First Day of Spring: Magic And Ritual Of The Pagan Spring Equinox

Today is the first day of spring, the 24 hours when night and day are equal lengths as the world tilts towards the long days of summer. Time explains the origin of the word, equinox, as a combination of the Latin words for equal night. Both the spring equinox and the autumn equinox have a 12-hour day and a 12-hour night.

As the Boston Globe writes, for many people in the northern parts of the world, it's hard to remember what those long, hot days are like after months of winter. Blizzards, piles of snow, and cold weather still showing up in the forecast make even quintessential spring flowers like daffodils and bluebells seem improbable, but the spring equinox brings a promise of warmth.

Daffodils bloom in London's St. James Park for the first day of Spring. [
Daffodils bloom in London's St. James Park for the first day of Spring. [Image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

The coming of the sun's light and heat is a magical time, celebrated with ritual and ceremony for millennia before science explained what the equinox was all about.

For our shivering ancestors, it was enough to know that the days of huddling for warmth and watching winter food supplies dwindle would soon be over for another year. The spring equinox brought fervent and grateful worshippers out to religious ceremonies and relieved revelers to the afterparty.

Spring equinox is celebrated in cultures around the world.
Lithuanians greet the spring equinox with spectacular fire signs and music mystery plays rooted in ancient pagan rituals symbolizing light's victory against dark. [Image by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Images]

Even today, druids lead the celebration of the spring equinox at standing stone sites in Great Britain. The most famous of the standing stones, Stonehenge, hosts several hundred druids and pagans to greet the sunrise at the ancient site as they perform their rituals in honor of new life, rebirth, and renewed powers.

At Stonehenge, druids and pagans gather to watch the spring equinox sun rising precisely between two stones.
At Stonehenge, druids and pagans gather to watch the spring equinox sun rising precisely between two stones. [Image by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]

Believers come from all over the world to chant, dance, play musical instruments, and purify with dandelion and burdock drinks in preparation for the spring equinox sunrise.

According to the Mirror, some of the worshippers at spring equinox gatherings wear shamrocks to symbolize "the regenerative powers of nature." The three leaves of the plant were famously used by St. Patrick to demonstrate the Christian Holy Trinity, but for long before Patrick arrived in Ireland, the shamrock was sacred to the Celtic triple goddess, the Morrigan.

The Morrigan was the goddess of death and guardian of the dead, but although the idea of a death goddess doesn't seem, to modern ears, to fit with the new life of the spring equinox, it made perfect sense to the ancients.

The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids describes how the ancient Celts saw death as part of the circle of life.
"She is the source of life giving, death and transformation, regeneration and renewing."
The theme of dying and rising again is common to many religions, both ancient and modern. The spread of Christianity throughout the world normalized the idea of a young god who rises from the dead in the western hemisphere, but like the shamrock, the story of a spring resurrection from the dead had ancient roots in prehistoric religions.
The Sun writes that many pagans today call their spring equinox festival Ostara, in honor of the "Anglo-Saxon goddess who represents dawn." Ostara, which is often thought to be the original Christian Easter, is associated with fertility, eggs, and budding plants, and celebrations includes dancing, hunting, and symbols of new life.
When children wait for the Easter bunny and hunt for Easter eggs, they are reenacting old ceremonies of fertility that have changed names, but never died out.

How do you plan to celebrate the first day of spring?

[Featured Image by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]