Today is the spring equinox, the day when light and dark hangs in the balance (twelve hours of each)—before the sun grows ascendant over the moon as it rises to its zenith on the summer solstice. Now, it’s been a long, gray winter here where I live, so I’m all for for celebrating! The longer days will start to bring the barren earth into bloom, so it’s no wonder that for centuries, people of all cultures have celebrated the moment.
Spring is, of course, the season symbolizing rebirth—the earth comes to life again after the “death” of winter, with plants blossoming anew and trees unfurling fresh leaves. So it’s no wonder that fertility is also an elemental theme in how mankind welcomes the season.
In ancient Rome, the goddess Cybele had a consort named Attis who died and came back to life each year around the vernal equinox, and the Germanic tribes paid homage to Ostara, an earth goddess who mated with a fertility god every year in the spring and gave birth nine months later—around the winter solstice.
The ancient Mayans were also attuned to the cycle of the seasons. At the El Castillo, a grand ceremonial temple in present-day Mexico, its pyramid shape was designed for the spring equinox to cast a certain pattern of shadows on its stepped face, creating the illusion of a descending diamond-backed snake. Their festival was called the Return of the Sun Serpent.
Ancient Britain had its own interesting myth regarding the spring equinox, which was first recoded by the Venerable Bede, a famous English monk at the monastery of St. Peter in Northumbria. The monastery possessed a famous library and Bede won acclaim as an author and scholar—his Ecclesiastical History of the English People earned him the moniker of the father of English history.
His writings speak of Eostre, a Saxon goddess who, like Ostara, was celebrated in springtime fertility rites. Some say the term “Easter” derives from her name because of one of the legends surrounding her. Tradition has it that she found a wounded bird in winter, and to save it she transformed it into a hare. However, it retained the ability to lay eggs and each spring would leave her decorated eggs as a gift of thanks for its life. (What—no chocolate truffle eggs!) Eggs, seeds—it’s no wonder that fertility was a elemental part of the spring equinox, for the lengthening days were a signal to start planting the new crops.
These days, modern life has left most of us much less attuned to the earth’s seasonal cycles. As we rush around our brightly lit, bustling town and cities, how many of us would notice that today is equally balanced between dark and light? I confess, I wouldn’t—yes, I’m aware the days are slowly getting longer, but I’m not sure I’d be able to see the subtle nuances of nature that the ancients did, for my existence isn’t so elementally tied to the earth.
But I am very appreciative when the calendar tells me Spring is officially here!
How about you? Do you harken in spring with any special little rites? And as this is also the month that celebrates rebirth and renewal in a variety of religions, do you have any special traditions in your family for the upcoming holidays? At my house, my mother loved creating elaborate Easter egg hunts in the woods behind our house. Along with chocolate goodies, there were "name" eggs hidden in stone walls or trees, and a grand Golden Egg—whoever found that got a special prize. Over the years it became famous with our school friends—even after college, we them caging for invitations (it got to be quite funny to see a pack of twenty-something with easter baskets frothing at the mouth for the starting signal to go pelting into the woods.