The cycle of a year: and the cycles within each year
annual cycle of light sabbath

Be prepared. What you are about to learn about seasons will not match the calendar on your wall or on your computer.

Be prepared. What you will learn here about seasons will not match the calendar on your wall or on your computer screen.

We live in a world disconnected from the natural world. We spend an average of 21 hours each day inside buildings with roofs and insulation and artificial heating, cooling, and lights.

Did you notice that number of hours? Most of us don’t. Recent statistics show that Americans spend an average of 90% of their lives indoors. Yep, the vast majority of our lives is spent in an artificial environment separated from the natural world and its elements.

We stay toasty warm inside on days that are freezing cold outdoors. We stay sweetly cool indoors on days of scorching and sweltering heat outdoors. And even in the dead of winter, we light up our homes with artificial sunlight when it is pitch black outside the walls of our artificial shelter.

Our building have doors and windows to the outside world, but inside the walls we are shielded from the blistering Sun, the drenching rain, the bitter cold, the whipping wind, the Moon, the wandering stars, the seasons, and the cycles of the Sun. Modern life is insulated from the natural world. Cut off, for our safety and our convenience.

It is no wonder we have gravitated to a calendar out of touch with the natural seasons, because our whole lives are out of touch with the natural world.

While there are advantages to this sheltering. There are disadvantages.

It’s time to stay safe and comfortable, but to still connect.

The way we do that is to view seasons as they truly are:  manifestations of light.

Seasons inherently are tied to light.

There is a complicated astronomical explanation, and there are a lot of sources to delve more deeply into the science behind how light affects our planet Earth. But the Cliff Notes version is that the length of day and the length of night is not a constant year round. You probably are aware of that, at least vaguely. But what you may be less aware of is that the length of light in a day has a direct correlation with the heat that the earth stores from that light during the day. We will look at the effect of light on heat in later posts. But right now we will concentrate on the annual cycle of light itself.

On the day of YULE, the ancient name for the WINTER SOLSTICE, we see the shortest “day” of the year and we have the longest “night.” In 2023 and most of the following decade, the WINTER SOLSTICE will fall on December 21. This is Mid-Winter, the apex of darkness. We are smack-dab in the center of Winter at Yule. We find the darkest time of year at the WINTER SOLSTICE.

The WINTER SOLSTICE is calculated astrologically for the exact moment the Sun enters into 0 degrees of the cardinal sign of Capricorn. It’s not a set date or a set time on the calendar. It is an astrological event.

Then each day after the WINTER SOLSTICE, for the next six months, each “day” becomes a little bit longer. And each “night” becomes a little bit shorter. During this period we live in increasing light.

This natural increasing of light continues over the next six months until is climax at LITHA, the ancient Celtic word for the SUMMER SOLSTICE. It is on this day we have the longest exposure to sunlight of the year. On the SUMMER SOLSTICE we experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year.

Astrologically, the SUMMER SOLSTICE falls on the entry of the Sun into 0 degrees of the cardinal sign of Cancer. As with the WINTER SOLSTICE, it does not fall on a set date or at a set time, but rather is based on astrology.

Then beginning the day after the SUMMER SOLSTICE, we start six months of decreasing of light. We find our light gradually decreases each day. And with each day becoming ever so much shorter, each night becomes ever so much longer. The period following each SUMMER SOLSTICE is our time of decreasing light…all the way to the next WINTER SOLSTICE where the cycle begins anew.

In 2024 and 2025, the SUMMER SOLSTICE will occur on June 20. But 2026 beings a long stretch of the SUMMER SOLSTICE falling a day later, on June 21. Remember all of these events are based on astrology, not on a set calendar date.

So for half of the year we perceive the Sun as increasing in light. And for half the year we perceive it as decreasing in light. Of course, in reality the Sun’s light is constant. It’s just our planet’s connection to the Sun we are experiencing. In truth, half of the year our days are gradually getting longer than our nights, and the other half of the year our nights are gradually getting longer than our days. The solstices are the highly visible apexes of the solar cycle.

But the solstices are only one way light is measured.

In the very middle of these two cycles of increasing and decreasing light, exactly halfway between the WINTER SOLSTICE and the SUMMER SOLSTICE, our days and nights are equal.

So two days out of each year our days and nights are exactly the same length. One falls in the middle of the increasing light cycle. And the other fall in the middle of the decreasing light cycle. Those two days are called the EQUINOXES.

In the middle of the cycle of increasing light, halfway between the WINTER SOLSTICE and the SUMMER SOLSTICE, is the VERNAL EQUINOX. It happens in mid-to-late March. The actual date varies from year to year since it astrological-based rather than calendar-based. In 2024 the VERNAL EQUINOX occurs March 19. But 2025-2028 it occurs on March 20, then in 2029 it comes back to March 19. Astrologically, the VERNAL EQUINOX is marked by the Sun’s entry into 0 degrees of the cardinal sign of Aries.

Remember the VERNAL EQUINOX occurs in the middle of the cycle of increasing light that begins the day after the WINTER SOLSTICE. Night remain longer than days for the first three months of the cycle although days grow longer and nights grow shorter…

Then, on the VERNAL EQUINOX day and night are exactly the same length. And then starting the day after the VERNAL EQUINOX, days are longer than nights. The change each day is still gradual, with days growing still longer and nights growing still shorter since we are still in the half of our year of increasing light. But is it the equinox that is the pivot point after which each days are longer than nights — culminating the cycle of increasing light with the longest day of the year on the SUMMER SOLSTICE.

And from the SUMMER SOLSTICE of course, days start becoming shorter and nights become longer, to start the cycle of decreasing light for the other half of our year.

The halfway point of this cycle of decreasing light between the SUMMER SOLSTICE and the next WINTER SOLSTICE is the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX. On the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX the nights and days again are equal. The AUTUMNAL EQUINOX fallS exactly in the middle of the six-month cycle of decreasing light. For the three months from the SUMMER SOLSTICE to the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX days are longer than nights and daylight gradually decreasing until the equal period of light and no light at the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX. And then each day after the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX, still in our cycle of decreasing light, nights are longer than days.

Again, this is an astrological calculation, not a set date on the calendar. The AUTUMNAL EQUINOX occurs when the Sun enters 0 degrees of the cardinal sign of Libra.

The cycles of light continue with light as we on Earth experience it decreasing incrementally up to the WINTER SOLSTICE, where we experience the longest night and shortest day of the year.

And the cycle begins again.

Astrologers call these four dates “the Quarters.”

The Quarters are measured by the moment the Sun enters into the four CARDINAL SIGNS.

Winter Solstice – 0 degrees Capricorn
Vernal Equinox – 0 degrees Aries
Summer Solstice – 0 degrees Cancer
Autumnal Equinox – 0 degrees Libra

These solstices and equinoxes mark the exoteric seasons.

Our modern calendars mark exoteric seasons.

So here is where we come to the difference between exoteric and esoteric.

We’ll begin with exoteric because it is the one we are the most familiar with today.

Now setting aside the fact that we spend 90% of our time indoors in the modern world and we probably don’t really notice these gradual changes of light. We tend to be so shell-shocked with artificially moving between “daylight savings time” and “standard time” twice a year that most of us don’t notice the solstices and equinoxes even thought they are the most visible moments in the Sun’s annual cycle of light experienced on the planet Earth.

Our calendars today call the solstices and equinoxes the beginnings of the seasons. But actually they are the apexes of the seasons, the middles.

Esotericists see eight major divisions of light in each year, not just four.

Sometimes these extra food divisions are called “The Great Eight” and sometimes they are called the “Cross-Quarters.” Either name refers to the same, far more invisible, times of the light year.

On our modern calendars the seasons are shown to begin on what are known astrologically as the QUARTERS: the Winter Solstice, Vernal (Spring) Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumnal (Fall) Equinox. The Quarters are external, obvious, clearly visible for all to see without any kind of advance mathematics or calculations beyond basic arithmetic like = or < or >. Days=NIghts. Days<Nights. Days>Nights. Simple, basic, obvious. (At least obvious if we are connected to the natural world.)

The Quarters are the exoteric manifestations of the seasons.

The esoteric seasons are harder to see.

Halfway between each of the four Quarters lies what most commonly is called a CROSS-QUARTER. To some esotericists, each Cross-Quarter is called a DIVINE, but for our purposes we will stick to the more common reference name, the Cross-Quarter.

To find the Cross-Quarters takes more advanced mathematical skill than simple + or < or >. Finding the Cross-Quarters requires a form of “higher math,” a knowledge of astrology combined with the appropriate geometric and numerical skill. In the mists between obvious external manifestations that occur on the Quarters, the Cross-Quarters are silent, invisible. But no less meaningful or powerful.

In terms of LIGHT, these invisible esoteric moments we call the Cross-Quarters mark the true beginnings of the seasons.

And like almost all beginnings, you cannot see them with the naked eye.

Ponder a moment. When does love begin? When do you learn to walk or read or ride a bicycle or write in cursive? We may be able to point to an external moment we perceive as mastery (the apex). But the actual beginning . . . is not so easy to pinpoint

Let’s take walking for example. To walk we first observe larger humans doing it, then unconsciously our muscles mature, and then increasingly consciously we begin a succession of attempts without actually walking. Most of the process is internal and invisible. Almost imperceptible. But “walking” never truly begins with the first step. The first step is an exoteric manifestation of a more hidden, esoteric, part of the process.

The solstices and equinoxes are the exoteric Quarters.

The Cross-Quarters are the esoteric astrological marks between them.

The Quarters fall on the entry of the Sun into the cardinal signs. Halfway between each of those is the middle of the fixed signs.

You are likely less familiar with the Cross-Quarters than with the Quarters. The Cross-Quarters are IMBOLC, BELTAINE, LUGHNASAD (in some traditions called Lammas), and SAMAIN.

IMOBOLC falls halfway between the WINTER SOLSTICE and the VERNAL EQUINOX. It begins the moment the Sun moves into the 15th degree of the fixed sign Aquarius.

BELTAINE is halfway between the VERNAL EQUINOX and the SUMMER SOLSTICE. Beltaine is marked by the entry of the Sun into the 15th degree of the fixed sign of Taurus.

LUGHNASAD falls halfway between the SUMMER SOLSTICE and the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX. Lughnasad begins when the Sun goes into the 15th degree of the fixed sign of Leo.

SAMHAIN is halfway between the AUTUMNAL EQUINOX and the WINTER SOLSTICE. Samhain is calculated by the moment the Sun enters into the 15th degree of the fixed sign of Scorpio.

We can certainly mark these dates on a calendar (although you seldom see them on modern calendars) but they, just as the Quarters, are determined by astrological calculation.

When you do see these Cross-Quarters marked on modern calendars, you will often see them listed simply as February 1, May 1, August 1, and Nov. 1. These dates typically are about a week off of the actual date. The firsts of the months are close and more easily remembered than the actual Cross-Quarters which take knowledge and effort to calculate. But in this century no Cross-Quarters fall of the first day of a month.

You will find the exact dates and time of the Quarters and Cross-Quarters for 2024 listed here, shown in Central time. And you will find the final date that falls in 2023 here, showing the date and exact time of our next, now rapidly approaching, WINTER SOLSTICE. The source of all astrological calculations of dates and times of Quarters and Cross-Quarters you will find on this site are based on data from NASA.

Future posts will delve more deeply into meanings of each.