"And beyond them, almost hidden by the moon shadows, were the Lords of the Ever-Living Ones: the antlered helmets of the Wild Hunt, the moon-silvered spear-points of the Host of Sidhe. The music swelled until I felt my heart would burst. And then there was silence-profound, absolute silence, and stillness. And far off, among the trees, there was a golden glow." From 'King of Morning, Queen of Day' by Ian McDonald. On the equinox itself, night and day are balanced: “equinox”, from Latin, meaning “equal night.” The days will now continue to get longer until the sun is at its strongest point on June 21st, the summer solstice.
The spring equinox has always been linked with rebirth, unsurprisingly, and features in many world myths of light defeating darkness and life overcoming death. Many spiritual figures have feast days at this time and, going even further back, many ancient monuments have alignments recording this important moment including Cairn T at Loughcrew. In Irish folklore this was a time when the good people moved from one Otherworld doorway to another. It is considered a dangerous time to wander near their mounds or stone circles and fairy trees. This was also a prevalent belief in Scottish folklore and is remarked upon by many writers including Andrew Lang in his 1891 introduction to the Rev. Robert Kirk's seminal work, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. Lang writes,
"They never were, to his mind, plain palpable folk; they are only visible, in their quarterly flittings, to men of the second sight. That gift of vision includes not only power to see distant or future events, but the viewless forms of air. To shun the flittings, men visit church on the first Sunday of the quarter: then they will be hallowed against elf-shots, these Arrows that fly in the dark." So, we can see that fairies were a real and palpable danger to human beings and, indeed, livestock on the quarter days. Elf shot had the power to not only maim or kill but also to transport a person to the realm of fairy in spirit. This particular affliction also turns up in Wentz's anthropological study, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. I would highly recommend buying a print copy of this wonderful book but as the copyright has now passed it is also available legally free here. Although a person should be cautious on this day, it is also a magical and liminal time and the ancestors and the dead were believed to walk closer to those who needed them most. When we look to all of our various native and indigenous wisdom-traditions the one lesson they continually tell us is that there is our human time and there is also the time of the Otherworld, wherever and whatever you believe that to be. Responding a certain way to an event may seem instinctive and even inevitable based on our concept of human time, but when we overcome these conditional reflexes we become part of the Otherworld time, as does our intention. Although often associated with Samhain, it is surprising that the tradition of the dumb supper is not practiced widely at this time considering how the spiritual world and physical world are believed to converge.
Another ancient festival which takes place at the spring equinox is the Zoroastrian celebration of Nowruz. This feast is more often associated with the start of the Iranian new year in contemporary times.
In Japan, the Buddhist feast of Higan takes place on the spring equinox and is a day to remember ancestors. The name comes from the idea that the river separating the living and dead could be crossed more easily at this time. As we can see, this has parallels to our own Irish and European beliefs regarding the dead at this time which perhaps demonstrates the authenticity of the observation.
Best wishes to everyone and as the days become longer and we enter a time of more light I look forward to us all being out and about in the mountains and forests again. (C.) David Halpin Art by Omar Rayyan