Happy Equinox

This year I have been asked to write a series of articles about the various Pagan festivals for a non-pagan audience, so I have been looking at the ‘basics’ of what is common to each festival rather than just relying on my own personal eclectic practices. Needless to say my online searches have turned up many short introductory articles, most of which repeat the same information, most of which is totally familiar. But just a few give me something that I didn’t know before, and in the case of the Spring Equinox, some of what I thought I ‘knew’ has proved to be just a little different.

1. I always had the impression that this festival and its September equivalent were less celebrated and therefore less important than the other sabbats.
However, several stone circles including Stonehenge and various circles in Derbyshire where I am getting to know them have alignments to the sunrise or sunset on this day. They wouldn’t have bothered if they weren’t interested!
I also suspect that the majority of celebrations were related to the farming year – it is always the time when I start my seed sowing, and it always feels entirely appropriate to start it with a ceremony.

2. It comes in the middle of the Pagan year.
Well it does if the year starts at the Autumn Equinox or at Samhain, but actually the spring equinox comes at the start of the modern Persian year, the old European year (on March 25th), the astrological year… The Romans also celebrated new year in March before they created January and February. Of those who didn’t, the Greeks celebrated at the winter solstice, and the Egyptians and Phoenicians started their year at the Autumn Equinox.

3. The name Ostara is used for this festival, the German equivalent of Eostre.
First there is the confusing claim that Eostre was only mentioned by Bede and nowhere else so he probably made her up… Given that Bede was pretty good on his knowledge on every other subject, I don’t see why he shouldn’t have known about the local Goddess where he lived! Evidence on many Celtic and Anglo-Saxon deities is pretty scanty at times, but there are always clues for those that wish to see them.
But, and this is a big but for me, I then read that Eostre’s day was the first full moon after the equinox, not the equinox itself. Given that Eostre is concerned with hares and eggs, this makes perfect sense that the full moon would be relevant, and also explains why Easter is the first Sunday after Eostre’s day. The only trouble is I shall no longer feel right celebrating eggs at the equinox, I will want to wait for the full moon. And it also means that Eostre (and if they are equivalent Goddesses, Ostara) had nothing to do with the Equinox – giving me a whole new set of challenges, and hopefully journeys of discovery, for next year.
Just to confuse things further, there are also those who claim Easter was named for Ishtar who, while still being a Spring Goddess, has a whole different mythology associated with her…

4. Egg hunts are just a fun thing for children to do.
Eggs have been apparently been decorated on every continent, the oldest yet discovered being South African and 60,000 years old. The ancient Egyptians decorated eggs. Almost every European country as well as several Asian and American ones have their own special egg traditions. Eggs can be cooked or blown, scratched, carved, coloured in many different ways, and then displayed in some form (often hung in a tree or by a well) or offered to another. They are not restricted to a particular day either; any time from early spring to the summer solstice seems to have been recognised in this way. But in Britain, eggs were apparently buried by Celtic Druids after being dyed red in order to encourage the life force to return to the Earth for new planting. More sinisterly if true, during difficult times in Europe eggs were hidden to avoid it being known that offerings were being made to the Goddess and children were apparently paid on finding and reporting these eggs. Hiding eggs so that they may be hunted for ‘fun’ seems to have started in England by the 1800s.

Oddly I found an egg buried nearly a foot deep in my garden a month or so ago when planting a small tree. Probably a duck egg, white and quite large, and heavy as if there was an egg inside it. Having absolutely no idea where it came from or what to do with it (we have lived here for 19 years and have never kept ducks) I just left it on the surface of the soil to see what would happen. A week later it was still there, but after another week I saw its broken shell, and it was now definitely empty. Who or what ate it, and what condition or age it was, I have no idea.

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Butterflies

I have always loved butterflies, and as a child had a chart on my wall to learn the most common ones. I can remember using Swallowtails as an art subject at least twice, being to me the most fascinating of all the native species, not least the fact that they were quite rare; I have still never seen one in the wild. (Being in the right part of the country at the right time of year would help!) When it came to a subject for a test lino cut it was an obvious choice, although followed closely by the Comma which I am glad to say I see quite often, and even once designed for stained glass.

Swallowtail Butterfly linoprint

Swallowtail Butterfly linoprint


So having said a few months ago that I wanted to learn how to do lino printing, what you have here is the beginnings of me learning a new craft.

Each stage presented its own challenges – marking out the design, cutting the lino, and then the actual printing which even with modern, environmental friendly inks that can be cleaned with soap and water, was still a messy business. Keeping M’s hands from touching was also challenging! If I was doing this same design again there are things I would change – such as making the ‘shaded’ areas a little less black, and giving more attention to the background, as well as learning about how much ink to put on and how hard to press or burnish each print. I’m sure a good teacher would help me get there quicker, but given I do not have the freedom to take lessons right now; to do it at all I regard as a success. And hopefully I will improve with practice and experience. It won’t be long before M is doing her own designs alongside mine…

I love the fact that linoleum (as it is properly called) is made from just wood dust, pine resin, limestone and linseed oil with a jute backing, so about as environmentally-friendly and sustainable a product as possible. Non-allergenic, non-toxic, non-smelly, biodegradable… Since I also want to make some prints of trees, it seems a very appropriate material to use, and better than either modern plasticy alternatives or imported Asian plywood which seem to be recommended for relief printing. However I have some more exploring to do regarding the paper I use – the trees not being in favour of me encouraging their destruction in any way!

Butterflies sometimes show up when I am journeying, flitting about the place reminding me to enjoy the here and now. They can often signify change coming – after all it is a creature of huge personal transformation – but the change is always graceful and gentle. Perfectly within my capabilities. Using their cycles can be helpful, seeing whether I am at the caterpillar stage of eating voraciously, devouring all the knowledge I can find; the cocoon stage where I take time to digest the new ideas; transformation when the whole DNA changes from a caterpillar to that of a butterfly, and the new ideas take on a life of their own; the emergence into beauty and light of a new form taking to the air, or in this case the ether of the internet; and finally laying the new eggs that will start the cycle again.

Spiritually the change butterfly brings is one of personal growth, transforming into our true selves in all our glory. It dances with joy, with lightness and colour. This butterfly pictured above is at the start of a process. It is black and white, half formed, but ready to lay the eggs for what will follow. I look forward to seeing where it will take me.