When Sun Pours the Day from his Vernal Chariot

This week culminates on Saturday when the Sun crosses the Celestial Equator, also known as the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and spring breaks out in a blanket of flower buds and birdsong.

In the 4th century, a man named Lactantius, who served as an advisor to Constantine, likened the return of new life following the Vernal Equinox to the mythic bird known as the Phoenix, which he immortalized in a poem designed to establish the reasonableness and appeal of Christianity to his pagan critics.

He wrote: There is a happy spot, retired in the first East, where the great gate of the eternal pole lies open. It is not, however, situated near to his rising in summer or in winter, but where the sun pours the day from his vernal chariot.There a plain spreads its open tracts; nor does any mound rise, nor hollow valley open itself. But through twice six ells that place rises above the mountains, whose tops are thought to be lofty among us. Here is the grove of the sun; a wood stands planted with many a tree, blooming with the honour of perpetual foliage.

Lactantius goes on to describe in beautiful imagery how, when at its first rising the saffron morn grows red, when it puts to flight the stars with its rosy light, then the Phoenix takes flight, making preparation to be consumed in flame, only to be born anew from the ashes, like the spiritual new year, that is now dawning.

But the festivals of spring renewal are not tied solely to the return of the Sun ~ a proper witness to this return must also be present, and that witness is the Moon. When the Moon comes to full phase for the first time after Equinox, then the spring festivals can be celebrated.

This year the Vernal Full Moon arrives on March 28, a Sunday. This means that Easter is a week later, on the first Full Sun-day after the Moon comes full, for even though the Moon is a lesser light, it’s still intimately involved in the course of human destiny.

You can hear this episode amid the birdsong and breezes of Spring at the Interlochen Public Radio website, and on my podcast The Storyteller’s Night Sky.


image above is the sunrise mosaic in Oslo by Edvard Munch