Spring is about opening. But is openness always appealing? Not necessarily. It’s exposed, for one, risky and nerve-wracking. Lucky for us, the approaching Vernal Equinox is a beautiful moment for two-sided truths, so let’s indulge!
This Wednesday, March 20, is the first day of spring (in the northern hemisphere). It is also one of two Equinoxes, one of just two days of the year of “equal light,” when day and night both measure the same. You’ve surely noticed that the light has been increasing, since the Winter Solstice back in December. It will continue to grow until it peaks at the Summer Solstice in late June. Wednesday is the midpoint, where light and dark meet in perfect balance. The last day we had such earthy equilibrium was at the opposite end of the calendar, at the Autumnal Equinox last September.
Immediately beyond Wednesday’s tipping point, we enter the “more light” half of the year: light overtakes the dark, the natural world comes alive, the sunlight keeps expanding and the days warm up. This plain physical reality is as grounded a cause for celebration as you could ask for. Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is celebrated on the Spring Equinox and so is the Hindu “Festival of Colors” called Holi. In earth-based European traditions, the day is called “Ostara,” named after the Germanic goddess, Eostre/Ostara, who was traditionally honored with festivals to celebrate fertility, renewal and rebirth. (It was from Eostre that not only the Christian traditions of Easter evolved, but possibly even the name of the female hormone estrogen!) The energy of Ostara is expansive and exuberant. The Triple-Goddess (maiden-mother-crone) is in her Maiden aspect, reveling in the dawn and newness.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Persephone rises from the underworld this time of year to reunite with her mother Demeter, and in doing so, she brings springtime to the earth. We know that she will resume her place as queen of the deep during the months after the harvest ripens, and that the beauty she brings to this plane will fade. So turns the Wheel of the Year. But today is the moment that she rises from below, the snow melts and spring explodes.
There is a fierce generosity to Persephone’s return that reminds me of other forms of primal giving, some of them painful, like birthing and nursing, caring and tending. Spring can feel “female” in a way that is far beyond pretty. The opening it mandates is dramatic and even cataclysmic, a literal and figurative pouring forward of energy, of self perhaps, into untried and possibly dangerous spaces, like those fragile blossoms that burst suddenly from every branch, or newborn animals whose legs tremble as they struggle to rise. Spring is also about connection, that togetherness, however imperfect, however improvised, that nature must draw on for growth to occur. It’s both joined and borderless, messy, shared, and success in no way guaranteed. Some of us secretly yearn for the sterile neatness of winter, for the austere order of Persephone’s dim caverns underground. But on the top half of the planet this week, all is turning bright colors, tipping away from coldness and limits, growing and moving and bravely birthing everything that will enchant and sustain us until well beyond the first falling leaf, and without which, our cozy winter hibernations would be impossible.
Beginning on Wednesday, nature will make the first move, stoking our courage, maybe, with her energy, her beauty, her art. She’ll put it all out, literally on limbs. Maybe the energetic pause of the Equinox is a chance to gently ease ourselves into that fertile tumult. Dare we meet her? we may wonder as we switch into our lighter jackets and rain boots. Maybe the first day of spring softly invites us out to play. Maybe every imperfectly glorious summer, literal and figurative, proves the worth of opening.
How to best honor the beautiful peril of life springing from the void? We can start with silly grins or even just half-smiles, but wearing bright colors is a great way to set our intentions. We can also rise early, with the light, gather our communities to eat or color eggs, light candles, decorate with flowers, chicks and hares, make pastries of milk and honey to eat and share, and take a first peak at our slumbering gardens. Because if no one ever rose early with lofty intentions, there would never be Hot Cross Buns! Wishing a brave and blessed Ostara and a beautiful Spring to you and yours.