Vernal Equinox: Revelation and Fertility

by Jesper Toad

 

28408124_10156311199005116_924044286_oThe vernal equinox marks the point in time equidistant between Candlemas and Beltane when the hours of night and day are experienced in equal measure.  During this high point of the spring season light waxes and darkness wanes as the days lengthen.  Occurring on the gyre of the year directly across from the Autumnal Equinox, this time of celebration concerns the fertility of the community, emphasizing planting and tending, rather than harvesting and processing which takes place on the downside of the year. The imagery that surrounds this season is one of fertility and the emergence of new life—the germination of seeds and the appearance of the reproduction of animals—from where this vitality was hidden in seeds and eggs  and secreted within wombs.  This mysterious emergence unfurls in daffodils and narcissi, bursts from seeds and eggs, and arrives with the appearance of young rabbits, lambs, calves, and foals.  In times prior, this abundance of life, this celebration of warmth and light, was marked by the lack of resources that were the result of the harshness of the preceding winter season.  The Christian observance of Lent reflects this: amid the promise of life the people refrained from the consumption of meat, fish, and cheese in an ascetic effort to reserve resources.

Ronald Hutton suggests that, although the contemporary Pagan name for the season originates with the Germanic goddess Ostara, there may be little credence in finding the origins of the world Easter in the Germanic goddess Eostra, who is mentioned only once in an early eighth century source (1996, p. 180).  The symbols of the hare and the egg, rather than being associated with these goddesses, are more likely to have originated from more recent Germanic folk traditions.

The relationship that ties hares, or rabbits, with Easter, and with the Vernal Equinox due to the proximity to Easter, is difficult to unravel.  The notion that hares are connected with goddess Ostara or Eostra appears conjectural, although it certainly accounts for the connection in the minds of Contemporary Pagans. Although the convention of the Easter Bunny appears to come from the German tradition of the Easter Hare—the Osterhase—the hare, along with the egg, nevertheless seem to have strong associations with the Vernal season (Hutton, 1996, p. 203). In Europe and North America, spring presents the environmental conditions favorable for hares to reproduce, and for birds to build nests and successfully care for their young: consequently we associate the vigorous and fecund hare and the ubiquitous egg with the fertility and burgeoning life force of the season.

If we approach the hare and the eggs as if they were images occurring in a dream, using the psychoanalytic process of amplification to make connections to mythic, historic, and cultural parallels, we can build a better understanding of the connections to the vernal equinox (Jung, 1947).  These multitudinous young are birth and nursed in warrens hidden beneath the ground, recalling the groundhog who saunters out six weeks earlier at the beginning of February, ushering in the springtime of the year from where it had been safely sequestered underground.  The symbolic connections of the ubiquitous egg appear to relate not only to the regeneration and rebirth that occurs at the vernal equinox, but also hints at something hidden and revealed.  The shell of the egg occludes our vision of the contents, separating that which is outside from that which it contains.  Like a seed, it holds a potential that is waiting to emerge into the world.  In mythology, it is the chthonic and spiritual ophidian serpent that incubates the egg that gives birth to the world, which emerges twice born from the broken shell, the golden yolk sun rising and giving nourishment to universe.

The representation of three hares running in a circle, with one ear from each hare forming a triangle and the second ear either not visible or hidden by the preceding hare’s ear, can be found on medieval buildings throughout Britain.  It has been suggested that the iconography of the three hares, which often occurs on religious structures, relates to the Virgin Mary or the Catholic Trinity, although to my mind the resonance of this trio of gamboling hares seems to whisper of some other mystery, far more wild and potent.  The Threefold rotational symmetry of the hares recalls the three phases of the lunar cycle (waxing crescent, full, and waning crescent) and the three aspects of the triune goddess—Maiden, Mother, and Crone—although arguably this association between moon phases and the ages of womanhood is a more modern notion popularized by Robert Graves in The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth in 1948 (Hutton, 2001, p.41).  Of more interest is the puzzle that these three hares present: that of an un-decidable figure occurring when our brains attempt to interpret a two-dimensional figure as a three dimensional object and fails at the attempt.  All the hares’ ears are present and accounted for, and at the same time half of them are missing.  Each hare is individually complete, but all three cannot be complete at the same perceptual moment (Singmaster, 2004).  The three visible ears frame a triangular opening, and the shape of the triangle is associated with the vulva, the entrance of life into the world, and likewise the exit through which it descends into the underworld.  Where are the other three ears, the invisible ears?  Perhaps they are in the otherworld, framing another gateway—for every door is both an entrance and an exit, and these aspects shift depending upon which side of the door you find yourself—and it is through this other portal that the life that has gone underground in winter can emerge again.  These hares in a circle, chasing one another, recalling the spinning of the earth, the revolution of the seasons, the gyre of the year, which also recalls the pacing of the mill, through which witches enter into a liminal state, between the manifest, concrete world, and the hidden, fluid, imaginal realm.

Somewhere, here, between the seen and unseen ears of the gamboling hares, as well as hidden in by the opaque shell of the mysterious egg, there is a mystery awaiting revelation.  Like the Lenten Veils that conceal the sacred portions of the church during Passiontide, they exist to be rent asunder to yield their mystery with the cresting of the vernal tide.

The Hares Gate Rite

Struggling with my personal connection of the triskelion of hares to the vernal equinox resulted in the incubation of an experience of the mystery, which I used as the basis of the rite below.  This ritual celebrates the rush of vitality that accompanies the conjunction of the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage, between what I relate to as the two great spirits of the underworld—the White Lady and the antlered Lord of the Gates of Life and Death–and the opening of the gate from that world to this through which the vital energies emerge into the world.  This piece is constructed in such a way that it may be either used as a solitary mediation, or as part of a group ritual.  In either event, this rite is best performed outside, in a garden ready for planting, in a park, or in some wild forest clearing.  The poetic framework for this piece draws inspiration from the French rondeau consisting of fifteen lines in three stanzas with the first line of the first stanza serving as refrain for the remaining two stanzas.  The repeat “Gamboling the Hares Gate, three rabbits make a ring” and the last line of the first stanza “She the jewel-box, He the key, each the gateway opening” make a nice chant if practicing alone, or a call and response if more than one person is involved.  Through the rite the participant or participants pace rhythmically round in a circle, to induce a trance state, facilitate the images as they arise from the underworld, and to assist in building the energies that ease open the Hares Gate at the height of the vernal tide.  As a visual aide, a triangle might be drawn in the grass with white corn meal, or outlined with smooth white stones.

Create sacred space in the way you know how.  Hold some seeds in your hand, preferably something native and non-invasive if you are in a wild place, or the seeds of summer flowers if in a garden.  As you begin to pace in a circle read or recite:

 

Gamboling the Hares Gate, three rabbits make a ring;
Round they chase each other, dancing for the king.
Each an ear is showing, each an ear unseen;
this secret they are hiding: a threshold for a queen.
She the jewel-box, He the key, each the gateway opening.

From that world to this, through the gate the hares are weaving,
flows foison up from deep below, vitality returning  

Where it lay hidden, since the frost, down in the Labyrinthine.
Gamboling the Hares Gate, three rabbits make a ring!

Half again a brace of hares within a gyre is withing
whilst day is waxing long and dark is finally waning.
Now when the Lord of Life and Death enclasps his livid Queen,
The gate bursts wide and into this world life and love careen
After winter’s long retreat again the earth is thriving!
Gamboling the Hares Gate, three rabbits make a ring!

28459597_10156311199805116_937050456_oAs you walk, close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Imagine three hares running after one another, circling round and round, until their ears overlap, or blur together. The space in the middle of the dancing hares is a triangle that revolves.  Watch as this triangle rotates, spinning in the space in the center of the Hares’ Dance.  The triangle turns, first quickly, then more slowly, and comes to rest point downward.  In this position, narrow toward the earth and wide to the sky, the triangle becomes the pubic triangle of a bone white woman. White as a tooth, white as the moon, her thighs and belly revealed, but her face veiled, obscured.  Regard the White Lady a moment.

Gamboling the Hares Gate, three rabbits make a ring;

She the jewel-box, He the key, each the gateway opening.

28340970_10156311205215116_2062647528_oA shadowy man approaches her, his darkness against her pale skin, the branches of his antlers held high, and phallus proud before him.  Pause a moment with the Lord of the Gates of Life and Death.

Gamboling the Hares Gate, three rabbits make a ring;

She the jewel-box, He the key, each the gateway opening.

The woman and the man come together, first hand in hand, then mouth to mouth, and skin to skin, and all the while it seems as if you are between them, a part of their love making.  As they come together, her triangular gate opens slowly, and the life that has been kept safe within the otherworld floods through the open doorway, through your body, and into this world.  The life force rises through your arms and into your hands, enlivening the seeds held between your palms and fingers.

Gamboling the Hares Gate, three rabbits make a ring;

She the jewel-box, He the key, each the gateway opening.

Scatter the seeds, and the energies they now contain, in the direction of each of the four winds.

The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide;

The Vernal Equinox reveals

The gate through all that’s fertile reels;

The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide.

Jesper Bio image

 

Jesper Toad is a Georgian and a Gardnerian initiate, and studied the Feri Tradition with T. Thorn Coyle for nearly three years. His personal practice of three decades blends elements of all these traditions, as well incorporating spiritualist, shamanic and depth psychological perspectives. These seasonal writings and images are excerpts from The Enchiridion Magistellus, A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art. Jesper can be contacted at jespertoad@gmail.com. 

 

 

References

Graves, R. (1948). The white goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth.  London: UK: Faber and Faber.

Hutton, R. (1996). The stations of the sun: A history of the ritual year in Britain.  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hutton, R. (2001). Triumph of the moon: A history of modern Pagan witchcraft. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1947 [1954]).  On the nature of the psyche. Coll. Works (Vol. VIII). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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