Brain Food: Rebirth and the Spring Equinox

Mar 2, 2017

The spring equinox is one of two days a year when the equator lines up with the center of the sun, creating a balance of day and night. Historically – for many indigenous people of the world – this celestial event marks a time for renewal, emergence of life and planting of crops. 

Horseshoe Mesa petroglyphs
Credit Courtesy

“I attribute it to the fact that the native peoples of this country and throughout the world were very attune to their environments, very aware of what was going on,” Bryan Bates, an archaeoastronomer in Flagstaff.

He says many cultures, including the Navajo and Hopi, did – and still do – use symbols and ceremonies to mark the “rebirth” of the landscape.

Bryan Bates discusses the cultural significance of an equinox calendar site near Interstate 17 with his archaeoastronomy class in March 2016.
Credit Bryan Bates

“Near Flagstaff off of I-17 there’s a large spiral petroglyph that is related to the Hopi, and a shadow dagger comes from the bottom right through the center of this large spiral petroglyph on the day of the equinox. It’s marking the Monserrat, a women’s ceremony. It’s part of the time for healing, a time for growth, a time for regeneration. It’s that renewal sense, and appropriate that it comes from women because they are the ones who give life to all of us,” Bates says.

Bates says the Navajo have different names for each month’s moon. This month, it’s the moon of wind, which ushers in the planting season.

“So, here again is a representation of reincarnation, of the changing seasons of the year, just as the changing seasons of life,” Bates says.

The official date of the spring equinox in the current Gregorian calendar is March 20.