As the blossoming Earth speeds her way into the full awakening of new life, spring equinox is when we shake off the shackles of winter and begin to blossom. It is the time of equal day and equal night and this symbolic point of balance has been celebrated by our ancestors since the dawn of time. Spring season epitomises the beginnings or arrival of fresh things and renewal in nature and our spirits. The spring equinox sunrise symbolises the beginning of the light half of the year, with the dark days of winter finally behind us. This year the equinox falls on Friday March 20th at precisely 03.49 GMT.
There are three fertility festivals in spring; Imbolc – first stirrings, Vernal Equinox – life growing and Beltane – the culmination of spring and the advent of summer. Seeds are sown, houses are “spring cleaned” and animals, attuned to the rhythms of nature, start to give birth to their young.
Mad as a March Hare
One of the most delightful sights of spring are hares who apparently engage in boxing matches, a spectacle which has given rise to the expression “Mad as a March Hare” – a saying used by the British for over 600 years. Mainly nocturnal, hares come into their own in spring, with some observers believing the boxing match to be a way for the female to test the male’s strength before mating with him, whilst others postulate she is just fending off the over amorous male attention!
Held in high regard in myth and magic, hares are known to “moon gaze” on the full moon. In more magical times, to see a moon gazing hare was thought to bring growth, abundance, new beginnings and good fortune. The symbol of the moon gazing hare has an almost universal meaning of fertility which dates way back to antiquity. Sacred to the goddess “Eostre”, the hare probably went on to become the Easter Bunny.
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox, this was established in 325CE by the “Council of Nicea”. Created by the Roman Emperor Constantine, the council was responsible for deciding what made it into the “gospels” and for setting dates of important Christian celebrations. Almost all of these celebrations closely coincide with much older, pagan festivities, by adopting their rituals it made it much easier to convert conquered peoples to the new religion and with time the population would be replaced by those who only knew the new tradition.
8th century Christian monk, the Venerable Bede wrote that the name “Easter” is derived from the Anglo Saxon Goddess, Eostre (which incidentally is also the root of the modern word for the female hormone “oestrogen”, needed for optimum fertility). Her feast day was held on the first full moon after the vernal equinox and she is the goddess of the spring, fertility and the dawn bringing renewal and rebirth from the death of winter. Germanic tribes knew her as “Ostara” and despite a few differences, the two do seem to be interchangeable. The Saxons called the month of April “Eostur Monath” with the entire month being dedicated to Eostre, they celebrated with riotous fertility festivals commemorating the goddess of fertility. Her totem animal is the hare and her fertility symbol is the egg. A charming story associated with Eostre is that she found a wounded bird and, knowing that winter was approaching, she transformed it into a hare so that it might survive the bitter cold. Not quite transformed, the hare discovered it could lay eggs and decorated them each spring as gifts for the goddess, providing yet more evidence supporting the hare's transformation into the Easter Bunny.
Eggs are one of the most ancient symbols associated with fertility and renewed life, with the custom of colouring and eating eggs during the spring festival stretching way back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians. In Europe in pre-Christian times, traditionally at the beginning of spring, eggs were brightly decorated and offered as gifts to bring fertility and prosperity in the coming year.
Hot cross buns were baked as offerings in Saxon times to the goddess Eostre. It appears that the “cross” on the top was actually meant to symbolise the Celtic cross or the division of the Wheel of the Year into its respective quarters. They also make an appearance in the Old Testament with the Israelites baking sweet buns with an X on them as offerings for a “false idol”. This understandably sent the early churchmen into a frenzy - they desperately tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at springtime. In the end, in the face of defiant, cake baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead, thus turning it into the hot cross bun so popular at Easter today.
One of the most ancient of religions on the British Isles, the Druid tradition refers to the spring equinox as "Alban Eilir". Druidry sees life in all living things, plants and trees are not just inanimate greenery but living things with consciousness - how does a plant know when to grow? It can't see a calendar or tell the time, yet it knows when to grow meaning it must have senses and consciousness. It is the return of life to the Earth that is celebrated at Alban Eilir, the time of balance. Interestingly, the symbol of Alban Eilir is the Druids Egg, given as an equinox gift for millenia, this egg was also protected by the hare.
Unleash the Spring Magic!
It is worth bearing in mind that, in their purest form, all the seasonal rituals and celebrations were performed to align with the energy of that season. Alongside pagans who celebrate the turning of the wheel of nature, ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians also have a rich history of celebrating the passing of the seasons in very similar ways, worshipping the same gods and goddesses with the only differences being in their names.
Wheel of the Year festivals offer us an opportunity to reconnect with the Earth and to align ourselves with the energy of the season. Here are some ideas as to what we can do as individuals to honour the passing of this coming spring equinox.
Celebrate with a Spring Feast
Linking your meals with the seasons is a great way to attune with nature. Foods which tune in with this day are; eggs, first fruits of the season, seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin and sesame, pine nuts and leafy green vegetables to name but a few. Simnel cake and more famously hot cross buns are all traditional at this time of year. Here’s a couple of seasonal recipes with a vegan twist to get you started:
Spring Ceremonies and Rituals
Nowadays the word "magic" tends to conjour up pictures of cauldrons and spell casting, however its etymology takes us back to the Proto-Indo-European word "magh", which simply means "to be able".
Rituals performed with conscious, focussed attention are a lovely way to bring some magic into your life. In this season of new beginnings, projects and new growth, now is the time to put into action any plans or intentions you may have set at Imbolc.
Maybe you feel like a change? Well this is the perfect time of year to “plant a seed of change” in your life. Make an altar or just allocate a special place in your home to acknowledge and welcome the energy of spring – fill it with spring flowers such as daffodils, bluebells and blossom and burn some special equinox incense. If you have any specific wishes for the coming season then write them down, include symbols, pictures and crystals then place them on your alter or in the special spring area. Speak your intention, we underestimate the power of words. Casting a "spell" is saying the words or writing them down with focussed intent - we "spell" words. This is the true origin of spell casting, it is something we all do every day without even realising it!
Spring Equinox Incense Recipe:
½ Part Nutmeg
½ Part Violet Flowers
Blend together and focus on what you would like to manifest in your life this year.
Oils for the season include; Cedarwood, Geranium, Lavender, Violet, Rosemary and Chamomile – blend with a carrier oil and treat yourself to a ritual, cleansing bath – spring is all about clearing out the clutter, psychologically as well as physically.
Any equinox or solstice can be celebrated simply by being present for the sunrise or sunset on this special day. Creating your own ceremonies with friends and family or just being present in nature can all help us feel a connection to the equinox energy. However you decide to celebrate, we wish you a blessed equinox and a very happy Easter!
Oh, Spring is surely coming,
Her couriers fill the air;
Each morn are new arrivals,
Each night her ways prepare;
I scent her fragrant garments,
Her foot is on the stair.
~John Burroughs, “A March Glee”