Equinox – Body Magic
& The Alchemies of Light
In the lead-up to the equinox our biology is actually being programmed for the entire winter (or summer in the southern hemisphere). This time is a special bio-alchemical gateway—what we do to attune to the cycles of nature, our bodies and the subtle energy fields as we near equinox will influence how we feel and embody for the next six months. Not just spiritually, but physically.
Are you ready for this Equinox Alchemy Portal?
As I sit on a rock in the fading summer sun, looking over the river and into the mountains, the landscape is starting to show the tell-tale signs of fall. The leaves are yellowing, the air is cooler and there is a mellower quality to the light, even in the midday sun. Equinox is almost here.
It’s been a busy summer, and I can feel my body responding to this change in temperament of the seasons, slowing down and sighing a release, even before my mind can register the shift.
Equinox has been known as a magical portal for thousands of years, as a time of deep alchemy.
The word equinox comes from the Latin “equal night”, or evennight, and marks the specific day in the spring and fall when the amount of daylight exactly equals the amount of darkness. In the northern hemisphere, this Equinox is a gateway to the approach of winter, and the growing darkness of the days, and the times of rest and retreat. In the southern hemisphere it’s the opposite, a threshold into the lengthening of the light, and the longer summer days of abundance. (Tropical latitudes have a different relationship to the sacred calendar of the seasons and the availability of light and food).
National Geographic describes this alchemical eco-mantic event this way, “Two times a year, Earth’s orbit and its axial tilt combine so that the sun sits right above Earth’s Equator, casting the dividing line between the light and dark parts of the planet—the twilight zone—through the North and South Poles. Earth isn’t the only planet that experiences equinoxes: every planet in our solar system has them.” Equinox is a cosmic event, with profound effects on our biology.
For many people this extraordinary moment goes by completely unnoticed. In busy cities and homes lit by artificial lights and the glow of computer screens, equinox has lost its meaning. Our bodies have been separated from the root of what brings life, healing and regeneration.
In some circles we’ve seen a revival of honoring the wheel of the year—the sacred seasonal calendar rooted in earth’s cycles—and a re-creation of the rituals and ceremonies our ancestors might have participated in, as they marked each cycle with community celebration and ritual.
But a crucial piece is still missing. Equinox is more than a seasonal celebration of the cycles; it is a time that has the potential to radically shift our deepest physiological and psychic functions. Even if our mind no longer remembers the magic of equinox, our biomantic body intelligence is still highly tuned in to this cosmic and earthly rhythm, and science now shows this is very real.
Many people are familiar with the idea of circadian rhythms (Latin, “around a day”), the biological clocks that guide us through the cycles of night and day, but few people understand that we also have circannual or seasonal rhythms that are profoundly sensitive to the shifting lengths of night and day. Seasonally changing “sunlight codes” govern our circannual bio-rhythms, and affect nearly every aspect of our physiology, including our brain waves, metabolism, hormonal systems, energy levels and mood. One of the keys to working with light-dark magic is that the times of transition—dusk, dawn, and the seasonal shifts at the time of equinox—powerfully influence our biological clocks or “oscillators”.
Exposure to light at these threshold moments has a much stronger impact than at other times.
The equinoxes are more than a gateway between the seasons, they are a gateway to a seasonal biological “rebirth” process in all living creatures. Our ancestors knew about this alchemy of light, and its relationship to the darkness that births it. The interplay of the light and dark, and its bio-spiritual consequences, has been the heart of many spiritual traditions, based not in faraway spiritual notions, but in the wisdom within our bodies. Our relationship to light—and darkness—is far deeper, and more embodied, than we could ever imagine. The study of these patterns is called chronobiology—a biology of time. Time magic is a vital key to embodiment.
Equinox – The Gateway of our Alchemical Biology
Here is an incredible truth: Our exposure to light in the weeks leading up to equinox likely sets our biology for the entire winter. It is a crucial time of bio-magic. Based on studies of animals exposed to natural outdoor light, it appears much less important what light we receive after equinox, because by then our circannual biology clocks are already set for the winter.1,2,3,4 Our wellbeing for the winter is being determined by the light we are receiving right now.
Children are even more sensitive to these shifts in subtle patterns of the light. Their future sleep rhythms are predicted by their circannual clocks, which are being set for winter (or summer) right now. It’s vitally important that parents understand these biomantic principles.
Equinox is a time of light magic; and the most potent time to absorb this alchemical light is at the liminal thresholds—dawn and dusk— the daily equivalent of equinox. Dawn sets our daytime biology, and is known as the hour of enlightenment. Dusk is the feminine witching hour, when we set our night biology. Fifteen minutes of exposure to outdoor light at dusk and dawn is all it takes to entrain our “master clock”, the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our brain, to synchronize with the daily light cycles of the sun, and harmonize our circadian rhythms to natural patterns.5,6
Our stem cells—the cells of regeneration—are also regulated by these subtle changes in light exposure.7 Working with light to balance our biological clocks has potent effects on these cells that are responsible for our growth and renewal, igniting powerful healing potentials.
Our first biological clocks are inherited directly from the maternal egg cell, passed down from the mother’s ancestral line. And while in the womb, our earliest circadian rhythms appear to be influenced, or entrained, by the sunlight that our mother is exposed to while pregnant—faint rays pass through the walls of her womb and into the sensitive photoreceptors of our retinas and pineal glands.8 We carry an ancestral “light history”. We are living inside the remembered light-dark patterns of our forebears—and we will also pass these onto our future ancestors.
If we live disconnected from natural daily and seasonal light patterns and spend our days submerged in light pollution and computer glare, we leave a deficit of memory for those to come, who will inherit a more diminished and dysregulated biology than that of our ancestors.
Rather than just “light” or “dark” these states are a spectrum. We are sensitive to the most subtle shifts in the qualities of light. Our body perceives even the the slight shortening of daylight hours over the timespan of a single week, or millisecond exposures to dusk and dawn, with profound bio-magical effects. Our biochemistry shifts as does our openness to alchemical perception, which is why our ancestors courted these liminal times of light alchemy—like equinox, dawn and dusk—with such dedicated and reverent ceremonies, often at sacred sites. The elders understood the alchemies of light and the inner bio-magical workings of their own bodies.
Let Light Be Thy Medicine
In the past few decades, we’ve heard a lot about the impact of diet on our health, but not light.
The effects of light are as powerful as the effects of diet on our biology and physiology. Every single morning of our lives, the dim rays of sunlight that hit the backs of our eyes at dawn turn on at least 10% of our DNA—this is some 2,000 genes—along with the transcription of 20,000 different proteins not active during the night.9 But how many of us court these early morning rays of light, like ancient the yogis and druids did?
Our state of health and wellness, and our state of consciousness or mental health depend on optimum exposure to light (daily and seasonal) as much as the food we eat.
This is an astounding realization, one that no one tells us about in school or in the doctor’s office. When our reception of the natural light cycles is out of balance it can cause weight gain, poor digestion, an impaired microbiome, fatigue, low immune system function, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, ADHD and other conditions. Chronic circadian misalignment due to a consistently poor “light diet” is linked with cardiovascular deaths, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.10,11
Sunlight has powerful positive benefits beyond regulating our circadian and circannual rhythms. Healthy levels of vitamin D formed when sunlight shines on our skin is linked with an 80% risk reduction in breast cancer according to a recent study by Joan Lappe, Ph.D, published in the Journal of the Public Library of Science. Similar kinds of risk reductions are seen in many other cancers.12 And this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health benefits of light.
Mental health issues, anxiety, depression are also intimately connected with the alchemy of light. Trauma healing through the biomantic lens shows us that this dysregulation from the patterns of light and nature is what makes trauma stick in the body, and then creates endless feedback loops.
Conditions such as SAD (seasonal affective disorder) are often caused by a lack of attunement to these gateways of the circannual and daily sunlight rhythms, rather than an innate problem with the months of darkness.13,14 The dark months are designed to heal and regenerate us and provide a seasonal womb to rebirth our biology. Most mammals in temperate climates hibernate or reduce their activity in the winter, and likewise, when deeply attuned to the seasons, humans have a naturally slower “winter biology”, rich with high nighttime levels of the healing and dream-enhancing hormone melatonin. Winter is our mystic time, where we receive regeneration and new visions.
Light, or the patterns of light and darkness, are the master regulators of human physiology, and beyond that, of our states of spiritual connection and awareness. Like plants, we rise to the light, whilst rooted in the dark. We are alchemists of dark-light.
Ancestors at Equinox: Solar Circles, Cosmic Portals
Our ancestors held this wisdom both personally and as a community. They practiced light alchemy and revered the time maps of the cosmic cycles and the way they intersected with circannual body clocks. Compared to modern humans, they were high magicians of light.
Some 5,000 years ago in what is now County Meath, Ireland, our ancestors constructed the Cairn of the Cailleach (“Cairn T”), a sacred mound and stone passageway aligned exactly to the fall and spring equinox. At sunrise, only on these special days, a single ray of sunlight pierces the dark, womb-like passageway and lights up the “Equinox Stone” positioned at the end of the chamber and engraved with talismanic glyphs. This barrow was also called the Cairn of the Witch, the Cairn of the Hag, the Womb of Cailleach, and was modeled on the architecture of the female vulva-womb-pregnant belly, fertilized by the energy of the sun. It was rebirth technology.
What did our ancestors know that we moderns have forgotten? Why did they work for decades to build these megalithic mounds, marking the precise moment of the equinox, the turning point of the seasons? These ancient astronomers and architects were "time shamans" who held the mysteries of the seasons, and the mysteries of spiral consciousness. They knew that we must work our magic within the rhythms of earth, sun, moon, not separate from them. They visioned life in a circle or spiral. They created ritual space to allow those potent forces of planetary consciousness to entrain our own consciousness, to harmonize with the greater currents of the natural world that shape all that we are, to keep the thread of memory and magic alive and well.
As we now approach the 2021 equinox, we can reach back in time to our ancestors for inspiration. We can connect to these beautiful humans who once stood silently at the entryway of the mound of their “time temples” as the sun rose on the morning of the equinox. We can feel how their bare feet touched the ground, their arms opened to the mysteries, their bio-energies flowed freely through their earth-attuned bodies. They used breath and prayer to open their consciousness to receive the primal alchemy the earth and sun gives. What forces were they channeling, knowing, embodying? We can enter into this dimension with biomantic practice.
It is incredible to feel into a spiritual tradition rooted in our biology and ecology, not something transcendent or external to the body. These ancient magicians were scientists of the sacred.
Much like breathwork, yoga, and meditation, the practice of attuning to the shifting light patterns of the seasons, especially at dusk and dawn, shifts us into altered awareness. The scientific field of chronobiology, shows us that the rhythms of light and dark, both daily and seasonally, program the biological clocks found in every cell of our body. These biological clocks regulate all of our biological functions: hormone release, genetic expression, metabolism, weight gain or loss, immune system function, nervous system tone, blood pressure, heart rate variability, mood, attention, focus, sexual and reproductive functions, growth, repair and regeneration. Our natural bio-clocks and bio-rhythms hold the secrets of biological time magic, even the power to reset or reverse the ageing process. And, it is sunlight that holds the key to these time alchemy codes.
In a mystical sense, this moment of equinox is when we set our body magic to prepare to receive the regeneration and dreaming wisdom of winter (or the abundance of summer, for the southern hemisphere), and on a practical level, our light exposure levels right now dictate if we will gain or lose weight this winter, and if our body will switch into readiness for deep healing and repair.
By celebrating the equinox our ancestors were courting a magical and mystical biological alchemy—changing, shifting, realigning the very fabric of their embodiment, their biology. When we think of the ancient people of the Cairn of the Cailleach, we can think of them not just as ceremonialists or astronomers, but as pre-Celtic “yogis”, actually performing an embodiment practice, somatic magic - Biomancy, the magic of life.
This magic is also available to us, and it is calling to us right now.
Equinox Alchemy—Your Guide to Light Alchemy
- For 3 days before Equinox, spend at least 15 minutes in the early morning sun absorbing its solar rays. Visualize your entire body and energy field receiving the light energy. If you can't get otuside, stand by a window that faces the light.
- For 3 days before Equinox, spend at least 15 minutes in the early evening fading sun greeting the night. Close your eyes and allow your body to sense the feeling of night.
- After sunset dim down and turn off bright lights in your home.
- For the best results use blue light blocking glasses, turn on blue light blocking mode on iPhone and Android phones and/or use free blue light blocking apps for computers** (details below)
- You can switch to red light bulbs and red night lights before sleep and during the night
- Make sure you switch off all devices after 8pm if possible
**Complete blue light blocking glasses (red or orange lenses) are designed to be worn only after sunset—blocking blue light during the day, especially the morning, could cause circadian rhythm disruption. Clear or yellow-tinted ones can be used during the day to reduce eye-strain on computers. For night use: red glasses block 100% of blue light, but make it difficult to see. Orange glasses block 98% of blue light and are easier to see with than red ones. Yellow and clear glasses do not block enough blue light to protect circadian rhythms at night. Biohackerslab.com has a ton of free resources for blue light blocking, including links to good glasses (BluBlox, Swannies), mobile phone blocking, free computer screen blocking software (Iristech, f.lux), and online tests for your glasses.
- It is very difficult to do studies on the effects of natural light on the circannual rhythms in humans because so few modern humans experience undisturbed natural light across the seasons, whereas the animal kingdom still does.
- “Circadian versus circannual rhythm in the photoperiodic programming of seasonal responses in Eurasian tree sparrow.” Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences. March 1, 2020, 3, pp 371-381. https://doi.org/10.1039/C9PP00404A
- “Time of the sidereal year affects responsiveness to the phase-resetting effects of photoperiod in the ewe.” Journal of Reproductive Fertility. Issue 85, 1989. pp 221-227.
- “Daily Increments of Light Hours Near Vernal Equinox Synchronize Circannual Testicular Cycle of Tropical Spotted Munia.” Chronobiology International. 22 May 2004, pp 553-569.
- “Circadian Responses to Light-Flash Exposure: Conceptualization and New Data Guiding Future Directions.” Frontiers in Neurology. February 11, 2021. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2021.627550
- “Brief light exposure at dawn and dusk can encode day-length in the neuronal network of the mammalian circadian pacemaker.” Journal of the Federation of American Sciences for Experimental Biology. August 31, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.202001133RR
- “Stem cells and the circadian clock.” Developmental Biology. Volume 431, Issue 2. November 15, 2017, pp 111-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ydbio.2017.09.012
- “Circadian Rhythms in Cell Maturation.” Physiology. Jan 1, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1152/physiol.00036.2013.
- "Circadian misalignment and health." International Review of Psychiatry. April 2014,26(2), pp 139-54. https://doi.org/10.3109/09540261.2014.911149
- "New Insights Into the Circadian Rhythm and Its Related Diseases." Frontiers in Physiology. June 25, 2019. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.00682
- “Breast cancer risk markedly lower with serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations ≥60 vs <20 ng/ml (150 vs 50 nmol/L): Pooled analysis of two randomized trials and a prospective cohort.” PLOS ONE. June 25, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199265
- “Is prevention of cancer by sun exposure more than just the effect of vitamin D? A systematic review of epidemiological studies.” European Journal of Cancer. April 2013, pp 1422-36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejca.2012.11.001
- "Circadian genes, rhythms and the biology of mood disorders." Pharmacologic Therapies. May, 2007,114(2):222-32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pharmthera.2007.02.003