Sunday, 28 June 2015

The spiritual meaning of St-John's Day / Midsummer Day / the Summer Solstice


Midsummer Day or St-John’s Day (or Nativity) is particularly popular in Quebec (see http://www.lysenfetelysenfeu.net/histoire/les-origines-de-la-fete-de-la-saint-jean-baptiste), so I thought a post on this would be nice.

Evidently, the feast is intimately connected with the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, that is the day when the sun reaches its highest or lowest excursion relative to the celestial equator (the Tropic of Cancer) and occupies the sky for the longest time, marking the beginning of summer. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun's path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction.

Ancient Sacred Calendars gave a symbolic spiritual importance to equinoxes and solstices, those four dates forming four key moments in the year, a cross within a circle, symbolically. The Neoplatonic philosopher, Porphyry, in his eloquent essay “On the Homeric Caves of the Nymphs” explains that the tropic of Cancer  is related to Summer and the  Moon and is the North gate where the souls descend ; The tropic of Capricorn is related to Winter and Saturn, and is South gate of ascent. Ascent is related to liberation, for example, the Roman Saturnalia festival is therefore related to the Southern Tropic and features elements of divesting of garments symbolising the return to pristine felicity, the fountain of life. The entrances are said be aligned with the North-South tropic rather than the East-West/Aries-Libra equinoctial axis because Sothis, the Dog-Star is near Cancer and related to the new moon, thus a symbol of generation.

In the Secret Doctrine,Vol. 3, Blavatsky devote many chapters to ancient solar symbolism. Following the erudite French Mason Jean-Marie Ragon, she notes how the Masonic story of Hiram Abiff is related to this sacred calendar concept:

“Ragon explains it by showing that the three companions of Hiram, the “three murderers,” typify the three last months of the year; and that Hiram stands for the Sun—from its summer solstice downwards, when it begins decreasing—the whole rite being an astronomical allegory.
‘During the summer solstice, the Sun provokes songs of gratitude from all that breathes; hence Hiram, who represents it, can give to whomsoever has the right to it, the sacred Word, that is to say life. When the Sun descends to the inferior signs all Nature becomes mute, and Hiram can no longer give the sacred Word to the companions, who represent the three inert months of the year. .. From this interpretation it has been inferred that Hiram, a founder of metals, the hero of the new legend with the title of architect, is Osiris (the Sun) of modern initiation; that Isis, his widow, is the Lodge, the emblem of the Earth (loka in Sanskrit, the world) and that Horus, son of Osiris (or of light) and the widow’s son, is the free Mason, that is to say, the Initiate who inhabits the terrestrial lodge (the child of the Widow, and of Light.)’(Collected Writings 14, pp. 264-65)

This concept has been carried over to Christianity and again one can note the Egyptian connection; according to Ralph Ellis:
"In a similar fashion, the birth of John the Baptist is said to have occurred exactly six months before that of Jesus, a convenient tradition which resulted in John’s birth representing the summer solstice while Jesus’ birth represented the winter solstice. It is clear, therefore, that the Church of Jesus was often associated with Osiris (the dying sun) while the winter solstice was identified with Horus (the reborn Sun), and so the origins of this ‘new’ religion were ultimately Egyptian. Which is correct because, as we have seen many times previously, Jesus was indeed identified with Horus in the famous Madonna and Child symbology. This is also why John said of Jesus:
John answered and said.. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am no the Christ (the king), but that I am sent before him… He must increase,  but I must decrease (John 3:27-30)" (King Jesus: King of Judaea and Prince of Rome (2008),  p.4)

This linking of John Baptist to the Solstice goes back at least to Augustine, well-versed in Platonic symbolism. In Sermon 380, he writes:

"So let both their deaths also speak of these two things: 'It is necessary for him to grow, but for me to diminish.' The one grew on the Cross, the other was diminished by the sword. Their deaths have spoken of this mystery, let the days do so too. Christ is born, and the days start increasing; John is born, and the days start diminishing."
Picture thanks to http://www.summersolstice2015.net/