The Old Ways: Spring
by Doug and Sandy Kopf
Spring (Earrach) or Vernal Equinox, on approximately March 21, is the mid-point of the Waxing Year. The spark of light that was born at Winter Solstice has reached maturity, and from this point forward, the days grow longer than the nights. This is the time of full Dawn, 6:00 a.m. on the Year Clock, and so was the time of the festivals of the Grecian Goddess, Eostre, and the Germanic Ostara, both Goddesses of Dawn. (It is from these Bright Ladies that the modern Easter holiday takes its name). This is the time that is often seen as the time of Kore's return from the Underworld, where She (as Persephone) has ruled throughout the Winter. It is also the time of the celebration of the rebirth of Adonis the Beautiful.
Spring is the time for a celebration of planting and of the greening of the Earth. The supermarket is a sign in itself, as the produce department begins to fill with fresh fruits and vegetables. People start to talk about having 'Spring Fever' and doing 'Spring cleaning', as the brighter sunshine provides a needed morale boost.
Non-Pagans start to shop for Easter finery (putting on new clothes, just like the Earth Mother), or Passover foods, unaware that we are all truly celebrating the same thing: the Revitalization of the Earth, as She warms to the waxing rays of the Sun. We have survived another Winter and are once more surrounded by the delights of Spring. Some authorities say that this was probably the time that the Christian Church should have chosen to celebrate as the birth date of Jesus, since this would have been the time for paying taxes in ancient Jerusalem and, according to the myth, Mary and Joseph were traveling to fulfill that obligation. It is also the season of lambing, the only time shepherds would 'watch by night'.
Many traditions associated with Spring Equinox have been retained over the years and grafted onto the Easter celebration. Even today, people arise early on Easter morning to attend 'Sunrise Service'. (Remember Eostre, the Dawn Goddess?) If your group is not opposed to getting up early, a Dawn Circle to greet the Sun on the morning of the Equinox can be wonderful! Legend says the Sun Dances and, if it is reflected in a bowl of clear water, you can see it for yourself! However, we would not recommend this if you are night-owls. It's hard to put your whole heart into ritual when you are bleary-eyed and groggy. Festivals should be FUN, not tests of your determination!
Decorated eggs have always been symbols of fertility. In 17th century France, gifts of decorated eggs were given to new brides, in hopes they would bear many children. In Germany, bowls full of eggs were given to the field-workers by the farmer's wife, to insure a rich harvest. Many cultures see the egg as a symbol of Life, or the actual home of the soul. The egg is the symbol of all good fortune in Russia and decorated eggs are still given as gifts to loved ones and buried in graves to insure rebirth. These elaborate and ornate treasures are sometimes even set with precious stones. (Note Faberge' and Tiffany eggs.)
Each color applied to the decorated eggs had meaning to villagers in the Ukraine. Eggs, given as gifts, conveyed particular wishes. Meanings varied from village to village, but here are some examples:
Decorating these eggs, called Pysansky, was a women's ritual. The eggs were gathered only from hens who lived near a rooster, as a non-fertile egg meant there would be no fertility in the home. No one was allowed to watch the women work as they transferred the goodness of the household to the designs on the eggs and thus kept evil away. Secret family recipes were use for mixing the dyes and the women placed special blessings on each egg.
It is fun for the Coven to gather, on the night before Equinox, for an egg-decorating party. Don't stick to the commercial egg-dyes. Instead, use felt-tipped pens to create bright-colored designs of leaves and flowers. If you want to go to a little more trouble and be more authentic, gather various leaves, roots, and flowers, and tie them tightly to the eggs before boiling. The vegetable dyes released in the water will create lovely patterns on the eggs.
The following day, the eggs can be used as altar decorations and given as gifts.. Later, at the feast, you can indulge in a little game called Egg-shackling. Two people crack their eggs against each other. The holder of the first egg cracked pays a forfeit to the other. Egg-shackling and Pace-egging (children going from door to door to receive gifts of painted eggs) are still part of Spring celebrations in Northern England.
We have, in our own Coven, a member of Russian heritage. At Spring, she prepares a traditional (and very luxurious) dessert called a Paskha. It is made from farmers cheese with lots of eggs, butter and sugar, pressed into a tower-shaped mold that has been in her family for many years. The 'mountain' of sweetened cheese is topped with a frosted lace cloth and decorated with tiny sugar flowers. It is representative of the snow melting from the mountains and Spring returning. This is served with a rich fruited egg-bread called a Kulich.
The fig is well-known as a fertility symbol. The tree contains both the masculine and feminine principles: the leaf is seen as male and the fruit as female. The 'Mano in Fica' or 'Fig Hand' is used as a hand sign for woman or Goddess. (This is done by closing the fist and projecting the thumb between the first and second fingers.) A popular custom, maintained as recently as the 19th century, involved climbing to a hilltop for a picnic of fig-cakes during the Spring celebration. A ritual feast of figs is appropriate (if a little messy), or the delicious little fig-newton available at any market will do.
There is fairly good evidence that Hot Cross Buns (seemingly a wholly Christian custom), really have their origins in The Old Ways. Two petrified small loaves of bread, five inches in diameter and marked with a cross, were found by archeologists at Herculaneum (destroyed in 79 c.e.). It was doubtful that these were made for a Christian celebration. Early Anglo-Saxons ate wheat cakes decorated with crosses at Spring and cakes of this type were part of a Spring festival dedicated to Diana. At Hertfordshire, in England, ruins of an altar to Diana of the Crossways have been found. Coincidentally, the area is famous for it's Hot Cross Buns!
This article would not be complete without a word about the good, old bunny. The poor little bunny, a fertility symbol for obvious reasons, has been relegated to the role of 'egg-delivery boy' in modern times. How he must long for the time when he was the Moon-Hare, Sacred to Goddesses all over the world! (The hare was thought related to the night and the Moon because it is born with its eyes open.)
The following song is from the 'Oxford Book Of Carols'. We would say that it is sung to the tune of 'Good King Wenceslas', except for the fact that, according to Oxford, this is the original version. Wenceslas is the filk!
So, once again, we discover that the customs we practice today are rooted in The Old Ways. Eggs, bunnies and Sunrise Circles continue to represent the coming of Spring, even as they did for our ancestors. As you plant your seeds, bless your plants and decorate your eggs, think about the Continuity of Life and have a Bright and Blessed Spring!