Rites of Spring: Rituals of Renewal

April 8, 2012 § 6 Comments

By Tai Carmen

That men may rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things.

Lord Alfred Tennyson 

The Spring Equinox — when the sun lines up with the earth’s equator — is rich with rituals of renewal, and marks the first day of Spring for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are two days each year when the daytime and nighttime hours are approximately equal — each being 12 hours long. One occurs between March 19 and 21 (the Spring or Vernal Equinox) and the other in September. These dates have strong ties to religious celebrations throughout the world.

“The Christian Easter is destined to fall roughly around the same time as the Pagan Easter [vernal equinox] due to its association to the Judaic Passover [marking the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage] which is also fixed by the lunar cycle,” Andy Paciorek explains in Strange Lands.

“Both festivals could be said to reflect new life, either Christ’s return from the dead or the blossom and birth of Spring. So it was not much of a stretch for the ascending Christian Church to merge both festivals. This is known as ‘assimilation’ and was a habit frequently employed in those times … to ease and encourage rather than force the conversion of heathens. ”

The modern English term Easter can be traced back to the ancient pagan goddess, Ēostre  for whom the German month of April is named. Eostre represents the sunrise, springtime, fertility, and new life, as do her symbols — hares and eggs. Hares because of their plentiful reproductive capacity, and eggs because all life starts with an egg. And so the tradition of eggs and rabbits as symbols of Easter is rooted in emblems of European folklore.

“The Easter Bunny is not actually a ‘bunny’ or rabbit at all, but is actually a hare,” details Andy Paciorek. “The hare was the sacred animal of Eostre (or Oestra or Ostera), the ancient Teutonic Goddess of the Spring Moon. At the time of the vernal equinox (March or April) the hares are famed for going ‘mad’…”

“The association of rabbits, hares, and the moon can be found in numerous cultures the world over,” notes Terri Windig in “The Symbolism of Rabbits and Hares,” “ranging from Japan to Mexico, from Indonesia to the British Isles. Whereas in Western folklore we refer to the ‘Man in the Moon,’ the ‘Hare (or Rabbit) in the Moon’ is a more familiar symbol in other societies.

“In Chinese folklore, female hares conceive through the touch of the full moon’s light (without the need of impregnation by the male), or by crossing water by moonlight, or licking moonlight from a male hare’s fur. Figures of hares or white rabbits are commonly found at Chinese Moon Festivals, where they represent longevity, fertility, and the feminine power of yin.

In Iran the Spring Equinox is celebrated with Nowruz — known as “the Persian new year” and meaning “new day.”

As with Passover, house cleaning is a part of the preparation, stemming from the old belief that cleanliness helps keep evil away (quite sensible.)  On the day of Nowruz everyone dons new clothes and families visit one another. Along with other symbolic items, such as sprouted barley representing rebirth, painted eggs signifying fertility and abundance are prominent in Nowruz traditions.

Hindus celebrate the Spring festival of Holi, known as the Festival of Colors, at the end of the winter season, on the last full moon day of the lunar month (February/March).

Marked by bright colors evoking springtime and fresh life, Holi has roots in Hindu mythology associated with good triumphing over evil. Social caste taboos are relaxed, joy and mischief are encouraged, and no one expects polite behavior. The rich and the poor, the young and the old, women and men all celebrate in the streets together, dousing one another with water and colored dyes.

“Taking the superstitions and rituals of the spring festivals as psychological symbols, we can appreciate the importance of personal renewal,” muses Jonathan Young in his article “Symbolism of Spring.”

“Putting on new clothing could represent the possibility of developing a new aspect of identity or finding a fresh sense of purpose. Spring might well be the appropriate moment to don new clothes, in a figurative sense, and claim an underused side of ourselves. A personal ritual for this month could be deciding what crops we want to develop in our lives so that we have a flourishing summer ahead.”

In Winter, we cocoon. We hibernate; dream. Symbolically, in Winter we gestate, go inward — a metaphorical death. In Spring, new life sprouts forth from the dormant earth and we are reminded of our own capacity to bloom.

What bulbs have been dreaming in the dark earth of your subconscious? What behaviors do you want to shed like winter runoff? What creative, personal or spiritual fruits would you like to bare in the upcoming year?

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