The History of the Vernal Equinox
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Forget January 1. The real new year is March 20 -- the Spring Equinox and astrological new year -- when the Sun charges into fiery Aries to banish winter's chill. Aries is the sign of the Ram and also the first sign of the zodiac, associated with the energy of youth. Now we throw off the shackles of winter, break any chains that have hindered our growth and get ready to pursue some exciting new goals.
During the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox, we in the Northern Hemisphere catch "spring fever," as plants and trees sprout new leaves and begin bearing fruit (in the Southern Hemisphere, the same date marks the Fall Equinox). Love is in the air -- ancient Celtic and Mediterranean peoples celebrated the Spring Equinox as a sacred marriage between God and Goddess. This was symbolized by the custom of hand-fasting, a form of betrothal. Thus, it's a wonderful time of the year to begin or revive a romantic relationship, or to initiate new endeavors of all kinds.
The early Egyptians recognized the Sun's passage into Aries as a sacred turning point of the year, and built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the Spring Equinox. For our ancestors, the birth of spring meant that winter's cold was ebbing, dwindling food supplies would soon be replenished and bellies would be full once again -- certainly a cause for celebration. And party they did, for days on end, as bonfires raged to help rekindle the light and warmth.
Equinox literally means "equal night." At the Spring Equinox, day and night are the same length, with light ascending. Hence the theme of rebirth or resurrection, which is echoed in the Christian tradition of Easter -- celebrated soon after the Sun moves into Aries. The symbols of Easter bunny rabbits and eggs have their roots in pagan traditions that honored nature's fertility. Ironically, the name "Easter" was taken from a Teutonic lunar goddess, Eostre, whose holiday was held on the Full Moon nearest the Vernal Equinox. Since the church does not celebrate Full Moons, they designated Easter to be celebrated the Sunday following the first Full Moon after the Equinox.