The spring equinox (also known as the vernal equinox) is the time in the earth’s annual cycle around the sun in which day and night are equal in length, before the days finally start to get longer after the dominance of darkness during winter, and life springs forth from death. Its deeper spiritual significance reveals the mysteries of spiritual resurrection.
In Christianity, the spring equinox is the time of the Passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. Likewise, the ancient Egyptians celebrated it as the time when the god Osiris resurrected, the Thracians celebrated the resurrection of their god Orpheus, the Greeks celebrated the resurrection of their god Dionysus, and the Maya celebrated the resurrection of their Maize God Hun Hunahpu. The Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt gazes precisely at the rising of the spring equinox sun as a symbol of resurrection. The temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia aligns to the spring equinox, and depicts the scene of the “churning of the milky ocean”—the struggle between the forces of light and darkness.
Throughout the world, the spring equinox is a time of great confrontation between the forces of darkness and light, in the death and resurrection of the central deities of sacred teachings. It symbolizes what an initiate goes through in a definitive and important stage of self-realization, where the struggle between darkness and light creates the opposition needed to attain immortality. This is symbolized by the dark half of the year on one side of the spring equinox sun, and the light half of the year on the other.
The Deeper Significance of the Cycle of the Sun
The spring equinox is the time in the earth’s annual cycle around the sun in which day and night are equal in length, before the days finally start to get longer after the dominance of darkness during winter, and life springs forth from death.
The sun’s visual journey throughout the course of the year signifies a universal journey, which has been understood and undertaken by people throughout the world, and throughout time—the journey to enlightenment. This is why the lives of Jesus, Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, Hun Hunahpu, Dionysus, and many others, match the cycle of the sun. Each of these deities revealed the process of reaching enlightenment in the events of their lives, just as the cosmos reveals it each year in the path of the sun, and why the lives of these deities share so many similarities. Creation is imbued with the very truths of the deeper purpose of life. This is also why ancient sacred sites and teachings integrated the movements of the sun and stars, symbols of nature, and sacred principles of mathematics, into their temples and texts.
Like the sun, at the autumn equinox, the initiate must descend into the underworld to face their own inner darkness and overcome it. At the winter solstice, the Son (the Christ/sun) is born within the initiate. At the spring equinox, the Son is betrayed, dies, and is resurrected to attain eternal life. And at the summer solstice, the height of light, the Son ascends to return to the divine source.
The Sun Christ
In the wheel of the year, the sun is the Christ, the Son, the universal spiritual force which merges with a person doing the spiritual work once they have reached a certain spiritual level. The Christ is not unique to Christianity—Jesus portrayed the work of the Christ in his life, just as Osiris, Krishna, Mithras, and Tammuz did thousands of years earlier, and Quetzalcoatl and Hun Hunahpu did vast distances away.
Central to their lives was their own betrayal, death, and resurrection, which occurred on or was associated with the time of the spring equinox. Through their lives they portrayed what an initiate goes through to reach what has been called salvation, eternal life, enlightenment, self-realization, immortality, imperishability, awakening, liberation, etc., and what someone still goes through to reach this today.
The Great Struggle Between Light and Darkness in the Churning of the Milky Ocean
The spring equinox stands upon the point of balance, upon which everything pivots in its motion, in the universe, in the cycles of the seasons, and within ourselves. On one side of the equinox is the dark half of the year, and on the other the light half, representing the struggle between the forces of darkness (death and decay) and light (birth and life). It is this antithesis that gives motion to all cycles in the universe, and which is likewise found in the spiritual work to awaken. This is why Jesus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, etc., faced their greatest confrontation with darkness to attain the light at the spring equinox.
This universal principle is illustrated at the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which aligns to the spring equinox. It portrays the ancient sacred Hindu teaching from the epic the Mahabharata of the churning of the milky ocean in a giant representation on its walls, and in the design of its temple complex which incorporates the sun and the stars as celestial counterparts of the story.
The story of the churning of the milky ocean, as explained below, shows the fundamental principles that underpin the cycles of the sun throughout the seasons, the cycle of our earth through what is called the precession of the equinoxes, the turn of the Wheel of Life, the cycles of humanity called Yugas, and the inner spiritual process called resurrection.
The Churning of the Milky Ocean
The giant stone mural of the churning of the milky ocean at Angkor Wat depicts the asuras (demons) and devas (angels) as being in a tug of war. They each hold one end of a massive serpent, which is wrapped around a sacred mountain and balanced on a turtle swimming in the great milky ocean. As the demons and devas pull back and forth, they rotate the mountain which churns the milky ocean below. The god Vishnu stands at the mountain, which is the point of rotation, and the god Indra is above in the sky.
The story is also depicted through the design of the temple itself and its alignment to the sun and stars. On the spring equinox, the sun rises to crown the pinnacle of the main tower of Angkor Wat, which is symbolic of Mount Meru, home of the gods—representing Indra (as the sun) rising into the sky to return to his abode as the King of Heaven. In 10,500 BC Angkor Wat and a number of surrounding temples aligned to the constellation Draco, which is the celestial depiction of the great serpent wrapped around the mountain.
The Cycle of the Sun
There are ninety-one demons to the left, which are the days between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and eighty-eight devas to the right, which are the days between the spring equinox period (which was counted in Cambodia as lasting 3 days) and summer solstice. The point of balance is the spring equinox. The pull of the serpent toward the demons, and then back toward the devas, symbolizes the movement of the sun (represented by Vishnu) into the dark half of the year, to reach the extreme of the darkest day on the winter solstice, then returning until crossing the point of rotation (the equinox) to travel toward the opposite extreme of the longest day on the summer solstice, and back again.
The Precession of the Equinoxes
The design of the mural also depicts greater cosmic cycles which our earth progresses through. It encodes the numbers of the precession of our earth through the constellations, referred to as the precession of the equinoxes. Approximately every 2,150 years the sun on the spring equinox rises in a different constellation, and an entire cycle throughout all the constellations takes approximately 26,000 years. Like in the annual cycle of the sun, in this cycle also, the spring equinox is the point of rotation.
The Wheel of Samsara and Yugas
Human existence also progresses through greater cycles, just as our earth does, which transitions through stages of light, ascent, and evolution (like the waxing of the sun from winter solstice to summer solstice), as well as darkness, descent, and devolution (like the waning of the sun from summer solstice to winter solstice). These cycles have been illustrated in Buddhism as the Wheel of Life (also known as the Wheel of Samsara). Like the dark and light half of the year found in the change of seasons from summer to winter, the Wheel of Samsara also has its periods of light and darkness. As the wheel rotates up it is in light, called evolution, and as it rotates down, it is in darkness, called devolution. Within the Wheel of Samsara is found the progress of the person through their cycle of lives. This same rotation is found in the cycles of humanity known as Yugas, which were also encoded in the temple of Angkor Wat—whole civilizations and periods of human existence go through periods of light and progress, as well as darkness and degeneration.
The Struggle in the Individual and in the World
This pulling back and forth between light and darkness symbolizes an underpinning universal principle in creation found in the cycles of cosmic time and human life. It reveals the role of darkness and light in creating movement through its struggle and opposition, and likewise shows the role of darkness and light within ourselves and our lives.
This same struggle between the forces of good and evil takes place within the world, even though most people are completely unaware of it. In life, one is either taking part in this struggle or they are simply the unconscious victims of it. If one is in the struggle, they are either pulling for light, or for darkness. Those who do neither, who do not participate, and do not struggle against darkness, are like the creatures of the ocean of existence that become unconsciously churned around by forces they are completely unaware of.
In the churning of the milky ocean, the struggle between darkness and light causes multiple spiritual treasures to emerge from the ocean, a poison that has the power to destroy the universe, and finally Amrita—the nectar of immortality. Without the opposition that darkness brings, there would be no movement and no struggle, and it is from the struggle that the spiritual treasures are produced. The spiritual treasures symbolize the spiritual faculties and virtues which someone gains through their struggle against darkness.
The poison that the churning produces is called Kalakuta—it is so terrible that it threatens to destroy creation. Before the nectar can be recovered in the story, this terrible poison must be dealt with first.
The opposition found in life not only brings out the best in people, but also the very worst, and thus opposition also creates poison.
As this is a key principle, it works on many levels. In society for example, poison emerges as the negative actions and psychological reactions of people, in the practice of sexual alchemy as lustful desire, and within the individual as the responses of the many egos and the actions that they cause.
The poison within, all the hatred, violence, greed, etc., is brought to the surface from the struggle, both within the individual’s psyche and externally in the world. The strength of the egos (emotions such as anger, hatred, etc.) stirred up is so great that it threatens to destroy everything.
As terrible as the poison is, however, its extraction is of great benefit, as the act of churning separates the poison from the nectar. The ocean that is churned is life, the human energies, the psyche, humanity, and all of creation; to have the poison extracted and separated from the nectar in all these things is of great value, as it allows a process of purification to take place. In the work to awaken, one must constantly struggle to purify oneself—to remove what is inferior and cultivate what is superior—and it is the struggle that opposition produces which allows this to happen.
As a universal principle the separation of the poison from the nectar also effectively takes place among groups of people. When the events of life are churned, the nature of people becomes apparent and those who prefer darkness and the ego are revealed—this “churning” can uncover negative people within groups, organizations, and projects of all kinds, who would have otherwise continued influencing things for the worse unnoticed.
For someone doing the spiritual work, the person has to face what is within the depths of their subconscious. When the psyche is churned by the agitation created by opposition, they get to see what is really within them—all the egos that were previously hidden beneath the surface of the ocean (the psyche and subconscious), but which can now be seen, understood, and removed.
Finally the nectar, the positive results of the struggle, emerges. Out of opposition comes the nectar of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, information, right action, good events, and what is of value in life to those who are working for greater consciousness.
In alchemy, the elixir of immortality arises—that which the devas set out to achieve in the churning, which grants resurrection.
This struggle to acquire the nectar shows the important role that darkness plays in the awakening of the individual. It is in the opposition to darkness that one is tested, one develops strength, self-knowledge, will, wisdom, and many other qualities, and why before Jesus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, etc., resurrect and attain eternal life at the spring equinox, they must firstly face darkness in their betrayal, crucifixion, and death.
Copyright © Belsebuub & Angela Pritchard 2012
This is about 1/5 of the chapter on the spiritual meaning of the autumn equinox. Keep reading in the book The Path of the Spiritual Sun.