It’s been a month since the Spring Equinox, and now at last in Massachusetts we’re getting some truly springlike weather — yesterday was the first day we could go outside without coats or sweaters. I spent the day with my hands in the earth, digging and weeding out a garden plot behind our apartment that lay fallow all last year, while the kids rode their bicycles and tricycles and asked to see more worms and pleaded for a chance to use my spade.
The fact that I haven’t written about our equinox ritual before now gives you some indication of how busy we’ve been this spring. I think for many of us, it has been a difficult time — many of my friends have been ill, overwhelmed with work or too many responsibilities, or stricken with tragedy of one kind or another. Still, a few days ago my cousin and his wife were blessed with twins, and the sun continues to rise earlier and earlier each morning on schedule… So not all is lost.
A month ago, when we drove to Ellen Evert Hopman’s house to celebrate the Equinox, the snow had melted almost everywhere in the Connecticut River valley; but up on the side of the mountain where Ellen lives, a few inches of it still lingered. We expected to have to shovel our way out to the Grove (which lies about 100 yards into the woods), but as it turned out, the most difficult part was the section of path that the melting snow had turned into a respectable brook.
A young man named Chris joined us for the ritual. He is at UMass Amherst right now, but will be attending Harvard Divinity school in the fall; his main research interest is modern paganism, and he participated in the ritual as part of one of his research projects. He brought along a sage smudge stick bundle, with which we purified ourselves before we went out to the Grove.
Our familiar Grove stream, the Uisce Beatha, was flowing with gusto, and we stopped on the little bridge to pay our respects to Bridget, silver the water, and dip our clooties. The water was ice cold and pure. We sang a verse by Isaac Bonewits:
O Bridget, o brightest Queen;
cast your blessings unto us.
We are your children, you are our mother;
so hearken unto us.
You are the cauldron, here in our grove;
Wise Woman inspire us.
O fire of love, o fire of life;
please Bridget, come to us!
Divinity in the Grove
At the entrance to the Grove we stopped and paid our respects to the tall oak tree keeping watch there. We stepped around it, singing and scattering herbs at its base. Then Ellen entered the Grove alone and faced each of the four directions, calling on the spirits there to enter the grove and give us their blessing and assistance.
In some of our research, the presence of Divinity in a grove, circle, or other holy place is said to cause an electrical sensation, a tingling feeling, in those present who can detect it. I have never felt this, and my wife never had either — before this moment. She told me afterwards that as Ellen called on each of the spirits, she FELT them arrive in a way she never had before… Lucky duck.
We then worked on getting the fire going. Chris and I had gone out earlier and prepared the fire circle, and the wind was low, so we had little trouble lighting it. Each of the adults made a wish as we placed a match on the fuel, and we sang a song to the fire. Ellen and our children also sang a two-part harmony song (by Christopher LaFond) praising the earth, sky, and fire.
Fairy folk are all around
In the trees and in the ground
Gods above we honor you
Be with us in all we do
Ancestors who’ve gone before
Wisdom from the Other Shore
Offerings we make to you
Fire, water, living wood.
We are children of the earth
Stand on the earth
We are children of the sky
Soar to the sky
We are children of the sea
Swim to the sea
Blessing of three worlds have we
Earth, sky and sea
The Call of the Sun
We’d brought colored eggs (unfortunately, we couldn’t get fertilized white eggs, so we had to settle for just organic), and we all drew pictures of our wishes on them, and buried them in the icy ground.
Then Ellen brought out the haruspicy cards. These cards are meant to allow the practitioner to do a genuine sheep-entrails-based divination without the muss, fuss, and ethical entanglements of using a real sheep. We were all very excited to try them. Ellen used the altar stone to lay out the cards and do the reading.
Unfortunately, the reading wasn’t particularly favorable. I forget the precise anatomical details, but the card indicated that the Sun god (identified as “Cath” by the card — an Etruscan diety) was not prepared to grant everything we had asked for. Ellen pointed out that a lot of us had asked for very large things — for example, our family asked for a house — and additional sacrifices and devotion were undoubtedly called for. She suggested that we all make offerings of honey, golden jewelry, and other objects dear to the sun.
We then closed the grove, and Chris and I stayed behind to watch over the dying fire, while the rest trooped off back to Ellen’s house to ready the feast. As they did so they sang one of our favorite songs of spring, one we learned at the Waldorf school, and one that appropriately gives gratitude to the Sun:
The Sun has called to the frozen Earth:
“Awake, for Spring is here!”
And everywhere there was ice and snow
The squishy mud appears!
Yesterday it was white and fluffy;
Now my garden is brown and mushy!
I feel my heart begin to sing;
Thanks, Mr. Sun, for now it’s Spring!
Regular readers here will understand my excitement when I realized that the Sun — Apollo — was taking an interest in the affairs of our grove, and trying to send a signal that more effort was required from us. Personally, my intuition is that Apollo has no particular need for gold jewelry or honey; rather, what he desires is a closer connection — a focus on him and his attributes and agenda. The purpose of physical offerings and symbolic sacrifices, I feel, is primarily to help us focus our minds.
The next week, I designed a “solar disc” seal for this site and started displaying it prominently, to honor Apollo and remind me of where my focus should be. I have also consciously directed more energy and meditation toward simply opening myself up as a conduit of solar energy. The result is that in the past few weeks, I have felt a freer flow of ideas and opportunities. Recently I have even managed to manifest a great deal of additional time to work on this site and related projects. It won’t be long before these efforts start to bear fruit.
By the way, some of us wondered whether “Cath” is related to the word “cat”. Ellen mentioned that the Egyptians associated cats with the sun. I did a little research, and it may indeed be the case: the word “cat” is extremely ancient, and is one of those words (“wine” and “lily” are others) that is not particularly associated with any language family, but has been borrowed and passed back and forth in the Mediterranean area for millennia, and may ultimately be Egyptian.