Second High Day: Spring Equinox

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Spring Equinox occurs around 20/21 March and marks the point when day and night are of equal length. The word equinox comes from the Latin for “equal night”. From this day on, the days will be longer than the nights, making the Equinox the start of the light half of the year.

Astronomically, the Equinox occurs when the plane of Earth’s equator passes the centre of the Sun. At this moment, the Earth’s axis neither inclines towards nor away from the Sun, causing day and night to be exactly equal.

Equinoxes. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Equinoxes. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Equinox can be seen as the start of Spring, and signs of the new season are all around. Flowers are blooming, trees bursting into leaf and birds are singing louder to attract a mate. In many Pagan traditions, the Spring Equinox is celebrated as a festival of new life. Higginbotham states that “most of the Spring Equinox traditions that we observe today relate to fertility and renewal of the life force. The most familiar is the colouring of eggs”. Eggs are an ancient symbol of life, and their traditional meaning has been co-opted into the Christian celebration of Easter.

In some Druid traditions, the Spring Equinox is known as Alban Eiler, the Light of the Earth, while many Pagans refer to it as Ostara. This name, according to Bonewits, comes from the Germanic goddess, Eostre (also the source of the name Easter). This name is attested to by the monastic historian Bede, but does not appear in other sources. Hutton writes that Eostre may have been “a Germanic dawn-deity who was venerated, appropriately, at this season of opening and new beginnings”. It may also be the case, however that the name simply referred to the month itself.

Solar Eclipse. Image from The Guardian

Solar Eclipse. Image from The Guardian

This year, the Spring Equinox coincides with a Solar Eclipse, where the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and blocks (occults) the Sun. It was too cloudy where I am to see the Eclipse, but it did go noticeably darker and the birds fell silent. The combination of Equinox and Eclipse would no doubt be seen as significant, and auspicious, by ancient Pagans.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Bonewits, Isaac. Bonewits’s essential guide to Druidism. New York: Citadel, 2006.

Higginbotham, Joyce and River. Paganism: an introduction to earth-centered religions. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2008.

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the sun: a history of the ritual year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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