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Vernal Equinox (March) | Autumnal Equinox (September)
The Spring Equinox
The first great Gate stood open wide. A voice came through that portal: "Hercules, my son, go forth. Pass through the Gate and enter on the Way. Perform thy labor and return to me, reporting on the deed." With shouts of triumph Hercules rushed forth, running between the pillars of the Gate with over-weening confidence and surety of power.
The Vernal Equinox is the time when the Sun reaches the balancing point in its path through the tropical zodiac, when the length of the day is equal to the length of the night. It marks the beginning of the new astrological year, as the Sun enters the first degree of Aries, the Ram. Although the Equinox is formally celebrated on March 21, it happens in 2011 on March 20 (23:22 UT – but the Equinox is a day and a night, a phase not a moment). It is marked in the Christian Calendar by the Festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin (Lady Day) on March 25.
The Autumnal Equinox
And Hercules, who is a son of man and yet a son of God, passed through the seventh Gate. The power of the seventh sign passed through him. He knew not that he faced a dual test, the test of friendship rare and the test of courage unafraid.
The Autumn, or Fall Equinox is the time when the Sun reaches the opposite balancing point in its path through the tropical zodiac. The word equinox means "equal night": the duration of the day being equal to that of the night, an event which occurs but twice a year, the one marking the astrological beginning of spring and the other the ending of summer. It is the time of ripening and harvest, marked astrologically as the Sun enters the first degree of Libra, the Scales, hence Saturn, the "grim reaper", is exalted in Libra.
The equinox is also a day of sacrifice. This is the day of the year when the ancient god of light is defeated by his twin and alter ego, the god of darkness. It is the time of the year when night conquers day. This sacrifice is illustrated in the lyric:
The sacrifice of John Barleycorn, however, is a symbolic one: it is the spirit of the vegetation that is 'sacrificed' to harvest the food that will sustain the people through the winter months and into the next growing season.
Ancient agricultural societies celebrated the harvest with festivals of one kind or another, usually marking them with sacrifices to ward off the evil spirits and spirits of the dying year. The burning of the Corn Dolly is associated with the death of the corn god, and the crossing of the the border between long days of light and long nights of darkness.