The Vernal Equinox: Spring Has Sprung!

March 20, 2014 | Posted in: Myths & Folktales, Psychology

Crocusses, lythograph by Luite Klaver.

Crocusses, lythograph by Luite Klaver.

“Awake, thou wintry earth
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!”

–Thomas Blackbur

 

Did you feel it when you awoke this morning, the increase in energy infiltrating your long dormant winter world? Did you hear the birdsong banishing the cold silence or perceive the landscape suddenly tinged with green and red and yellow? Did you notice the sun’s strengthened gaze peering in through your windows? If not, stop, go outside, and immerse yourself in the festival of sensory experience occurring right now. Because this is a momentous day in the yearly cycle of the changing seasons: the Vernal Equinox.

Today there is a precious and momentary balance in which the day and night are as close to equal in duration as possible, held in shimmering equilibrium before the daylight begins its seasonal dominance, the night relinquishing more and more of its allotted time until the summer solstice. On this day of the spring equinox, the sun’s center rose precisely in the east and will journey over the earth for a full 12 hours until it settles precisely in the west. A day approaching an elusive balance in a world ever shifting between the dominance of the light or the dark.

Spring, Aleksey Savrasov c. 1890.

Spring, Aleksey Savrasov, 1890.

The spring equinox is also the long-awaited fulfillment of the promise of renewed life and light at the end of the darkness and cold of winter. For our ancestors, by the end of winter food stores were dwindling, wood was getting low, psyches were strained by months of cold, lack of light, and barren landscapes. And then, within a mere month, the life energy long hibernating beneath the earth suddenly erupts from bulbs and through millions of tiny roots, bursting forth out of the ground and on tree limbs. The earth is humming with the unfurling of new life. Rabbits, squirrels, bears, all the hibernators awake once more. Birds begin their feverish mating rituals and nest-building. Insects reappear in astonishing variety. Life is pouring forth in abundance once more.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” Mark Twain

Human inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere share in this riotous frivolity of the ecological world with our many rituals, festivals, and stories. A common cross-cultural myth associated with springtime is the descent of gods and goddesses into darkness or death during the winter months, only to be restored once more to light and life at the time of the spring equinox: Osiris from Egyptian mythology, Jesus from Christianity, Adonis and Dionysus from Greek mythology, the Mayan maize god Hun Hunahpu. Spring is associated with rebirth, renewal, and resurrection, both inwardly and outwardly.

Windflowers , J.W. Waterhouse c. 1902.

Windflowers, J.W. Waterhouse, c. 1902.

My favorite ancient myth that explains why there is the yearly cycling of the seasons comes from Greek mythology, and concerns Persephone, daughter of the earth mother Demeter, who in the flush of her maidenhood, picking flowers in a fair meadow, is spied by the god of the underworld Haides. Her beauty and innocence so captivates Haides that he breaks open the earth and steals poor Persephone down into the land of the dead to become his queen. Demeter meanwhile brings all of nature’s fecundity to an end in her grief, starving the people of the earth and causing them to curse the gods. Zeus commands Haides to release Persephone to appease Demeter. Tragically, despite being warned, the maiden had eaten seeds from a pomegranate grown in the underworld and thus she was forced to spend half of every year below the earth, causing autumn and winter while her mother grieves until her return in the spring. Then joy and life is restored once more.

The vernal equinox also marks the new year for many cultures, as well as for the astrological calendar. On this day we are leaving the Piscean winter, the end that has been incubating this new beginning, and we fully enter the realm of youthful and fiery Aries, the Ram, whose spring exuberance reflects the energetic qualities of adventure, curiosity, exploration, and the unbridled power of the sun. The seed bursting open into new being, manifesting itself with exuberant energy, is the symbol for this season, and it is a perfect time to consider planting seeds of your own, both externally and internally.

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Just one person out of 7 billion + on a journey to live a life that is vibrant, soul-fulfilling, useful to others, and consciously engaged with the ecological community that sustains all life, including mine and yours.