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The Origins and Traditions of Vernal Equinox

Vernal Equinox is known as Spring Equinox, or Ostara and the pagan holiday is celebrated annually every March. Vernal Equinox is the day of the year that denotes the commencement of the spring season. In contrast, Candlemas is celebrated at the beginning of February and the holiday celebrates the first stirring of spring and the promise that the light will return. An equinox marks the time of year when the daytime and the nighttime equal each other in length; it is the moment in time just before the day or night dominates its counterpart, depending on the time of the year. During Vernal Equinox, the daylight will turn and begin to dominate the darkness once more – the hours of the day will increase and the length of the day will become longer. Conversely, Autumnal Equinox or Fall Equinox marks the time of year when the wheel of the year turns again, and the darkness begins to dominate the light. The daylight hours will be fewer and the nighttime will increase in length.

The word Equinox has its roots in the Old French equinoxe, and the Latin æquinoctium (“Equinox”). During the Middle Ages, the term equinox was written as equinoxium and literally means “equality between day and night” (“Equinox”). Spring Equinox marks the time of year when we celebrate the rebirth of the solar deity. As the power of the sun increases, life is renewed, and pagans that attune themselves to the earth’s cycle find reason to celebrate! When Vernal Equinox arrives, it is a signaling that winter has ended and that everything will be reborn – the signs of rebirth are everywhere, in the trees, the flowers, and in nature. The aspect of the Goddess associated with Vernal Equinox is the maiden – she is youthful, vibrant, and ever–young.

The word æquinoxe appears in the English language as early as 1588. There is indication however, that Geoffrey Chaucer referred to the term Equinox in 1329, in his Astrolabe, A treatise on the c 1391: “And ther-fore ben thise two signes [Aries & Libra] called the equinoxiis” (“Equinox”). In 1629, Richard Bentley notes in his Boyle lectures that “The months of March and September, the two æquinoxes of our year, are the most windy and tempestuous” (“Equinox”). The latter notion is interesting if one considers that the winds of change are brewing when the equinoxes arrive.

In Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Scott Cunningham asserts that Vernal Equinox is also called “Spring Rites” as well as Eostra’s Day, and it is a holiday that signifies the “first day of true spring” (66). Vernal Equinox is the time of year when the Goddess wakes from her winter slumber: it is the time of great fertility; the God matures and “delights in the abundance of nature” (Cunningham 66). In Llewellyn’s 2003 Magical Almanac, author Sedwin explains that “at this time of year, our ancestors honored the balance of all things: female and male, spiritual and physical” (126). In some belief systems this day is also known as “Lady Day” or “The Feast of Annunciation:” the day that the Goddess awakens from hibernation (Sedwin 126). Later Christianized, the day understood as Lady Day became a day to venerate the Virgin Mary, a day that falls on March 25 (Sedwin 126). Ostara or Vernal Equinox is celebrated on March 20, 21, 22, or 23, depending upon which day the first day of spring falls within the year and where one lives in terms of the northern or southern hemispheres. If Vernal Equinox is currently celebrated in the northern hemisphere, those individuals living in the southern hemisphere are actually celebrating Autumnal Equinox: the holiday does not occur in the southern hemisphere until September 20, 21, 22, or 23 due to the different seasons.

Vernal Equinox is considered one of the four lesser sabbats celebrated in the Witches’ Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year exhibits eight holidays with four greater and four lesser sabbats, all of which have great meaning to the individuals that celebrate the said holidays. Vernal Equinox is considered the time for planting seeds, both literally and metaphorically speaking. While it comes time to plants seeds in the garden, it is also a time to “plant the seeds of desired manifestation,” to begin new projects, and to put pre-made plans into action. Many of the Christian celebratory traditions associated with Easter are actually related to and derived from the pagan Vernal Equinox traditions. The name “Easter,” is rooted in the word ôstara which is “the name of a goddess whose festival was celebrated at the vernal equinox” (“Easter”). The word “east” appearing in éastron, which is the plural form of ôstara, and suggests that Ostara was a Goddess of the dawn (“Easter”). For that matter, as a goddess of the dawn, Ostara is uniquely paralleled by other dawn goddesses like Aurora and Eos. Dan L. Ashilman asserts that Ostara is a Germanic Goddess, one that was adored in Denmark and Germany particularly. The celebration of Ostara also involved the celebration of spring and such celebrations include festivals and rituals (Ashilman):

The name of Ostara's (Eostra's) festival was transferred to the celebration of Christ's resurrection when Anglo-Saxon and German heathens converted to Christianity. Thus, unlike other European cultures, English and German Christians still attach the name of a heathen goddess to their most sacred holiday: Easter or Ostern. In other European languages the holiday's name is based on the Hebrew word "pasah," to pass over, thus reflecting the Christian holiday's Biblical connection with the Jewish Passover. (Ashilman)

The celebratory theme of Vernal Equinox relates to balance, to rebirth, to renewal, and resurrection. The symbolism that corresponds with this holiday has ancient origins as well: the symbol of what is now commonly understood as the Easter egg is actually a symbol of fertility and the birth of the cosmos. The egg is “a cosmic egg,” representing the sacredness of life and birth (Sedwin 126). The act of coloring eggs is considered an act of honoring Gaia, the earth mother Goddess. The rabbit is not only a symbol of fertility, but it is also an animal that is associated with the magical ability to dwell in two worlds; a rabbit hibernates beneath the earth, and returns upon the arrival of spring; thus, it is associated with the earth and the underworld (Sedwin 126). The Easter bunny also has pagan origins – there is a “Saxon legend” that tells of a story about a “humble rabbit that decorated eggs and presented them to Eostre to honor her” (Sedwin 126). Even the popular Easter egg hunts of today have a pagan origin: it is believed that to place eggs out in a field in the early months of spring is an act of “invoking the powers of fertility and [is performed] to enhance crop yield” (Sedwin 126). Along with eggs, egg coloring, the Easter egg hunt, and the rabbits, another common Easter symbol is also derived from pagan practices: the Easter basket. Today, Easter baskets are stuffed full of goodies and treats, but in ancient pagan traditions the Easter basket was actually a replica of the “bird’s nest,” and symbolized the preparation for the arrival of the new (Sedwin 126). Finally, Ostara is a holiday associated with many colors, primarily pastels, but yellow is the color that is the most significant to the holiday. Yellow, in terms of cardinal directions, is the color associated with the East, the returning of the sun, and the East symbolizes the rising sun, new beginnings, and renewal.

Spring Equinox is also associated with fertility, as everything begins to be reborn and grow in the spring. The egg is a symbol of fertility and tradition of coloring Easter eggs is actually an age old pagan tradition. Rabbits are animals that were believed to be loved by the Goddess Ostara, and they serve as fertility symbols as well; hence, the beginnings of the Easter Bunny! Modern witches celebrate Vernal Equinox because they believe that every aspect of the year and season has its proper time for being, that the world is a place of delicate balance and that the seasons are truly the heartbeat of the earth.

Vernal Equinox Names
Vernal Equinox Themes
Spring Equinox,
Spring Rites
The Rites of Spring
Esotre’s Day
Lady’s Day
Alban Eilir
Lady Day
Festival of Trees

Masculine and Feminine Polarities,
Rebirth ,
Coloring Eggs,
Egg hunts,
Making Easter Baskets,

Further Information on Vernal Equinox:

Suggested Reading:

True Magick: A Beginner's Guide by Amber K
Wicca: A Guide for The Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
Llewellyn's Almanac Published Annually by Llewellyn Publications

Work Cited

Ashliman, Dan L. "Ostara's Home Page." Germanic Myths, Legends, and Sagas. 1996. The University of Pittsburgh. 5 Mar. 2008.

Cunningham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide for The Solitary Practitioner. 1988. St, Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 1999.

“Easter.” The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2 ed. 1989.

“Equinox.” The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2 ed. 1989.

Sedwin. Llewellyn’s 2003 Magical Almanac. St Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2003.

Article written by: Dayna Winters

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