Spring Equinox is an odd time of year really. The very name implies that it should be spring and a time of daylight and darkness in balance and in reality neither are the case fro more than a fleeting moment. The actual point of 12 hours daylight and 12 hours darkness is not usually on the actual date of equinox in spite of its name because the equinox is actually an astronomical marker of the point at which the earth’s axis is not tilted away or towards the sun. The underlying axial tilt remains. It is latitude on our planet that determines our length of daylight so while there are days around the astronomical equinox that are very close to 12 hours they vary from place to place so the common understanding of equinox as equal day and night is an approximation.
The other aspect of the name is “spring” and some years sprig seems further away than others at this time of year. Two years ago Scotland had a widespread red alert for snow for the first time in many years just before the spring equinox. Many schools in the central belt of Scotland were closed for three days with various areas suffering from power cuts and being cut off due to snow drifts. This year we’ve had a very wet winter but recent days have finally seen a bit more sunshine. Today is gloriously bright and sunny at the moment if a bit on the cold side.
What about our ancestors? Did they celebrate the spring equinox? There are a couple of ancient monuments that have equinox alignments in the UK and a small number in Ireland so there is a little evidence that the equinoxes were observed in some way by our neolithic ancestors. Our iron age ancestors seemed to have focussed more on other festivals and there’s nothing in the way of ritual survival information connected specifically to the equinox available in either Professor Hutton’s “Stations of the Sun” or F. Marian MacNeill’s “Silver Bough”.
So what do we make of this festival today? I struggle with it. I know many refer to the spring equinox as Ostara and link it to the Germanic spring or dawn goddess Eostre. There’s no evidence to suggest that the spring equinox is the time that those ancestors that would have known more of Eostre would have come together to feast and honour Her. We do have evidence that it would have been some time in the spring but not necessarily at the equinox. Adrian Bott has written a number of pieces of the years published in the Guardian and on his blog about this time of year and in one of the more recent blogs writes:
“Eostur was the fourth full moon of the Anglo-Saxon year (which began with the first new moon after Modranecht, Dec 25th)”
Nothing to do with the spring equinox there. I’m not saying we can’t use the equinox to honour Eostre but I feel strongly that we should be aware that this is a modern development. Likewise using the symbols of eggs and seeds for the equinox is a modern growth of symbols that are associated with the spring generally.
A symbol associated with this time of year that I have only recently learnt about is the Easter Fox. Again this information comes via Adrian Bott and in particular an interview with him carried out by the author Yvonne Aburrow published at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2015/03/move-over-easter-bunny/
“Until the mid-20th Century, according to older literature, it was mainly the Easter Fox who was responsible for the eggs in the Easter tradition. Gradually this was then displaced by the Easter Bunny. A note of 1904 from the Schaumburg area states quite specifically that the eggs were laid not from the Easter Bunny, but the Easter fox. Traditionally, on Holy Saturday the children would prepare a cozy nest of hay and moss for the Easter Fox. They also made sure that the Easter Fox was not disturbed during his visit – for example by shutting up pets for the night. Furthermore, the Easter Fox was described in a Westphalian document of 1910.”
(from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2015/03/move-over-easter-bunny/ question 5)
Adrian goes on to state that there is no evidence that this is a survival from pre-Christian times but a lovely idea to work with anyway.
We each of us have festivals that mean more to us than others and this is one of the festivals I feel least connected to. This year many face to face celebrations are being cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis but there are online options for those that do want to celebrate. I don’t mind if I miss celebrating it although in past years I have usually given the younger kids in the family that I see regularly something seasonal between the spring equinox and Easter.
The spring has long been associated with new beginnings, growth and making new starts for various things. This year I guess it’s also going to be linked to unprecedented change!