March 25: The Annunciation of the Virgin
The Annunciation, by Federico Barocci
March 25 in the Christian Calendar celebrates the Annunciation of the Virgin, or Lady Day, a major Christian Feast marking the Equinox. It is the first of the four traditional "quarter days", signalling the beginning of each quarter of the year and welcoming each of the four seasons. These holidays were communally celebrated during the "Age of Faith", reassigned from already established astrologically-based pagan festivities. The other quarter days are Christmas on December 25, St John the Baptist's Day on June 24 and Michaelmas on September 29.
Lady Day was originally set at the Equinox by the Church in commemoration of the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of his mother, Mary (a.k.a. the Blessed Virgin Mary). Christians believe that this was the day when the archangel Gabriel was sent to announce to her that she was to be the mother of the Messiah. The Equinox has been an immensely significant cause for celebration since prehistoric times, so it was the natural choice for the conception of the Redeemer, being exactly nine months before the date chosen for the birth of Jesus, December 25 (at the Solstice).
According to the Gospel of Luke, in the sixth month after the conception of St. John the Baptist by Elisabeth, the archangel Gabriel was sent from God to the Virgin Mary at Nazareth, a small town in the mountains of Galilee in Northern Israel. Mary was of the house of King David and was espoused to Joseph, of the same royal family, in accordance with prophecy. Annunciation means "Announcement" and Gabriel announced to Mary that she was about to become the mother of a divinely-conceived child, Jesus. Of course, Mary, being a virgin, would have had no other way of knowing she was about fulfil her destiny and remake the world. Esoterically, Gabriel is known as the Watcher of the South and was designated by ancient stargazers to the Royal Star, Fomalhaut, which some five thousand years ago marked the Winter Solstice.
The Equinox and the Conception of Jesus
Jesus is known as the Sun of Righteousness. The birth of Jesus (at Christmas) is celebrated on December 25 at the Winter Solstice (the birth of the Sun, as the Sun begins to grow in light) – and the Festival of the Annunciation on March 25 is exactly nine months earlier, nine months being the generally accepted period of gestation (the growth of a baby in the mother's womb). The Catholic Encyclopedia accepts that this date is not mentioned in scripture, so is simply a convenient calculation. In fact this event actually celebrates the Vernal Equinox, when the buds of spring burst into bloom, just as Christmas celebrates the Winter Solstice, when the Sun returns from darkness.. This is a clear reference to the astrological key that, when turned in the lock, opens the door to a deeper understanding of the nature of religion.
Frederick Holweck notes in the Catholic Encyclopedia that "The Annunciation is the beginning of Jesus in His human nature. Through His mother He is a member of the human race." This is a way of saying that despite the divine essence of Jesus (Christians believe he was divinely conceived of the Holy Spirit, his mother Mary being a virgin) he also shares the character of our humanity and is not merely a spirit creature, like an angel, or a deva, as some have held.
New Year's Day
In ancient times, this day was celebrated as New Year's Day and marked the beginning of the new zodiacal year, at the entry of the Sun into Aries. Mike Nichols informs us that "the customs surrounding the celebration of the spring equinox were imported from Mediterranean lands, although there can be no doubt that the first inhabitants of the British Isles observed it, as evidence from megalithic sites shows". It marks a time of new beginnings, appropriately for the Immaculate Conception of the Sun of Righteousness. In England and in the American Colonies, New Year's Day was held on Lady Day until 1752 when, thanks to the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, January 1st became the start of the year. A vestige of this remains in the United Kingdom's tax year, which starts on April 6th – which is Lady Day, adjusted for the lost days of the calendar change.
The Equinox marks the beginning of the tropical astrological year, the length of the day being equal to the length of the night as the name describes. It is the day when the Sun enters the tropical sign Aries, the Ram. The Christian logic of using Lady Day as the start of the year is that it reckons years A.D. from the moment of the Incarnation, which is considered to take place at the moment of the conception of Jesus at the Annunciation, rather than at the moment of his birth at Christmas.
The Christian Feast of Lady Day has roots in a pagan past and became a major holiday during the Catholic ascendancy, though it is no longer such an important holiday today, partly due to the growth of a skeptical secularism and partly because it no longer marks New Year's Day. Nevertheless, it is still taken seriously in parts of the world where the faith remains strong, as for example in Asenovgrad, an ancient Bulgarian town with a mediæval fortress, dramatic past and unique beauty. A large church in the town is called "St. Virgin Mary – The Annunciation" Church. Worshippers from the entire district gather there, and women who want to have children bring votive gifts and sleep there during the night. Special fertility rituals are performed the next day by the priests to bless the women in the name of the Virgin.
The Cardinal Cross
Christian Feasts replaced their pagan competitors, smoothing the pathway to the new faith. Lady Day marks the Vernal Equinox, St John's Day marks the Summer Solstice, Michaelmas the Autumnal Equinox and Christmas the Winter Solstice. This is the cardinal cross that lies at the heart of tropical astrology – and at the centre of the Christian system. The astrological symbolism is deep, and underpins our archetypal responses to all four of the quarter day celebrations.
To read more on the pagan origins of Lady Day, click here for Mike Nichols on The Sunlight Spear.