Its Connection With The Solstitial And Equinoctial Points

The summer solstice was celebrated as a great solar festival by all the ancient nations whose religion had a solar foundation. The day when the sun was thus reached his highest northern declination, and mounted to the summit of "the circle of the heavens," when, according to the teachings of astrology, "he entered his own house" among the stars, would naturally be pronounced propitious and fortunate by the diviners, soothsayers, and astrologers. As the temples always faced the east, so as to catch the first rays of the rising sun, it is almost certain that the cornerstone also, for like religious reasons, would be laid in a line with the rising sun. The sun, as he arose on the longest day of the year, rejoicing in his pride and strength, would thus be a type of the new temple about to rise majestically from its foundations. On the contrary, to lay the cornerstone of the new solar temple in the southeastern line of the sun's decline and fall, at the winter solstice, or toward the north, the point of darkness, or yet toward Amenti, the western region of gloom and death, would, according to the teachings of astrology, be most unpropitious, if not sacrilegious.

It therefore of necessity followed that, as the sun on the 21st of June rises in the northeast, and as the future temple itself faced the east, its cornerstone, if placed so as to emblematically represent and mark the place of the rising sun of the summer solstice, must have been laid in the northeast corner. In the preceding diagram Fig. 1 will clearly illustrate this. The dotted line shows the path of the sun from sunrise to sunset on the 21st day of June, or summer solstice. The horizontal circle represents the visible horizon. At this period of the year the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest, as represented by the dotted line, where the respective points of sunrise, noon and sunset are each marked. This drawing also clearly shows the reason why that is the longest day in the year, as it is evident that the circuit from the point of sunrise, by the way of the south to that of the sunset, is greater than at any other time. This custom of laying the cornerstone so as to mark the place of the rising sun of the summer solstice was productive of other useful astronomical purposes; for, due care being taken to establish the proper angle, the southeast corner would, as a necessary consequence, be in an exact line with the point of the horizon at which the sun rose at the winter solstice. At that period the sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest (see Fig. 2). This is the shortest day of the year, for, as will be seen, the path of the sun from the point where it rises to where he sets, by way of the south, is shorter than at any other period. Another consequence followed from this arrangement; for, after the sun quits the south and goes north, when he arrives at the vernal equinox he has journeyed half the distance to the other tropic, and rises at a point due east. At the period of the vernal equinox, the sun rose at a point directly in front of the center of the principal entrance of the temple, which in Egypt was always surmounted by the sculptured symbol of a "winged globe, " emblematic of the sun, whose motion was symbolized by the wings.

The same result would also take place when the sun returned from the summer solstice and reached the autumnal equinox. This is illustrated by Fig. 3. The points marked A and B are those where the sun rises at the summer and winter solstice. It is thus apparent that the porch or front of the temple, from its position and construction, might be used as a perpetual almanac, as the return of the sun to either equinox would be indicated by his rising in a direct line with the "winged globe," sculptured above the principal entrance; and in like manner his arrival at the solstitial points was marked by the northeast and southeast corners of the porch.

The correct marking of the solstitial points in this manner was, however, dependent upon a certain proportion (quite easy to determine) between the breadth of the front of the temple and a point established back of its center, at such a distance that two lines drawn from that point through corners would cut off the same number of degrees, measured on the horizon, as actually separated the points where the sun rose on the 21st of June and the 21st of December, thus making the front of the temple the chord of an arc of the same number of degrees



which separated those two points. The number of degrees contained in this arc would depend upon the latitude of the place, increasing in length as we advance toward the north.

In the latitude of Egypt, Rome, Greece and Asia Minor, if this point so established was desired for any reason, to be placed at or near the center of the ground floor of the temple, it would be necessary to build the temple in the form of an "oblong square" and in many places the exact form of a "double cube" would be required. This may account for the reason why ancient temples were generally built in the form of a "double cube," and why that form was esteemed sacred. This "certain point" back of the center of the front, and in or near the center of the temple proper, might be appropriately marked by an altar, or a "blazing star" (emblematic of the sun) "set in the 'mosaicpavement.'"

This arrangement, by which the front or porch of an ancient temple was thus made to serve an astronomical purpose, and accurately to point out the commencement of the seasons, is illustrated in Fig. 4. A and B represent the two points of the horizon where the sun rises at the summer and winter solstice. C D represents the front of the temple; the star indicates the point from which the imaginary or actual lines; as the case may be, are required to be drawn; so as to intersect the points A and B, by passing through the corners of the temple, thus making the front the chord of an arc, containing the same number of degrees as A G B. The other letters indicate the points of the compass. By the use of a "plumbline" a point corresponding to the star might, if required, be established on the roof. This, however, would not be necessary if, as was generally the case, the principal entrances of the temple conducted into an open court, ornamented by rows of pillars. The whole arrangement, if correctly inaugurated by placing the cornerstone in its true position, in the northeast corner, would enable an observer, by use of the most simple and primitive instruments, to determine when the sun reached either of the equinoctial or solstitial points; or, in other words, enabling him to divide the year into its four great natural divisions, and accurately mark the commencement of each.

The length of the solar year could also thus be determined—that is, full as accurately as the ancients did determine it. All of these particulars might, indeed be ascertained without any instruments whatever, by means of the pillars at the porch. All ancient temples had two lofty pillars, one at each corner of the porch, and there is no doubt that they had some connection with the arrangement above described. If they wee located with care, the rising sun of the summer solstice would cast the shadow of the northeastern pillar, Boaz, along the line A*(see Fig. 4), and the rising sun of the winter solstice cast the shadow of the other pillar, Jachin, along the line B*. Careful observations would also probably be made of the length as well as direction of these shadows at different periods of the year, for at noon on the day of the summer solstice the sun, being higher in the heavens than at any other time in the year, the shadows of the columns would be shortest; and at noon on the winter solstice the shadows would be the longest. These observations of the length of the shadows, being made at noon, would be free from the error occasioned by refraction at sunrise, and thus serve to correct the others.

If these pillars were thus secretly used by the priests for astronomical purposes, it fully accounts for the idea always entertained, but never entirely understood, that the pillars themselves had some connection, actual or emblematic, with the solstial or equinoctial points. The following drawing will clearly illustrate the probable astronomical uses of the pillars of the porch in ancient Egyptian temples. The sun is rising. It is the hour of the morning sacrifice. The pavement of the temple is represented as open to the sky, for the purpose of more easy illustration. It need not have been so in fact, as it is only required that the shadow of the column at sunrise should fall parallel to the solstitial line, which could have been determined from without. In the ancient Egyptian temples, however, the portico and courts leading to the sanctuary were open and uncovered (see Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians"), and the shadows of the columns were projected on the floor.

The Checkered Floor

Whenever it was considered necessary to have the solstitial lines or the length of the shadow actually marked on the floor, then a certain carefully placed line or row of "mosaic squares" (see illustration) would answer the purpose, and also perfectly conceal the design of the whole arrangement; and this is probably the reason why the priests in their temple architecture adopted that kind of pavement. Of course, the details of the arrangement were modified to suit different places and circumstances.

The observations might be made from the roof, or standing in front of the temple, where instruments, simple in construction, for determining the line of direction toward the rising sun, with reference to the front of the temple, might be, and

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