By J.A. Doyle, the Wizard of Grand
In 2013, the Vernal Equinox will take place on March 20th
The word “Equinox” comes from the Latin words meaning “equal-night.” On two days a year, in the Spring and in the Autumn, we experience near-equal times of day and night. The Spring Equinox is the astrological New Year, when the Sun enters the sign of Ares. In astrology, the sign of Aries the Ram is ruled by the Red Planet, called Mars by the Romans and Ares by the Greeks. The month of March was named so by the Romans in honor of Mars, and they held great festivals for Mars during this time. In Ancient Mesopotamia, the Babylonians celebrated their New Year at the New Moon after the Spring Equinox in celebration of the Epic of Creation and the triumph of the God Marduk over the Dragon-Goddess Tiamat. The Israelites adopted the Babylonian calender and also celebrated the Spring Equinox as their New Year, eventually holding “Pesach,” or Passover, in honor of the Exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery.
During the 2nd-Century, the early Christian Church rendered “Pesach” into the Greek “Pascha” and celebrated the Resurrection of Christ during this time. As Christianity spread into Northern Europe, they found the Germanic Pagans celebrating the “Eostarmonath”, first attested to by the 8th-Century monk, Bede the Venerable. Bede claims that the Pagans had honored the Spring and dawn goddess Eostar during this month, and that this practice had died out by his lifetime but the people still call the “Paschal season” by the old name. So, we see now how “Passover” became “Easter.”
The festival of Easter retained many older Pagan symbols and traditions. Legends of Slain and Resurrected Gods or Heroes were widespread in Antiquity, and many of their rituals were celebrated around the Spring Equinox. Even today, Easter is determined by a Lunar reckoning, being observed at the Sunday after the Full Moon that falls after the Spring Equinox. The March Hare, or “Easter Bunny,” was associated with copious fertility and the Spring Equinox in Antiquity, also thought to be a hermaphrodite by some ancient writers. Easter ceremonies also often include great fires (the zodiacal sign of Ares is elementally associated with Fire), and scapegoating rituals meant to cleanse the community of sin. Sometimes the two are combined, such as in the burning of an effigy of Judas Iscariot, practiced by many Mediterranean and South American communities.
Eggs, in particular, have been associated with the Spring Equinox throughout history. Eggs are a symbol of new life, fertility, and the cycle of life. The Seder plate of Passover includes an egg and Early Christians would have had knowledge of, if not participation in, this. Also, because of the food-restrictions during Lent in the Middle Ages, Easter-tide was when eggs could be reintroduced to the diet. Mesopotamian and Mediterranean Christians dyed eggs red to symbolize the blood shed from Christ, and developed an egg-cracking ritual wherein the participants tap eggs together and whoever had an egg that remains intact at the end receives good luck. A popular folk tradition, particularly in North America, is the balancing of an egg on it’s tip. While may claim it can only be done on the two Equinox days, I must admit I have seen it done at other times. I prefer to think that to balance an egg on the Equinox is to only invite good luck and balance into one’s life, or at least a sense of accomplishment.
A few days before the Equinox, the Feast of Saint Patrick is celebrated on March 17th. Commonly associated with the color green, shamrocks, and great feasting, St. Patrick’s Day has become a modern expression of an ancient desire to celebrate the Spring (as well as a brief break from Lenten restrictions). According to legend, St. Patrick was sent by Rome to Ireland to spread Christianity. He allegedly used the shamrock with its three-leaves to explain the nature of the Holy Trinity to the Irish Pagans. The legend of St. Patrick chasing serpents from the Emerald Isle is an allegory of his conversion of Druidic peoples. Through this association with serpents St. Patrick was, through syncretism, identified the Vodun creator spirit and father of the loa, Damballah Wedo, the white serpent. His feast is celebrated in Haiti and New Orleans on March 17th. Damballah is also said to hold the Cosmic Egg that contains all of Creation in his mouth. Serpents, in general, are also symbols of resurrection and rebirth because of their shedding. Interestingly enough, the earliest celebration of the Spring Equinox by the Babylonians focused on the slaying of a serpent-like Goddess and the creation of the World from her corpse. The connection of serpents and the arrival of Spring is an ancient conception.
What we see throughout history is a celebration of resurrection, new life, and fertility. Observances to mark these celebrations are made by the position of the Sun, Moon, and stars, as well as by the warming of the air and the return of green to the Earth. Humans have performed rituals throughout history in honor of the Slain and Resurrected, parallel to the increasing sunlight of early Spring. Fires are made heaping up to the skies, images representing what we wish to cast off are immolated with the promise of new growth. In celebrating the Spring Equinox, with symbols of eggs, hares, serpents, and divine figures victorious over Death, we align with the powers that these symbols hold, and reaffirm our connection to the cycles of Nature and the omnipresence of God. It is a time to allow ourselves, like Nature, to rise up towards the Light of the Sun and begin to grow anew. It is time to celebrate the Re-Creation of the World.