Heal the soul
Beth Ritter Guth '93, associate dean of online learning and educational technology,
In a time of uncertainty, folks turn to traditions and rituals to help heal the soul. As COVID changes our lives minute to minute and distances us farther apart, we can feel helpless, hopeless, and anxious. Hopefully, the sun will save us and help us feel whole again despite our distance.
Spring Equinox, called Alban Eiler by the Celts (Eiler means ‘Light of Earth’ and Eilir means “light of Spring” – they are used interchangeably), is celebrated by many traditions including Wiccans, Shamans, Pagans, and Druids. It is one of two days in the year when day (sunlight) and night (moonlight) are equal and usually falls between St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 and March 20th. This year, it will fall on March 19th. It is also called “Ostara” or “Eostre” by some Pagans, Wiccans and Shamans.
For nature based religions or philosophies, the Spring Equinox is one of several celebrations focused on the position of the sun and moon. In the philosophical tradition of Druidry, modern and ancient Druids celebrate the Eightfold Wheel which begins at the New Year (Samhain, also called Halloween), and cycles through Alban Arthan, Imbolc, Alban Eilir/Eiler, Beltane, Alban Hefin, Lughnasa, and Alban Elfed. Each tradition carries rituals and rites specific to the person hosting them, but are often rooted in similar principles concerning nature, ancestors, and legacy. Traditions vary by heritage and Grove (groups of Druids), but all recognize the balance between the Earth and Sun and celebrate the coming of Spring.
In the Druid tradition, there are no right or wrong ways to celebrate any of the Eightfold observances. As a “path based” philosophy, there is great acceptance for all paths that harm no others. Some Groves have established rituals for each of the festivals, while independent Druids create their own rituals.
Many Druids try to get to Stonehenge for either the Spring or Fall Equinox, as the Standing Stones are positioned in a specific way to direct the sunlight as it emerges in the morning and falls at sunset. Many believe the Druids are responsible for the Standing Stones, but carbon dating has aged them older than the Druids. But, just in case you can’t get to Stonehenge during the COVID travel restrictions, here are some cool things you can do at home to celebrate the sun:
- Be present at sunrise and sunset. If possible, be barefoot in the grass and face the rising or setting sun. If you are religious, pray in your tradition for balance, generosity, and rebirth. If you are not religious, use the time to meditate for the same. Druids often ask for aid from the four winds, ancestors and future descendants. One large misconception is that Druids are inherently Pagan, and while there are many Pagan Druids, there are also Christian Druids, Wiccan Druids, and Jewish Druids. Since Druidry is a philosophy, it can be combined with any religion as a way to understand the world.
- If you would like to pray the Druid’s Prayer, it can be adapted to your religion or turned into a meditation if you are not religious:
Grant, O Great Spirit/Goddess/God/Holy Ones, Thy Protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences, the love of Great Spirit/Goddess/God
Holy Ones/the Earth our mother, and all goodness.
- Shamrocks are often associated with Alban Eilir/Eiler because they represent the three festivals of Spring (Imbolc, Alban Eiler, and Beltane), while others say they represent the Triple Goddesses of Ireland, and others say that St. Patrick used the Shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity. In any case, everyone agrees that the Shamrock signified Ireland. You can hunt for Shamrocks, you can draw them, and/or you can print them out for coloring here: https://www.crayola.com/free-coloring-pages/print/shamrock-coloring-page/
- Eggs are often associated with Alban Eiler because it’s a time of fertility. In fact, much of the Christian practice of coloring and hiding eggs stem from Pagan and Druid celebrations brought from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Scandinavia. The Easter Bunny is also a Pagan symbol of fertility as some traditions claimed that a bunny would come in the night and leave treats for children (like a Springtime Santa). In addition to the many Easter activities out there, you can try balancing an egg on the Spring Equinox. Myth has it that an egg can stand unsupported on the Spring and Fall equinoxes because the Earth is completely balanced.
- Feasts are part of each of the Eightfold celebrations, and the Alban Eiler feast includes homemade breads and wine and local vegetables, nuts, and berries. The focus is eating together, being together, and celebrating the survival of winter. Sing songs, tell stories (Storytelling Day is March 20), and enjoy the company of others (but no more than 10 at the moment).
- In Ancient cultures, there were also fertility rituals and some traditions still carry those rituals today. Modern Druids, especially those with religious affiliations, have abandoned these but they are fascinating.
There seems no better time than for a balancing ritual ~ a chance of hope and light. As we head into the Spring Equinox, let us all think of each other and help one another through this uncertain time.