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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An Eclipsed Equinox

This weekend marks Ostara, the time of the Spring Equinox when all comes into balance for a very brief period before tipping over into Summer. Night and Day, cold and warm, closed and open, hibernating and active. And of course the Ostara hare lays its cosmic eggs and fertility is everywhere. I often feel it as a pivotal moment between Winter and Spring – even though Spring might have started at Imbolc, with occasional glimpses earlier, now is the time when I can think about sewing seeds in the garden.

However this year was totally different, with a solar eclipse on the same day. It was as if the Earth anticipated the event, with the birds falling silent before the Moon even moved in front of the Sun. First a small bite, as the Moon moved between us and the Sun, forcing the Sun to follow the Moon’s usual path. I watched as the Sun waned from its full state not to Gibbous but more like a cookie with a bite out of it. Then the more familiar crescent shape, which diminished to a very thin line. Then as the Moon continued to pass above the Sun the crescent became a hammock, then a smile. Beautiful. Finally as the Moon moved off, the Sun waxed to its normal full state again. An entire cycle of death and regrowth in under two hours. I watched first through a welding mask while the skies were clear, then as the clouds thickened, there was sufficient filtering to watch it through plain glass – which felt more special as I was no longer cut off from it. The clouds gradually became so dense as to be almost opaque so I was unable to see the final moments, but by then the power had been released. Normal life resumed, except that the day felt charged, brighter, less ordinary than before. And definitely less balanced!

So instead of a gentle balancing and breathing out as energies begin their rising back out of the earth, I felt a tremendous burst of potential released as the Sun and Moon came into line and their individual powers combined to produce something greater than the sum of the parts. It was exciting, and I was full of plans for the day, the month, the year, the future.

Ostara was celebrated on Saturday, when ‘normal service resumed’ and the birds were back at the feeder again. But for me, there was another difference – that may have been crystallised by the eclipse – which relates to a post I wrote four weeks ago on Finding the Excitement. Because the next day I was completely unable to lie in bed listening to the radio or reading a book while waiting for M to wake up and want her morning feed, before we both joined the day in our usual slow way.

I have been a slow riser all my life … and existing on six hours sleep because M is hungry and wakes up every two or three hours means I generally take as long in the mornings as I can get away with. But since my previous post I have continued to approach each day with excitement and wonder about what it may hold. When I think how up until four years ago I was in and out of hospital, with no energy, drugs in my arms, unenthusiastic to get out of bed ever, I’m just amazed at how my life has turned around. And if I can do it, anyone can. One small step at a time.