The Vernal Equinox - Spring
As the newly reborn sun races across the sky, the days become longer, the air warmer and, once again, life begins to return to the land. Twice a year, day and night become equal in length.
To the elders of the Olde Way, these times, equinoxes, were markers in which seeds would be planted and then harvested. The first of these, the Spring or Vernal Equinox occurs on or about March 21st.
The ancient goddess, Eostre, a Saxon deity who marked not only the passage of time but also symbolized new life and fertility, was the key symbol of this celebration which was also known as Ostara. Legend has it that the goddess was saved by a bird whose wings had become frozen by the cold of winter.
This process turned the bird into a hare. Yet this was no ordinary cottontail; this long-eared rabbit could also lay eggs!
The main symbols for Easter are the egg, for new life or beginnings, and the rabbit/hare, for fertility.
The Vernal Equinox is a time of renewal, both in Nature and in the Home. More than just physical activity, “spring cleaning” removes any negative energy accumulated over the dark winter months and prepares the home for the positive growing energy of spring and summer.
Celebrating the Vernal Equinox
While the Vernal Equinox was an important point of passage in the year, the actual method of marking the festival varied from village to village and people to people. Rituals and invocations for abundance in the new crops being planted would often be held during the new moon closest to the Equinox (traditionally a good time to plant). In some places this was also the time when promises were made between lovers for the Handfasting Ceremony that would come at Midsummer. In a very real sense the ceremony was an expression of hope and trust in the new lives that would blossom in the warmth of summer.
Even the latter day celebration (comparatively speaking) of Easter acknowledged the significance of the Vernal Equinox. The Council of Nice decreed in 325 A.D. that “Easter was to fall upon the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox.”
This time of equality between day and night has been, and continues to be, a timekeeper, marking our passage from darkness and cold to warmth and light.
Relationship to Easter
As Christianity spread across Europe and Britain, these older symbols became incorporated into the new faith’s holiday of Easter; even the name seems to have been a variant of the Goddess whose festival was originally celebrated with the arrival of spring. The old rites honoring the planting of new seeds, the fertility of the land and its people, and the hope of the new life arising in the world were replaced by solemn displays commemorating Christ and Christian beliefs.