Thursday, March 19, 2009

SPRING EQUINOX



I couldn't believe the dozens and dozens of people who landed on my blog Tuesday, looking for the phrase "Beannachtai La Fheile Padraic Duit", which is Gaelic for "Happy St. Patrick's Day to You." They found it on a post I wrote on St. Patrick's Day two years ago.

Since then, however, I have become ambivalent about devoting a day to the man who drove the Druids out of Ireland. That's right, the Druids - not snakes, which never existed in Ireland. No, snakes are a mere symbol for the Druids and their heathen Celtic goddesses. Therefore, there was no St. Patrick's Day post from me this year. But I will say a belated but heartfelt "Slainte" to all my Irish brothers and sisters.

"OSTARA" by Karen Bagnard

And, today I'm taking a break from "All Things Irish" to discuss a day sacred to ancient peoples, including the Celts. It was one of their eight holidays of the solar wheel of the year. I'm talking about the vernal - or spring - equinox, which begins at 6:44 a.m. my time tomorrow.

The Druids called this first day of spring Alban Eiler, which means, "Light of the Earth. " They considered it a rare and magical time, being one of the two days in the year that night and day are in balance. Equinoxes and solstices alike were holy times of transition for the ancient Celts, a celebration of the miraculous balance of nature and life cycles of renewal.

This is the time when the young sun god celebrates a sacred marriage with the young maiden goddess. We celebrate the return of the spring goddess from her long season of dormant sleep.



"OSTARA" by Goddess Cards

The spring equinox is the mid-point of the waxing year. The spark of light that was born at the winter solstice has reached maturity. Tomorrow the light and dark are equal; from tomorrow forward, the days grow longer than the nights. We have survived another winter and are once more surrounded by the delights of spring.
Well, some of you are. Here in North Dakota, we are just barely entering spring. Finally, the massive snowdrifts are receding, we catch glimpses of lawn here and there and the geese are honking away as they fly North (what a beautiful sound). It will be in the 50s today and over the weekend, but a storm with heavy wet snow is forecast for early next week.

I have no photos of beautiful spring flowers or budding leaves to show you. What I do have to share are these words and the accompanying artists' interpretations of Eostre or Ostara.

"OSTARA" by Rebecca Guay
Equinox means equal night and vernal comes from the Latin word for bloom. The earth awakens, new life emerges, sap rises, buds shoot and spring flowers are celebrated as gifts from nature. Spring returns and rejuvenates our own life force.
It is a time for celebrating the greening of the earth, and crops are typically sown at this time. For the ancients, it was the time of the festivals of the pagan goddess Ostara (Germanic) or Eostre (Saxon). She was the goddess of fertility and spring, and also the goddess of dawn.


"OSTARA BLESSINGS" by Jennifer Galasso


Some believe that this is where we get the word "Easter". Although they sometimes occur at about the same time, Ostara and Easter usually don't coincide, because Ostara is calculated by the sun, and Easter is calculated by the moon. Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal eqinox.

Since the spring equinox is a time to celebrate fertility, and many cultures see eggs as a symbol of new life or the home of the soul, decorated eggs have been part of spring celebrations for centuries.

The egg symbolized the goddess Eostre's wholeness and fertility. (The female hormone estrogen is named after her.) The golden yolk represents the sun god; its white shell is seen as the white goddess. Eggs were offered to the earth to ensure a fecund future harvest.
"EOSTRE" by Hrana Janto

Now, the decorated egg, egg rolling and egg hunts that originated from pagan fertility rites are ubiquitous symbols of Christian Easter celebrations. Once again - as with Yule - a pagan celebration has been "stolen" and Christianized.
In addition to eggs, the hare is also a powerful symbol of Eostre. The hare was regarded as the sacred animal of the goddess, because of its fertility and activity at this time. Goddesses were once believed to shape-shift into hares. But nowadays the once powerful and magical hare has been reduced to the fluffy, cute Easter bunny.


"OSTARA'S MAIDEN" by Michele Lee Phelan

One delightful legend associated with Eostre was that she found an injured bird on the ground one winter. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But "the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare but retained the ability to lay eggs. The hare would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre."

Ostara or Eostre is most often seen as an older maiden or young mother figure, clothed all in white.

"AT THE VERNAL EQUINOX" by Wendy Andrew

Bonfires were a frequent marker of the spring equinox. Jumping the fire sometimes occurred although more often this was seen during Beltane (May 1). An old custom was to light a sun-wheel or Catherine Wheel. A wooden wheel was rolled to the top of a high hill, lit on fire and then rolled down into the village and to the fields. This symbolized bringing the warmth and energy of the Sun to the fields for first spring plowing and planting.



"OSTARA" by Mickie Mueller

The vernal equinox is known as the day of equilibrium. Now is a good time to consider the balance of our lives - work, play and relationships. Perhaps for you it will be a day of quiet reflection and contemplation. Or, if you prefer, you could conduct an equinox ritual.

The following is a spring equinox ritual that is appropriate for Christians and Pagans alike. Stand outdoors at sunrise, forming a circle with those you love. Put a small tree (representing "the tree of life") or a shrub in the center of your circle, or stand around a living tree. Meditate silently together with a sense of awe and wonder about the teeming abundance of life God has created.
Tie festive ribbons or attach brightly colored pieces of paper onto the tree. As you do so, state your intention for yourself or a loved one with respect to personal growth or spiritual renewal. End with a prayer of thanksgiving for the miracle that is the Continuity of Life, and ask that everyone around you might have a Bright and Blessed Spring.


"ARTHA" by Caroline Gully-Lir

14 comments:

Patty said...

What a beautiful post. Ostara blessings to you my friend!

Piecefulafternoon said...

Lovely post - I like the way you think. And such beautiful art. I like the way you link now to the past - it was a delightful post.

Bimbimbie said...

Wishing you a beautiful start to your Spring and lets hope the Light of the Earth brings with it an end to your snow*!*

Janet said...

You are amazing!! Have I told you that before?! These posts you've been doing are so full of info and the most beautiful artwork....you must spend hours doing research. Thank you for all you do for us.

Rowan said...

Superb post Julie - I agree with you about St Patrick by the way. I think that Easter does come from Eostre even though the dates are slightly adrift - another example of a pagan festival being Christianized I'm quite sure. Hope you have a wonderful Spring and that you have all those marvellous signs of Spring growth will soon be with you.

Margaret's Ramblings said...

ANother beautiful post Julie. I never knew that it was the Druids and not the snakes that were driven out. Well I sort of knew but had never put the two together.

I for one am so pleased to see the Spring Equinox, this past winter has seemed unusually long.

Margaret

Anonymous said...

Happy First Day of Spring! I'm enjoying your choice of images, as always. Sorry to hear you're getting more snow! Soon those early spring flowers will appear for you, too.

gemma said...

Hope your first day of Alban Eiler was magical.It really is a time to rejoice. Yes...it makes sense that Easter is related to Ostara and Eostre. Christianity used many celtic words/symbols making it easier to take over. Love all the info you have here re; how the Easter Bunny/eggs are related to the ancients.

HaveFaith said...

Happy Spring! I'm glad to see that you have seen a robin because I was beginning to think that maybe it would never get warm enough in the "north country" for our robins to fly north for the summer. Most of them are still here and it is kind of late for them to be hanging around. We usually start looking for the hummingbirds to come back from Brazil just about the time the robins start leaving for the north. Everything seems a little late this year. So much for global warming.

Leanne said...

blessings of the season to you Julie,it doesnt matter whether you are in snow or spring blossom, i wish you a lovely springtime

leanne x

lila said...

A wonderful post! I love reading about the Equinox and ancient life which was so in tune with nature!

Sassy said...

here in Australia we are celebrating Ostara next week and I was thrilled to come across your blog today, will be following you for sure :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. I do so love Spring.
Colleen K. Dodt
Author
The Essential Oils Book

Harvest Muse said...

Looking forward to more Magickal presentations; this was lovely.