On the triptych gates of ancient temples, triskelion, and primitive timekeeping

A common misconception is that the Sun invariably rises in the east. In reality, this phenomenon occurs with precision only at the spring and autumn equinoxes. At these times, the Sun aligns perfectly with the east

During the summer solstice, the Sun makes its appearance slightly north of due east, and in the winter solstice, it shifts to rise slightly south of due east.

The following illustration shows the solstices and equinoxes of the year 2020 to demonstrate these subtle yet significant shifts in the Sun’s rising points.

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The path of the Sun as the seasonal marker

For ancient civilizations, accurately forecasting the shifting seasons was not just an intellectual exercise but a matter of life and death. This became even more critical with the advent of agriculture, as farmers depended on such knowledge to time the planting and harvesting of their crops precisely.

Yet, the importance of understanding seasonal cycles predates agriculture; it influenced early humans’ ability to identify the availability of different foods for foraging or hunting. Thus, the skills required to predict seasonal changes likely stretch back to the very inception of human history.

Ancient peoples employed various methods to predict the seasonal shifts. Observing specific constellations, like Orion, was one approach. However, the most straightforward method involved tracking the position of the sunrise throughout the year.

Upon settling in one location, early communities could easilly observe that the position of sunrise oscillated to the left and right of a particular landmark, such as a prominent tree or mountain peak. This observation led to the emergence of the concepts of “holy trees” or “holy mountains.” By aligning the sunrise with these landmarks, ancient peoples could effectively predict seasonal changes, imbuing these sites with spiritual significance.

With this knowledge, ancient communities could track the changing seasons no matter where they were. They only needed three simple items: either wooden poles or stones. Initially, these served as temporary markers. But after adjusting their positions for precision, these were often replaced with more significant structures, such as grand monoliths or vital tribal totems.

This led to the recognition of east as a crucial directional point. Consequently, it became a tradition to orient most sacred objects towards the east, reflecting the profound impact of these early practices on spiritual and cultural orientations.

The ancient symbol Triskelion probably hides the same symbolism. It depicts the yearly path of the Sun on the eastern horizon.

The triptych gates – allegory of the Sun’s path

As societies advanced, so did their architectural and symbolic expressions. Myths began to depict the Sun as traversing through the “gates” of the zodiac signs, a concept vividly mirrored in the construction of their sacred sites. Many temples started incorporating grand megalithic entrances on their eastern facades, embodying this celestial journey. This architectural motif, symbolizing the Sun’s passage, is a common thread linking temples from Mesoamerica to Asia, showcasing a shared heritage among some of the world’s earliest civilizations.

Frequently, in the design of a triptych gate, the central gate is constructed taller than its two flanking gates. This architectural choice is symbolic; the heightened middle gate symbolizes the equinoxes – the pivotal days when the Sun aligns perfectly with the east and west horizons. These moments, marking the onset of spring and autumn, split the year into equal portions of light and darkness. Historically, many ancient calendars recognized just the equinoxes as the defining transitions between seasons, underscoring their significance in dividing the year into its light and dark halves.

In Asian tradition, the central gate of a triptych gate was reserved exclusively for use by the emperor or a high priest. This distinction was due to the middle gate’s representation of the equinoxes, days deemed the most sacred of the year. The left gate was associated with the winter solstice, and the right gate with the summer solstice.

The symbolism of the triptych gate extends into Christianity, where many churches and cathedrals feature triple entrances. Even the crucifixion scene aligns with this symbolism, with Jesus positioned centrally, akin to the equinox, and flanked by the two thieves, representing the duality of the seasons—winter and summer, darkness and light, death and life. This arrangement echoes the contrasting themes of penitence and impenitence, mirroring the cyclical nature of time and the eternal balance between opposing forces.

The Middle Way

Perhaps inspired by the same ancient teachings, the Buddha taught that the Middle Way is the path to enlightenment. The Middle Way is not a compromise between extremes, but rather a path that avoids both extremes. Two famous Buddhist quotes state: “The Middle Way is the way to the deathless.” (Dhammapada 273), and “The Middle Way is the path to enlightenment.” (Samyutta Nikaya 56.24).

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1 COMMENT

  1. A very senisible. calm, nonsense-free and convincing explanation of the cult of the triple deity. This Triskelion of the Sun at the Winter and Summer Solstice and at Equinox, was carefully observed in the sky and recorded on the ground with pillars and obelisks everywhere and by beams of sunlight shaped and projected into the central chambers of the great womb-tombs of Ireland a thousand years before the Pyramids of Egypt. These special days of the year defined and determined the planting, harvest and storage of grains, the migratiions of birds and fish, the pregnancy and the birth of animals vital to the survival of entire human communities north of the tropics.

    The theme was so ingrained into human culture and religion that it popped up everywhere – the Holy Trinity, the Triune Goddess, the Three Wise Men from tlhe East, the three crosses on Calvary, the Three Marys at the foot of the Cross, Jesus’ three days in the tomb.

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