How was the Equinox Observed by Early People?

sunsymbolThe Oracle’s Library explores the earliest observances of the spring equinox. The equinox is just a fancy word for the day that the hours of light and dark become balanced once again. This milestone initiates the entrance of the season of spring each calendar year.

An explanation behind this change can be found in the apparent movement of the sun throughout the year. At this time, the Earth’s wobble causes the sun’s rays to be directly centered at the equator. At other seasonal quarters throughout the year—such as the winter or summer solstice—the rays would be directed at the latitude of either the Tropic of Capricorn or the Tropic of Cancer in the dead of winter or the height of midsummer.

The Great Sphinx and the Egyptian Sunrise

The Sphinx is the most mysterious colossal statue that guards the western gate of the heavens in myth and can be seen situated at the edge of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. What makes this statue so intriguing is the speculation behind its origins and the purpose of its existence. On the day of the equinox, the Sphinx gazes at the eastern sunrise to capture a glimpse of the astrological sign of the age.


The Precession of the Equinox

Each year the sun can be spotted occupying a sign—and year after year it can be seen inching its way through this same sign, when just about 2,160 years pass. For hundreds of years the sun occupies the same sign on the day of the spring equinox—then one miraculous day at sunrise, the sign is replaced by the next zodiac sign! This movement is caused by precession, and it was once widely considered to signal the dawn of a new age in ancient times.

This cycle takes a total of 26,000 years to complete for all twelve astrological signs, and in this way, the zodiac give us an easy visual representation of the cycles of the Earth’s wobble or precession.

Higan—A Buddhist Tradition of Japan

During both the days surrounding the spring and autumn equinox, Japan is touched by a spell of mild weather between the peak of the seasons. This holiday falls at a time when there is much tranquility in the minds of many Buddhists.


The tradition of higan dates back to the 8th Century CE, and the name itself is reminiscent of a euphemism found many times over in Buddhist literature. While Shigan means “this shore,” Higan is “the far shore” or the other side of the river, which is always a much more rewarding though daunting of a task to reach. But the story behind the tradition is themed with Enlightenment or the Buddhist utopia of Nirvana—a path to Pure Land at the other side of the bank.

In this case, the equinox is a time to observe the higan of life—or the purest thoughts that draw us to the ideal side of the riverbank. At this time of year, Buddhists in Japan shed the shigan or ego-driven thoughts that bind them to the shore from the dreams that lie on “the far shore”. This equinox observance helps the Buddhists of Japan cross from the side of ignorance and suffering into the promise of peace and tranquility.


Photo Credit: Elisofon, Eliot. The Great Sphinx at Smithsonian Collections
photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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