in a room that catches the sunlight and make a simple sacred space there by incorporating the colors related to the ceremony, using candles, aromas, and even music.
For the event, you could try constructing your own simple ceremony, or chant mantras, or sit in quietness, prayer, or reflection. You could even just sit in awareness and watch the rising sun.
However, there is no substitute for attending an actual ceremony with other people, which is why pilgrimages to sacred sites were so important to ancient people at these times of year.
The Day and Days Surrounding the Event
In ancient times, celebrations for the solstices and equinoxes not only consisted of a special ceremony at sunrise or sunset, but carried on throughout the days and nights surrounding them. Depending on the meaning of the occasion, the days surrounding the event can be filled with lots of spiritual practice, singing spiritual songs, pilgrimages to sacred sites, processions by candlelight, readings of sacred texts, spiritual dancing, mantras, music, bonfires, times of prayer, reflection, meditation, etc.
It’s especially nice to gather around a fire and sing spiritual songs and mantras. Fire itself is living and divine, and very much connected to the sun and its own fire, as well as to the fire of the spirit within. This is why fire has always held a special place in religious rites and places throughout the world.
With that in mind, the ceremonies in this book could form just one part of a much larger and longer celebration. To work out how you’d like to do it, you could look at the meaning of these times of year provided in this book, and put together a program of activities surrounding the ceremony that reflect this spiritual meaning.
Work Out a Calendar and Prepare in Advance
The solar year can be mapped out in advance. There are many websites that give upcoming dates for the solstices and equinoxes, which occur more or less on the same days every year, giving plenty of time to prepare the celebrations for each.
One thing to be aware of is that the solar calendar in the Northern Hemisphere is opposite to the one in the Southern Hemisphere. So when it’s the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere in a place like the United States, it is actually the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere in a place like Australia. Likewise, the autumn equinox in the north is the spring equinox in the south.
So although the world celebrates Christmas at the time of the winter solstice (around December 21) in the Northern Hemisphere, those in the Southern Hemisphere who wish to celebrate Christmas according to its true meaning should celebrate it at the time of their actual winter solstice, which would instead be around June 21 (the solstice) and the three days following. The same applies to Easter, which is a celebration of the spring equinox.
The precise time of the solstice or equinox is usually given in Universal Time (UT), which you’ll need to convert into your local time. Once you do that, you will probably end up with a time that is not exactly sunrise or sunset. To work out when to celebrate the solstice or equinox, simply find the sunrise or sunset closest to the local time you have. So for example, if the time given is 3am in your local time zone and you are celebrating the winter solstice sunrise, then celebrate it the morning of that day a few hours later. If you’re celebrating the autumn equinox sunset, then celebrate it at sunset the day before.
Make sure you have your sacred space and things for the ceremony prepared well in advance so you are not rushed beforehand. Take some time leading up the ceremony to practice any mantras you’ll be doing, and rehearse your ceremony until you feel confident remembering it. This will help it go smoothly on the day, so that you aren’t distracted by trying to remember things and can relax into the perception of the moment.
Creating a Sacred Space
Having a sacred space is very important. As humans wishing to connect with the divine, we’ve always created them as temples, churches, sacred circles, etc. A dedicated space like this helps us to move from an ordinary state of mind, full of the thoughts of the day, etc., to one of inner quietness, awareness of the moment, reverence for divinity, and receptivity to spiritual feelings and learning.
A sacred space can be all the way from a huge temple to a room in your house that is dedicated to practice and prayer. Whatever the resources, the principle is the same. It becomes an energetically focused place for connecting with the spiritual.
Copyright © Mark & Angela Pritchard 2013
This is about 1/3 of the chapter on celebrating the solstice and equinox. Keep reading in the book The Path of the Spiritual Sun.