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Spring Equinox

This year, the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere falls on Friday 20th March. Although this is a part of the modern witches’ calendar compared to the ancient path, it is still something that many of us celebrate. It marks a turning of the so-called wheel of the year and adds a split to the year that can be viewed as magical.

Equinoxes and solstices are seen by the modern pagans as a very special time of year. The balance between light and dark are seen as especially sacred as well as the changing of the seasons around these dates. 

The spring equinox is usually associated with the christian festival of Easter. Many assume that easter is from Ishtar – but it’s really, really not. There is an article talking about that, and you can find that by clicking here.

Pagans also think in the modern times that the name easter actually originates from Ostara, a Germanic goddess that was mentioned by Bede in the work ‘The Reckoning of Time’ or, originally, ‘De ratione temporum’. However, this work by Bede is the only piece of literature to mention Ostara and it is extremely odd that in modern times this supposed goddess would come to so much notoriety.

This is the original (translated) passage from chapter 15 of The Reckoning of Time by Bede:

15.  The English Months
In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called. …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance. Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…”

The Reckoning of Time – Bede. 8th Century

So, as stated in the passage above (which I found here) it mentions that the celebration was only previously celebrated in her name. Of course, it may well be that this was actually the pre-christian era name for the time period which is referred to as easter. Anglo-Saxons are said to have been converted to christianity in the 7th century by the missionaries sent from Rome. It does seem odd that there is just one mention of her anywhere – compared to other gods and goddesses who have a multitude of stories and legends about them. It could be that it’s simply a word used to illustrate the awakening of spring. It could be an ancient goddess that has long been forgotten – many of the rivers have goddesses associated with them and not many modern people know the names. 

So, whether or not there is a goddess called  Ostara or Eostre, the spring equinox is an actual astrological event that happens every year around the same time. As the earth does its wonderful season-thing, the places we live in undergo their own changes. It’s why the seasons are different in the northern and southern hemispheres and why we have longer or shorter days, depending on the time of year. 

Around the time of the spring equinox, the plants are starting to sprout and trees are getting their first blossom of the year. The birds start singing again, and if it has snowed, generally there will be a lot less of it from this time forward. Again, this depends on where you live – as if you are very far north, you may still experience snowfall as you are closer to the Arctic circle. As it is here in Northern Europe in more recent years, it just means things are a lot less brown and muddy and start turning a bit more green as time goes on. A bit further north there tends to be snow, but the last few years has just been a lot of rain.

Easter is also something that has become more of an ingrained cultural phenomenon like christmas, rather than specifically a time for the rebirth of the christian saviour in Europe. I know more people nowadays who celebrate both christmas and easter as a time to feast with family and enjoy the seasonal delights. Christmas is a way of getting through the long winter, just as easter is a way to celebrate the coming of spring and warmer weather. It is one of those interesting turns of events, as the original beginning of these festivals was rooted in paganism and associated with family, friends, feasting and festivity. Christianity brought along with it the advent of sin and being loyal to a higher power, but that part has faded out as the grip of christianity on Europe has loosened.

You will still find people who are ‘fair-weather’ christians – they go to church for the big holidays, but seem to ‘forget’ the rest of the year. You will also find people who are devout and follow the celebrations to the letter. However, for the most part, people just associate the times of year with good times and memory-making and leave it at that. 

Celebration

So how does one go about celebrating the spring equinox? What better way than preparing a fresh seasonal feast? Or, if that is not your thing, people may also choose to bake a loaf of bread for the occasion and use it for offerings to the local spirits and also for their family/friends.

Decorating your altar (if you have one) with light spring colours is also a good way to celebrate. This time of year is usually associated with the more pastel shades of purple, green and yellow, but you can choose whatever colours you most associate with this time. There is no hard and fast rule for celebrating, you can choose to do what you want to do. If you would rather celebrate at home with a book, go for it. If you are choosing to celebrate with your family, friends or coven/pagan group, have a fantastic time.

It’s a great time of year to think about a refreshing ritual. Sowing the seeds to be reaped later along the line. Follow along with the seasonal flow if that’s your thing and see what the plants and nature is doing along the way. Spring is seen as a season of regrowth and rebirth (perhaps that’s why they placed the christian story at this time of year) and is a great time to look at the coming year’s goals.

There is a rather pressing matter at the moment of the virus that is sweeping the globe – so celebrating alone or with your closest family may be the best idea. Take all the guidelines into consideration when planning your celebrations.

Above all, be safe, have fun and hail the gods. You got this!

The Illuminated Tarot by Caitlin Keegan- A Review

The outside of the box

The Illuminated Tarot by Caitlin Keegan

When you first lay eyes on this tarot deck, you are unsure whether it is a book or a box. The outside packaging for this is so beautifully designed, in a dark blue colour with a design inlaid in gilt.

Upon opening the box, the inside is decorated with a variety of moon phase illustrations and hourglasses within a chess-board like configuration. There is a book inside the box, with the same image as the front of the box, this time in colour. Underneath the book is the deck of cards, 53 in all, which we will move onto in a moment.

The guidebook talks a little about the history of tarot, as well as giving examples of ways to read the cards within. The back of the cards has a beautiful design similar to that of the front of the box and book, but with a star in the centre rather than the sun.

Review

The Illuminated Tarot is an interesting deck for tarot. Most tarot decks are around 78 cards and feature both the Major and Minor arcana, however, this deck features just 53 cards. The cards are interesting because they go along the same lines as a deck of traditional card deck- with the suits of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds.
Related to the tarot, the clubs are wands, diamonds are coins, hearts are cups and spades are equivalent to swords. Going further in the meanings, some of the ‘regular’ cards also have connotations to the major arcana, in that the meanings are also related to the major arcana. 

The front cover of the included book

The cards are wider than the ‘traditional’ tarot you may be used to, like in the Rider Waite deck for example. Having 53 rather than 78 cards also means that it’s less to learn for the beginner, with the same amount of meaning.
I’d say that going from a traditional 78 card tarot deck to using a 53 card deck is a lot easier than it may be in reverse. If you are used to one card meaning a few different things in this deck, going on to learn a traditional tarot deck may be harder after getting used to and using this deck, as the cards may not feel the same to you. However, if you already have some grounding in a traditional deck, this may actually make your readings quicker and perhaps a little easier compared to the 78 card version. On the other hand, you may also find that it doesn’t give you as much depth compared to a full 78 card deck. This, I feel, is a personal preference.

The designer of the deck, Caitlin Keegan, designed one card every week for a year. The result is this beautiful deck, which can be used for both gameplay and personal reflection if you so choose.
Although there are 3 example layouts discussed in the book, a quick search online will show you many different examples of tarot spreads. Even though this deck has fewer cards than the ‘traditional’ tarot decks, you can still use the same spreads.

You can find the tarot from http://caitlinkeegan.com via her shop, and you can also read more about her work on this project and other projects she has been/is involved with.

Samhain

The weak sun sets upon the landscape, the working day has been done. All the last crops have been gathered, ready for the coming winter. The animals are moving up from the pastures to the sheds and stables for warmth and security as Jack Frost begins to reclaim the landscape.
Samhain is seen by many as the beginning of winter, a theory which is said to originate in the Celtic times when it would symbolise the end of the harvest where you would reap what you have sown throughout the year, and bring the animals in for over the winter time.

Going back to when the locals relied on the agricultural landscape, there were many folklore tales of what could happen to the wheat or crops if they weren’t gathered before Samhain eve on the 31st October. Some say that the harvest which was left after this time would be ruined by the faeries’ destructive nature- blasting every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries which remain on the hedgerows. So anything that was not gathered by this time was deemed lost to that year and not to be used for any purpose.

Samhain is seen as one of the ancient fire festivals, and a bonfire would be lit to celebrate the turning of the wheel toward winter. The reasoning behind burning the bonfire goes back in part to the original meaning of the word ‘bonfire’ which is ‘Bone-fire’ or a fire where bones are burned. The local community would gather at the local bonfire area to burn crops and animals as part of a ritual to honour the lives of the animals and the bounty of the harvest, but also to give to their gods and goddesses as thanks for a great harvest season, or perhaps as a payment for a better harvest the next year.

The celebrations of this time of year were great, the people who attended would wear fantastic costumes and dance around the fire, telling stories and honouring the cycle of life through their stories or small plays. Honouring the dead at this time was, and still is, a great part of the celebrations. The costumes which were worn could have been in order to honour these spirits in their passing on to the next place, but also worn to scare off any malevolent spirits who may choose to interfere with the next year’s crops or the goings-on of the community.

The veil between the living and the otherworld is seen as particularly thin during the weeks before and after Samhain, but specifically on the night itself. This veil thinning can help diviners see the future in the tools they used. Many would ‘read the bones’ which means exactly what it says- the diviner would have a set of bones which they would use for divination purposes to help people with questions about their futures. As well as divination, there was also a chance with the local shaman or druids that they could commune with the spirits which were passing over from this world to the next over the seasonal celebration.

The essence of Samhain is remembrance, unity and the passing of the dead into the otherworld. It’s a great time to look back over the year at things we’ve done, said or started, and see if the next year can be any better. This ‘moving on’ from issues or situations could be the original inspiration behind the New Year resolutions- unfortunately, many people don’t end up keeping their New Year resolutions from January, but perhaps people may be able to keep them if combined with a ceremony like Samhain.

It’s the time to start settling down ready for the winter- make sure the heating works, or that you have enough logs for the fire over the winter. To ensure no drafts will disturb you over the next few months. It’s also about getting used to a new routine, as in many parts of the world the clocks will change by going back one hour near to the end of October- so the nights will be darker earlier. This also means that if children go trick or treating, it would be going dark (if not completely dark) by 4pm in the UK- so they need not go out so late doing this.

The origins of Trick or Treating are said to be ancient- going back to the Celtic times. Many would dress up for Samhain celebrations and festivities, but the act of trick or treating is to welcome whoever comes to your door, no matter how they look, as they may be a God in disguise. It’s said to date back to the Middle-Ages when children and poor adults would dress up and do a dance or perform a song in exchange for food or money. Nowadays, it is heavily commercialised and though some may make their own costumes, many can be bought cheaply from shops. The expected treat wouldn’t be a pastry or something wholesome either anymore, it’s expected that trick or treaters would get a bucket full of sweets and chocolate by the end of the night.

Any homes that do not have sweets or treats to give will still give a silver coin too, just to stave off the threat of a trick. This could also be tied into the tradition later in the year of wassailing or singing Christmas carols around a town or village in exchange for donations. Previously, it may have been for the community, but now it commonly goes to charities. The dressing up is not just a guise, but is also seen as dressing as a ghoul or ghost- the chances of meeting a ‘real’ spirit or ghost during Samhain is increased compared to the rest of the year, so being a convincing ghoul could help if coming across a particularly evil spirit.

The songs and prayers were often in exchange for something called a ‘Soul cake’. These would often contain spices associated with the season, including nutmeg and cinnamon, and would be decorated however the individual wished. The most common representation of a soul cake now is one that’s sectioned off into four quarters with raisins over the top. A light, spiced treat for people at this time of year to enjoy on their walk around the community.

It is souling that is thought to have given rise to guising, or trick-or-treating as we know it by now, and it may have travelled to America in the late 19th or early 20th century by Irish and British travellers. It is said that the version of trick or treating we have today was a skew on the original form of guising, where you would perform songs or prayers on behalf of the dead in exchange for treats, and has been replaced by the more consumer-led version coming over from the United States in response to a different culture- it’s said that the practice of trick or treating didn’t become popular or heard of until the 1980s in the UK.

It can be difficult for children nowadays to go trick or treating safely- many of the older children will skip the whole process and instead start vandalising areas, using ‘silly string’ on windows and also throwing eggs and flour at windows, cars and even passers-by. This can make it scary for the younger children, who in the UK seem to prefer going out when it’s still slightly light outside. Another issue is the vast size of some estates and areas to walk around. You will end up with a full bag of treats, but it may take you a good few hours to get around the whole area!

However you wish to spend your Samhain, Hallowe’en, or whatever you wish to call it, do it safely and keep it fun!

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