The spring equinox and the descent of the serpent

Published 3:46 pm Monday, March 15, 2021

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Sun Columnist

Aztec lore tells that the Feathered Serpent God Quetzalcoatl created the cosmos, then the sun, and then creatures of all sorts. But this Toltec god was lonely and wanted to populate the world. So he sneaked into the Underworld to steal the bones that were guarded there.

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The Lord and Lady of Death agreed to give the bones to Quetzalcoatl if he could create sound by blowing into a conch without holes. Quetzalcoatl was a trickster god and he secretly called his friends the earthworms and the bumble bees. The worms drilled holes into the conch and the bees flew inside. When Quetzalcoatl blew into the conch, the bees buzzed loudly and the Feathered Serpent God won the bones, which he took to the Above Place. He blew on the bones to reanimate them, and man walked on the earth.

The Toltecs brought stories of their Feathered Serpent God with them when they invaded the Mayan Peninsula. The Mayans adopted this god and renamed him Kukulcan. Mayan architects, well-versed in the movements of the stars, planets and sun, built a pyramid in Chichen Itza to celebrate Kukulcan. It was designed with nine platforms and 91 steps on each of the four sides, using a mathematical equation that took into account the distance between the platforms’ angles in relation to the staircases. They sculpted a giant snake head at the foot of the staircase.

And every year on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, an amazing thing happens. For a few days each year, the sun casts a shadow onto the stairway created by the nine platforms that resembles the body of a serpent. This occurs only at an equinox, when day and night have the same duration. As the sun travels across the sky, the shadow seems to slither up and down the side of the pyramid for about four minutes (you can watch a cool time lapse video of the phenomenon on YouTube at It is said that Kukulcan returns to drink from the sacred cenotes, or sinkholes. For over a thousand years, thousands of people flock to Chichen Itza every year to celebrate the return of spring at this sacred Mayan archaeological site.

The vernal equinox in 2021 is Saturday, March 20, when the Northern Hemisphere starts to tilt back towards the sun. Add to that the fact that we observed daylight saving time last weekend ,and we are enjoying more light and warmth. Can’t you just about feel Kukulcan blowing life back into our bodies, bringing us back to life, waking us from our hibernation?

Winter felt especially long and cold this year. Between the continued isolation of the pandemic and the seemingly never-ending snow and ice, it felt at times as if the sun might never return. And yet here it is, slithering back into our lives, asking us to shed layers that no longer feel right and curl up somewhere to bask on a rock.

So what shall we do with our roughly 12 hours of sunlight each day? Here are some suggestions:

Get up in time to watch the sunrise. Cranking up “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles is optional, but recommended. There’s no better way to start your day.

Plant some wildflowers. Wildflowers are essential to bees and other pollinating insects. Toss a packet of seeds in that part of your yard where nothing else seems to grow and watch it turn into a beautiful little meadow in a matter of weeks. Wildflowers love rough, poor soil.

Learn your birds. Put up bird feeders and learn the names of all the feathered friends who stop by for a snack.

Do a little spring cleaning. Do the 15 in 15 declutter: Walk around your house with a large garbage bag and spend 15 minutes finding 15 things to throw away. Then open the windows and doors and let fresh air into the newly decluttered space.

Dine alfresco. Missing the days when you could go to a restaurant? Warmer days means the return of alfresco dining!

Happy Equinox, everyone!