By Kate Braun TarotByKateBraun.com
Solstices and Equinoxes mark the quarters on the Wheel of Life, half of the ritual times observed by those who pay attention to the Wheel. The word “Solstice” refers to the sun (Sol), and indicates a change in the length of days and nights. The Winter Solstice, on or about December 21, is the longest night and shortest day of the year. Without too much trouble it is possible to note the steadily increasing amount of daylight and the steadily decreasing amount of darkness until, half a year later, on or about June 21, the Summer Solstice brings us the longest day and shortest night of the year, after which the days get progressively shorter and the nights progressively longer until we reach the next Winter Solstice. In areas where there is not much temperature variation from season to season it can be more difficult to be aware that there is a seasonal progression. Nontheless, on some level we are aware of the changing patterns of daylight and darkness.
Using the image of a clock-face, it may be helpful to visualize the solstices at 12 and 6, with the Winter Solstice at the top (12) and the Summer Solstice at the bottom (6). At Solstice celebrations the focus is on Lord Sun. Winter Solstice rituals encourage his awakening, his growing in power his progressive dominance over Lady Moon; Summer Solstice rituals recognize his lessening strength as Lady Moon gains power and takes more precedence.
Traditionally, the Solstice balancing-act is personified by the Oak King and the Holly King, twin brothers who do battle for supremacy at the Solstices. Their rivalry (which is sometimes more like a ritual dance) will never end, as is it about a shift of power, not eternal domination of one over the other. The Oak King, king of the waxing year whose plant is mistletoe, wins at the Winter Solstice; the Holly King, god of the waning year whose plant is holly, wins at the Summer Solstice. The Holly King wears red clothing, sports a sprig of holly in his fur-trimmed hat, and drives a team of 8 reindeer (symbolizing the 8 spokes on the Wheel of Life). Much of his symbolism has become attached to Santa Claus. When we decorate with mistletoe and holly at Yuletide, we are recognizing the shift of energies that contribute to planetary balance and harmony.
The word “equinox” comes from the same root as the work “equal”. Equinoxes are positioned midwaybetween Solstices. The Spring or Vernal Equinox, or or about March 21, and the Fall or Autumnal Equinox, on or about September 21, are positioned at 3 and 9 on our clock-face. These are times when there are equal hours of daylight and darkness.
At Equinox celebrations, the focus is on achieving and maintaining balance in our lives. This is a time when a raw egg may be balanced on its larger end, and this balancing may be done at any time during the equinox day, not specifically at midnight as some lore states. The egg is the most easily recognized symbol of Equinoxes: the shell of a boiled egg represents Earth, the membrane represents Air, the yolk represents Fire, the white represents Water. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water are the four elements from which come all things; the number 4 can be considered a “perfect number” because 1+2+3+4 =10 and 1 and 0 are all the figures needed to make any number; therefore, the egg can be interpreted to represent Perfection. Lore says that Alexander the Great, when asked which came first, the chicken or the egg, replied that the Orphic Mysteries teach that the Egg is the origin of all things and so it is given as an offering to Dionysus. Alexander’s answer was judged correct. It is good symbolism to include egs in your equinox menu and decorations.
When we observe Solstice and Equinox rituals we attune ourselves to planetary rhythms. When we recognize the changing seasons we reinforce harmony in our lives. At such times we dance to the music of the spheres.