The spring equinox

Satanic and Neo-Nazi groups “celebrate” the equinoxes and solstices. Knowing some of the background may help makes sense of what they did at those times — not that anything they did ever makes sense.

The spring equinox (fall equinox in the Southern hemisphere) is when the sun passes over the equator, so that days and nights are of equal length. This year it occurs March 20 at exactly 1:14 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time.

Across European cultures, the equinox is associated with spring, with the end of the dark days of winter and the sprouting of the seeds that will bring the fall harvests. Each culture, though, had its own slant on spring.

In Greece, Dionysos, son of Zeus, was the god of plants He showed men how to grow grapes and make wine; this was not entirely a benevolent gift, though. Drinking too much made people mad, crazed; they were taken over by Dionysos and lost their own personalities. (Sometimes they killed and even ate their own relatives when under the influence!)  All individuality and will power had to be given up to Dionysos, whenever he chose to take it.

In Rome, a ten-day rite in honor of Attis, son, or perhaps grandson, of the fertility goddess Cybele began on March 15th. Cybele fell in love with Attis and made him promise to be true to her, but he fell in love with a mortal. In a rage, she made him castrate himself underneath a pine tree. He bled to death, and from his drops of blood violets grew.

In this festival, his death was mourned for two days, then a pine tree (representing Attis) was chopped down, decorated with violets and placed in a tomb in the temple. Two days later, on the day after the equinox, the tomb was opened at dawn and the pine tree was gone. That meant that Cybele had brought Attis back to life. That day was known as Hilaria or the Day of Joy, a time of feasting and merriment.

Both Greek and Roman customs may have suggested abusive ways to mark the equinox.

In the United Kingdom, things didn’t seem quite so gory. We know from the megaliths (like Stonehenge) that people were aware of the equinoxes from ancient times. There are no traces of belief or rites from that time, so we do not know whether or not there were sacrifices.

The Celtic name for the equinox was Alban Eiler, which means “Life of the Earth.” It was a fertility holiday, marking the emergence of seedlings and the stirrings of desire. Cattle were taken out into the fields and led to brooks to drink the fresh spring water. Sometimes bonfires were lit and young people jumped over the ashes, believing it would make them fertile in the spring.

Cernunnos, the horned god or Green God, was a teenager at Alban Eiler; he was born on the winter solstice. Connected with the revivification of green vegetation, Cernunnos danced in the woods and fields, played his panpipes and sang to encourage the little plants. Later, on Beltane, he would lead the orgies on the woods.

The Saxons had a dawn goddess named Eostre. Her feast day was held on the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is similar to Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 20. Some believe Easter is derived from her name.

It is said that one winter day Eostre found an injured bird on the ground. To save its life, she changed it into a rabbit. But the transformation was not a complete one. The bird looked and acted like a rabbit, except it laid eggs like a bird. The rabbit would decorate these eggs and leave them as tokens of gratitude to Eostre. Rabbits are also an old Celtic fertility symbol, as are eggs.

I am sure they did nasty things when I was a child, but not much of this resonates with me. In the last few years, I have come to really love the equinox, knowing that the weather will get warmer and the days even longer. Some of the stuff that wintered over in my garden is starting to green up and soon I can start planting seeds. Who knows, maybe if I look hard enough  I will see a rabbit laying colored eggs!