Today is the vernal equinox. It marks the juncture at which the earth starts to align an angle with the sun, which will bring some extra nurturing warmth and a stretch in light levels. Bringing the two factors conducive to more consistent plant growth into play. It is as such a feast day to the ancient druids, the older poets and to agrarians and gardeners alike. A celebration of new life and returning sustenance.
From today on, the local mean daily temperature steadily reaches 6oC and above, below that point most plants will have their root development and leaf growth on hold. Now they can unfurl and stretch out and flush the landscape with vibrant greenery. Bounty will soon follow.
Vernal derives from the Latin vernalis meaning “of the spring”, it is the fresh start we have been waiting for. We can pray or commune, we can compose or verse, we can even turn a different verse and plough the field or plant the gairdín or the glaisin. It is the equinox – the moment of equality between day and night – os gaeilge it is cónocht an earragh.
Cónocht an earragh is an auspicious day to start something new or to renew something old or to just feel renewed. In other traditions today is also a refreshing start, but in the Irish psyche it is actually a truce between the dark half of the year and the bright half of the year. Decisive decisions can be made, almighty actions commenced or a potent pause can be taken for reflection and even gratitude.
In actuality, the earth’s axis is neither tilted toward or away from the sun, but the sun’s centre finds itself in the same plane as the earth’s equator thus providing an equal portion of daylight and night time. Tomorrow days get longer. Today you can stand still and rest easy or get your fervour on. Between the dark and bright halves there is truce, and so there is a truce too on trouble and turmoil – so its your call and whatever that may be – its all cool.
The vernal arrival has been marked around the world since antiquity. To the ancient Germanic tribes, it triggered the festival of Ostara/Ēostre – celebrating the maiden goddess becoming impregnated by the sun and thus banishing the stagnancy and infertility of winter. This goddess festival encounter by Romans and assimilated, is the derivation of the word Easter – which contemporarily is filled with Christian context but once was purely about the fecundity of Spring and perhaps a little dancing naked around a fire. No harm but watch the sparks.
For the ancient Greeks the Spring Equinox was all about the man-god Dionysus leaving his winter depression (symbolising winter hibernation) and getting busy to be revelling again. Classical readers may associate Dionysus with drunken debauchery, ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre. I know, sign me up too – but before he could become the patron of the grape-harvest and wine making, his awakening woke the vines to bear foliage and later the grapes to ferment.
The Ancient Persians through Zoroastrianism marked today as the commencement of the new year, not just of Spring. The ancient Egyptians positioned the sphinx to warm its face on the rising sun of the Spring equinox. The Mayans over in Mexico built an impressive pyramid at Chichen Itza which at the spring equinox even more impressively allows the transitioning sun to create a light effect in the shape of a snake – the return of the Sun serpent and fertility. And long before that we Irish angled our cairn temples to capture the sun too – to become impregnated by light.
This morning at Sliabh na Callighe (Loughcrew) the sun entered a channel in the structure that leads to a stone carved with astrological and sacred geometry – a moment commenced close to 6000 years ago with the construction of the stone chamber – a seminal moment if ever there was one.
At knowth a 100-foot long passage also accepts the sun on the mornings of cónocht an earragh and allows its chamber be flooded with illumination. Very sexy, literally but also cool that we had the mindset and the precision engineering at the dawning of our civilisation – and that’s pre-Celtic (to those whom think all things Irish begin with an aesthetic knotwork pattern and ends with a pint of Guinness).
So pulling the curtains, stepping out side, making pilgrimage or just lounging, today is a great day to soak up a bit of sun or let the love light in.