The Spring Equinox is an important day on the Pagan calendar. It goes by many different names: Gwyl Canol Gwanwyn (Gwenwynol), Ostara, Eostre, and many others. The dates of March 21 – 23. The equinox means that the day and night are equal on this day. This Spring Equinox is celebrated with certain symbols many of us know quite well. Rabbits are used as a symbol of fertility and eggs for beginnings. Spring is a time for laying the ground work and seeds for new ideas, projects, and directions. The Spring Equinox is well used through many traditions as the sabbat for new actions and inclinations.
When Spring is at its Apex is when the Spring Equinox is defined and is the halfway between Candlemas and Beltane. With the Day and the Night are in a perfect balance and light is on its ascension. For example on the Spring Equinox is the day that in the Welsh Mabinogion, Llew took his revenge upon Goronwy by stabbing him with a sunlight spear. This is the cycle that repeats itself each year.
The customs that we have are imports from the Mediterranean lands. We have evidence from megalithic sites that shows no doubt of the first inhabitants of the British Isles having observed the sabbat. This holiday was much more popular in the south of the British isles. They claimed that the Spring Equinox was their New Years Day, a day for new beginnings, and the first day of the Zodiac sign Aries.
Two of the holidays in the Christian religion often get mixed up with the Spring Equinox. The first holiday is on March 25th of the old liturgical calendar. This holiday is called the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is said to be the day that it was announced to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel that she was carrying a child. This date is said to have actually been chosen by the church to coincide with the December 25th holiday of the child’s birth 9 months later.
Now the Pagan festival is focused upon the process of natural fertility and conception. The Vernal Equinox runs along the line that the young virgin goddess is taking on the company of the young Solar god in an attempt to conceive. All of these Welsh Traditional festivals revolve around the god and goddess and their relationship. The Vernal Equinox is also used as a celebration for the hand-fasting ritual of the gods known as a Hierogamy.
The second Christian holiday which is often getting mixed up with the Spring Equinox is Easter. There are many similarities between the two, including names and events that are celebrated. With Easter it is a celebration of the triumph of the god of light which is seen as Jesus, over the god of darkness which is death. The name that Easter has derived from is actually the Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre. This is also where the word “Estrogen” is derived from. This goddess’ symbols included the rabbit and the egg, the same as what are used for the Spring Equinox as well as for Easter though Christianity has been hard pressed to fully explain the symbolism in their own religion. Easter and its time frame have always been a bit strange, as many know Easter bounces all around the calendar.
Now referring to the Spring Equinox as Eostara is a relatively new practice from modern Pagan traditions. This is a bit of a misnomer as Eostara and the Spring Equinox are not actually the same holiday. The truth is that Eostara is a lunar festival to honor the moon goddess on the eve of the Vernal Full Moon. This is best done on the nearest Esbat rather than the Sabbat of the Spring Equinox. A chain reaction of displacement is how the Spring Equinox accidentally got the name Eostara. The oldest and most accepted name for the Vernal Equinox is Lady Day. Now as with many other Pagan days and festivals this day has also been appropriated by the Christians to celebrate and honor their deity Mary and her pregnancy with her son Jesus.
Along with the Equinox is another Esbat that marks the descent of the God and Goddess into the Underworld together. This coincides with the Christian holiday of Good Friday, the day when their god Jesus died and went into Hell for three days. He then rose again on Easter Sunday. This is incredibly similar to the Goddess descent and rise which was also over a period of three days. As such she returned renewed and refreshed.
How three days may seem like a number that was just plucked out of a hat but it does have astronomical significance. The wax and wane cycle of the moon is three days, and the Goddess herself is embodied by the Moon in all of its lunar essence. Though our modern calendar states that the new moon is only one day each month in reality it lasts for three which our ancestors certainly picked up on. Due to the Goddess and her absence to the Underworld the next Full Moon was celebrated as her return from the Land of the Dead.
Spring is well known for being the season to celebrate new life and the triumph of life (Spring when the plants return) over Death (Winter when the plants die or retreat into the ground). Christianity is not the only culture to have this life and death cycle. We can see in other myths and legends this same juxtaposition. The legends of King Arthur tell the tale of the Kings own mission. He set sail to the underworld in the magical ship Prydwen to bring back the gifts of life from the Land of the Dead. There are also Welsh tales that tell of Gwydion and Amaethon traveling to the underworld for much the same reason. The theme is so common that many historians have called this ‘The harrowing of Hell’.
Though the case has been made that perhaps the descent into hell was made by the lunar goddess rather than the solar god. The modern renditions of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ as the ‘Descent of the Goddess’. Lady Day has also been a time for celebration by storytelling, dramatic re-enactment, and readings.
Lady Day for many modern Witches is considered a Lesser Sabbat. There is a traditional date which is fixed on March 25th or celebration can be held on the actual Equinox date line. This is when the Sun actually crosses the equator for that day of that year.