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Spring Equinox tradition and lore

The Spring Equinox or vernal equinox occurs between 20 - 22 March. The word equinox is Latin for "equal night". It is also known as Ostara, Eostre or by its Welsh name, Alban Eiler, "the light on the earth". It is a time when day and night are of equal length, and the sun rises and sets due east and west respectively. In secular society, the spring equinox marks the first days of spring, but as we've seen above, Imbolc is actually when the first signs appear, at least in Britain.

 The Christian holy day of Easter sometimes falls near this time, though it is a moveable feast with rather Pagan overtones (at least in the timing of it), for it falls on the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. Many are already aware of the symbols of this time of year, the rabbits and bunnies and eggs that abound, mostly in chocolate or sweetie form. Eggs and hares are common symbols in much of Western Paganism, and indeed our Celtic ancestors held hares in high regard, for it was unlawful to kill a hare, apart from at the Spring Equinox, when they could be killed and eaten to share in their blessings and fertility through sympathetic magic. [1] Hens might begin laying again at this time, after a period of dormancy over the winter. If there is insufficient light, many breeds lay less or not at all, and also may stop in very cold weather. With the return of the longer days and warmth from the sun, an increase in egg production would naturally occur, and would be celebrated. The Druid's Egg, attested to by the Roman writer Pliny, was said to be a ball of twisted snakes, however, many modern Druids hold that it was more likely to be an egg-shaped stone talisman carried and used by the Druids for magic and ritual. [2]

There are many Neolithic sites connected to both the Spring and Autumn Equinox. Perhaps the most famous of all is West Kennett Longbarrow, near Avebury stone circle and considered park of the Avebury complex which also includes Silbury Hill. The sun illuminates an inner chamber during the equinoxes, similar to Newgrange in Ireland during the Winter Solstice. At Silbury Hill, from a certain vantage point the sun actually rolls up the side of the hill and grows in size when it rises on the Spring Equinox. In Loughcrew, Ireland the illumination of the barrow is even more spectacular, for it only lights up specific symbols on the walls and must have taken a great deal of time and calculation to create such a precise phenomenon. Stonehenge also has an equinox alignment where the sun rises directly between two stones; one of many alignments.

The constellation Orion, which strides boldly across the sky during the winter months, is now close to the horizon and will disappear for the summer months to come. Instead of the Hunter, we have the Herdsman appearing from the constellation Boötes the Herdsman, which reflects the times and tides of our Celtic ancestors, when thoughts turned now to more agricultural matters as the earth warms up and makes ready for the lush pastures needed for cattle grazing. The cattle would be moved at Beltane, the next festival, which signalled the start of the summer season.

Where I live on the coast of the North Sea, this is the time when the grey seals and common seals come to fish and cavort among the waves near the shingle beach by my home. They have bred in the autumn, and raised their young who now play among the adults close to the shore, investigating new areas.  They are extremely curious, and are a joy to behold. It is also a time to view the hares "boxing" in the fields and hedgerows. This spectacle was once thought to be two males fighting for a female's attention, but which now is thought to be a female fending off an overly amorous male!

One equinox tradition is to try to balance an egg on its end, said to only be achievable at this special time. I've not managed this one yet! Eggs are hard-boiled and painted, and left to find on Easter Egg Hunts (now replaced with sugary treats instead). Sometimes raw eggs are pricked on both ends and the insides blown out through the opposite hole, hollowing out the egg before painting and then hung on tree branches. Boiling the eggshells in onion skins creates a lovely mottled yellow colour. Egg-rolling or pace-egging is another tradition at this time of year in the UK, where eggs are rolled down steep hills and then given to egg-pacers, brightly costumed individuals parading and singing traditional festival-related songs and performing mumming plays. Many Morris Dancers come out of winter hibernation at this time, and can be seen in villages all around the countryside, honouring the season through the summer months.

This is the month when all the yellow flowers seem to bloom at once. The daffodils are everywhere, and the forsythia reflects the growing sunlight in gardens all across the country. Where Imbolc has many white flowers, now the yellow of crocuses and lesser celandine, primroses and the first dandelions are appearing. It is also when nettles start to come back, which provide a very nutritious soup that is absolutely delicious at this time of year.

The Spring Equinox is a time to celebrate the tide of Spring, the balance point between day and night, both outside in nature and within our own souls.

[1] Forest, Danu The Magical Year: Seasons Celebrations to Honour Nature's Ever-Turning Wheel, 2016,Watkins

[2] Ibid.

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch, author and teacher. She has written several books on Druidry including the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. She has also written countless articles for Pagan magazines and websites, and spoken at conferences, fairs, festivals and more. Joanna is the co-founder of Druid College UK, which offers a three-year training programme, and she is also the director of her own dance company. She has just launched an introductory online correspondence course on Druidry, together with Robin Herne.