Spring is a time associated with rebirth, new life and fertility. Although birds and animals do not have their babies until much later in the season, the Druids recognized that the equinox was a time for celebration. They called the equinox in springtime Alban Eilir. This translates to: “The light of the Earth.”
Contemporary man has read about and imagined the days of the Druid, a mystic, spiritual and indeed priest-like, usually male figure. Of course there are women in the movement, too. Yes, “are.”
Druids are alive and well, all over the world. Although the early Celtic people shared language and culture, this early religion has always included people of different race. Inclusion is still alive in Druid culture today.
The Celtic calendar focuses on lunar and solar cycles. This is why it is thought Stonehenge, England’s impressive monolithic structure, was built in circle formation. Originally it was thought the Celts came to England around 600 AD, but scholars no longer agree on this, as it is now accepted that Stonehenge was built closer to 2,000 BC. It is thought that each equinox the Druids celebrated at one of these outdoor “temples,” where perhaps, originally, chieftains were buried.
Alban Eilir is thought to be a time of balance, when light and dark join, and winter and spring meet. The Druids recognized, as we do today, that life began anew (or perhaps resumed) in spring. It is accepted by all that a growing plant is alive, but few religions ascribe consciousness to plants, and even rocks. Druids do.
It is thought in this religion that as plants cannot “see” a calendar or tell time, the fact that they grow in springtime anyway indicates senses, and senses indicate consciousness. Druids worship all living and even inanimate things within Nature, not just at the equinox, but year round.
A Druid mystery is that of the Druid’s egg. This is an important, life-giving egg that was said to be protected by a hare. This is how the Easter Bunny originated. Many pagan holidays were absorbed through mainstream culture into Christianity. The Druids, too, necessitated the Church to erase the memory of what was, but some keep the traditions alive today.
This year, as each year before, various people gathered at Stonehenge at dawn to await the arrival of the first sun of spring. Druids and other pagans, as well as curious parties, met for the vernal or spring equinox. There are only two 24-hour periods per year when the Earth receives equal measures of daylight and night-time: at the spring and fall equinoxes (another word for which is “solstice”). This is very significant in the pagan calendar—the equality of light and dark—hence the focus on balance.
For this celebration, worshippers greet the dawn, watching the sun rise and performing fertility rites. The Saxon goddess Eostre (root of the word that gave us the term “oestregen”) in particular is being worshipped, hence the Druid egg of life.
How is it that this spring holiday the Druids celebrate goes unmarked in so many places? Truly, it does not. It is not only Easter that coincides with the spring equinox. The Persian new year, Nowruz, and the Jewish holiday of Passover also coincide with this time that was so special to the Druids, and still is today.
Opinion by Julie Mahfood
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