Building with the solar direction of the equinox
Equinoxes are the balance between light and dark, day and night.
In the tradition of the Master Builders, the direction of the equinox is beauty and balance. In fact, there are four special times during the year where the sun is the major focus. We have the summer solstice and its energy of strength and force and the winter solstice with its energy of wisdom that comes from looking within.
Then there are two times of the year when we are graced with beauty.
This beauty comes from the reflection of balance found in the equal day and equal night of the equinox. It is also a special time of the year to connect with the sun and enjoy its power. Ancient people have built temples and pyramids to do just that. The sun’s alignments were very important points during the year, and we can see evidence of this significance with many of the structures left behind.
The equinox has long been a position of orientation for building sacred places.
We can see evidence of this with the Neolithic people and their dolmens, continuing through Egyptian, Roman, central American and many other societies. From the time of antiquity, it was believed that facing the rising sun at dawn during the equinoxes and solstices was the strongest time and position for the performance of ceremonies.
Stories are told about a bowl of water being placed in the back of the dolmen or passage tomb.
When the water in the bowl is illuminated by the light of the morning sunrise, it becomes charged with the energy of the sun. Examples of some sites oriented to capture the solstice or equinox morning light are Newgrange and Cairn T at Loughcrew in Ireland and Gavrinis in France.
Roman temples, on the other hand, would make sure the light of the morning sun would shine through the temple and illuminate the god to whom the temple was dedicated. In Europe, the altar in churches was usually positioned in the east, so the congregation faced the east—the direction of illumination.
Let’s look at solar alignments as utilized by Neolithic people.
They usually aligned their dolmens to four different solar events during the year. There are only three directions because the equinoxes are aligned to the same orientation. The first solar alignment is the summer solstice, followed by the autumn equinox. The winter solstice is next in line, and then finally, the spring equinox.
When building a dolmen, the Neolithic people also were concerned with the underground energies, so there was some variance in the direction to accommodate this. Usually, they positioned the dolmen so that a big water vein could enter it through the entrance. This is because the subterranean earth energies power the dolmen. But for the most part, aligning with the solar directions was very important. An interesting representation of these three important solar alignments comes from Europe in the form of a symbol called the goosefoot.
The goosefoot shows the important patterns of the sun and the directions of the summer solstice sunrise, equinox, and the winter solstice sunrise in a particular location.
The pattern was later adapted to show the directions of the sun in churches and could be found placed over the entrance door among other locations. The goosefoot was altered to include the chi-rho and called a chrisme in this form. Many chrismes do not show the true solar directions and used a 45° angle instead of the true solar directions. The illustration to the left is an example of a chrisme at San Martín de Fromísta, Spain. This one shows the actual solar directions of the sun.
Equinoxes have certain qualities that the ancient builders took advantage of.
At the equator and in the latitudes close to it, the buildings aligned to the east would have no shadow at midday, making them very special for the people who worshipped there. An example of this is in Machu Picchu in Peru. There is a carved stone called the Intihuatana Stone (which means “Hitching post of the Sun”) that is aligned to the equinox sunsets, and at midday when the sun is directly above, the stone casts no shadow.
The Palace of Knossos in Crete was aligned to the autumn equinox.
It was built over an earlier Neolithic site. During equinox sunrises, the sun would travel up a corridor to the House of Tablets and would illuminate a bowl filled with water. This light would be reflected onto a western wall and would touch the tip of a double axe inscribed on the wall. This is interesting because the double axe can also be seen as a symbol of the solstices and the equinox. In archaic astronomy, the annual pattern of the movement of the sun was called the “horns of the solstices”.
Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico, built by the Puebloans people at Chaco Canyon has a long wall aligned with the equinox.
During this special day, the shadow cast on the ground stays the same for the entire day. Since it further from the equator, its alignment has a small shadow, but since it is aligned to the direction of the equinox, the shadow doesn’t change. Many times, if the latitude was close to the equator, builders would build their structures at a slight incline or angle. There would be no shadow cast because of this, hence achieving the same effect of no shadow.
One of the most famous equinox alignments is at Chichen Itzá at the El Castillo Pyramid, dedicated to Kulkulcán, the feathered serpent.
During the equinoxes in the afternoon, the sun creates a light effect that looks like a serpent. The sun shines directly on the western balustrade of the staircase. This causes the seven isosceles triangles to form a shadow that looks like a giant serpent with its head at the bottom of the stairs. As the sun sets, the serpent then seems to undulate and finally disappear, creating the effect of a snake descending the pyramid. In the ancient city of Teotihuacán in Mexico, there is a pyramid dedicated to the sun. It is exactly aligned to the point where the sun sets on both equinoxes.
In Ireland, there is a beautiful Neolithic mound oriented to the equinoxes.
It is situated in the Loughcrew complex and is called Cairn T. The rising equinoctial sun travels through the long entrance corridor and lights up the back stone, called the Equinox stone. The beautiful stone carved designs in the back are illuminated and even more are revealed by the sun as the light moves to the right as it continues to rise.
These are just some of the places around the world aligned to the equinox, the time of beauty and balance. The skill of our ancestors in building places to worship connected with the rhythms of the sun is truly admirable.
Interested in learning more about the alignments of the sun and the goosefoot? Our Secrets of Sacred Geometry Certification Course will teach you about these subjects and much more click here to join us at an upcoming course near you!
by Karen Crowley-Susani
This article originally appeared in Star Nations Magazine.