Aside from being a philosophical and spiritual tool, the zodiac is also a literal map of the year. As all of these possible interpretations stack on top of one another, it’s worth mentioning briefly how the procession of the year fits into the zodiac symbolism.
As you may know, the length of day and night varies throughout the year. In summer, the days are very long, and in winter the sun sets very early. Modern scientists have theorized that this is caused by the Earth’s motion relative to the sun.
This means that there are four turning points in this process that interest us. There turning points in the year have interested man for millennia, and their observance most likely goes back very far into human pre-history.
These turning points are:
- The day with the most hours of sunlight (the longest day)
- The day with the least hours of sunlight (the longest night)
These turning points have been given special names by our ancestors. The days where day or night is longest are called solstices. We have two, the summer solstice is when we have the longest day of the year, and the winter solstice is when we have the longest night of the year.
In summer, the days get longer and longer, until the summer solstice when it peaks. After that, the days start getting shorter. Same deal with the winter solstice. This is easy to remember because Christmas is based on a pagan holiday where people would gather on the longest night of the year (winter solstice) and celebrate that from now on the days would be getting longer and soon spring would return. Christmas is normally within a few days of the winter solstice.
If the year is always cycling between the longest day and longest night, then there must be some time where day and night are equal, between these two polar extremes. These times where day and night are equal are called the equinoxes, and there’s two between the solstices: one is in spring and one is in fall. Equinox literally means equal night.
These are the four main points on the wheel of the year. There are classical pagan holidays for each one (and their halfway points) but that is a subject for another time.
Each of these four points is associated with a zodiac sign, and plays into the symbolic nature of that sign.
The summer solstice occurs in Leo. It makes sense that the longest day of the year would occur in Leo, the solar zodiac sign. This is when the sun is dispensing the maximum amount of life giving energy, so it perfectly suits Leo’s powerful and vibrant nature.
The fall Equinox occurs in Libra. Obviously the idea of equal day and night fits the balanced nature of Libra. It is also worth considering that under Libra, we are transitioning from light (more day) into darkness (more night). This nicely embodies the slightly altruistic nature of Libra. Libra is the sign of the judge and justice, the noble hand of society that reaches into darkness to expand the domain of light.
The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, falls under Capricorn. The winter solstice is the darkest part of the year. This naturally puts it into the domain of Capricorn, one of the darker signs, and the sign most directly related to plunging into the more secretive aspects of life.
Finally the spring equinox falls under Aries. This is the moment when darkness (night) finally ceases to have the advantage over light (day) and rebirth can finally take place (spring).
This can also deepen your understanding of the other signs as some of them occur on the half of the year where daylight is increasing and the others occur on the half of the year where night is increasing. This naturally affects their symbolic and spiritual character.
You can clearly see this illustrated in this image. Remember that the winter solstice is “maximum night” and the summer solstice is “maximum day”. The equinoxes are indicated as lines in between them:
As we are discussing the seasons, this is a perfect time to introduce the next dimension of the zodiac: the three modalities.