[This essay is adapted by the author from “Spring in the Subtropics, Spring in the Self,” a chapter in Spinning in Place: A Secular Humanist Embraces the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year.]
Balance is not static but flowing, and the equinoxes represent this especially when considered as a pair. The primary difference between the vernal and autumnal equinoxes is their valence, their charge, their spin. As the sun passes through the equatorial plane in March, the Northern Hemisphere moves into the light half of the year, while the Southern Hemisphere moves into the dark half. The equinoxes are not static dead-ends but transitional moments, tipping points.
As such, the equinoxes provide an opportunity for making changes in one’s life. The Neo-Pagan writer Glenys Livingstone characterizes both equinoxes as a moment for “Stepping into Power.” (See “The Equinoxes as Story of Redemption: Sacred Balance of Maternal Creativity” by Glenys Livingstone, Ph.D.) This resonates with me on an intuitive level. From a place of balance, we act. I find myself setting longterm projects (half-year or full-year) from equinox to equinox.
The vernal equinox in particular, associated with notions of tender new life emerging, lends itself to rites of purification and cleansing. My body and my being are the fertile soil from which I hope to cultivate the fruits of creativity. I don’t want to sterilize that soil, but I do want it to be healthy, free from toxins, conducive to growth.
Paradoxically, the best way to foster my own noetic fertility is through subtraction. Perhaps that is simply because I live in a land of abundance and relative affluence, or perhaps it’s inherent to the human condition. Whatever the case, it feels right to me to give up something during this season. There’s a parallel to Lent here, to be sure, and in this Catholic city of New Orleans that’s nothing to sneeze at. (With the pollen filtering down from our live oak trees, there’s a whole bunch of sneezing going on here in the springtime.) For me, it’s not a matter of penance, suffering, mortification or redemption. Rather, it’s a matter of feeling good, staying strong, promoting vitality, improving focus, and nurturing inspiration.
Coming off the excesses of our Carnival season, it feels natural to lay off the booze awhile. Over the years, I found myself enjoying sobriety more than I’d enjoyed drinking. Imbibing had become habitual, an ingrained part of my daily life, especially after that flooding problem we had here in 2005.
Breaking that habit felt wonderfully liberating. Sobriety was, in fact, intoxicating. One year, my change of habit took on a semi-permanent aspect. I stayed more or less sober for a couple years.
To clarify: I’m not totally a teetotaler, nor am I preaching abstinence to anyone. I aimed to break a long habit of daily drinking, and I’m proud to have accomplished that. Staying sober in New Orleans is a peculiar challenge, to be sure, but one I’ve come to relish. The role of my daily practice was critical, though outside the scope of this book, but the transformation began with my annual purification rites at the vernal equinox.
Alcohol isn’t the only thing I’ve been known to give up. One year I found myself eating less as the equinox approached, consciously cultivating my sense of hunger. That led to more changes of habit, and I lost a bunch of weight. Since then I’ve continued the effort to eat healthier and exercise more often.
I generally go off coffee as the weather gets warmer. Over the winter, I swill java like a fiend, as much as a pot a day. By the time spring gets here, I feel like my internal organs are being continually bathed in acidic hot stimulants. They need a break. By stepping my dosage down daily, rather than going cold turkey, I avoid withdrawal headaches, and soon I am caffeine-free, a condition which I try to maintain for at least a week.
These are all means of cultivating a “spring in the self,” a season of renewal and rebirth within. Spring and the equinox are experienced differently in different localities. The body is the ultimate localization. All our dreams start here.
This all sounds terribly mature, yet spring is surely the season of youth. The vernal equinox is a holiday with a special appeal for young children, and a chance for older folks to catch a whiff of youthful spirit. Try coloring some eggs and see what happens.
We should not be so serious. I should not be so serious. The point of all that ritualistic purification is to be reborn, to become a kid again.
So it seems to me, and I have some very particular reasons.
My daughter was born shortly before the equinox. We named her after the ancient Greek goddess of the spring, Persephone. I didn’t give the name lightly, but neither did I fully realize the depth of the transformations she would bring. I certainly didn’t apprehend the poetry of her timing.
The vernal equinox is said to be the time when Persephone ascends from the underworld to reunite with her mother, the fertility goddess Demeter. Vegetation flourishes and the Earth comes back to life.
In the same way, it’s as if the arrival of our daughter brought me back to life. As my awakening slowly unfolded, I discovered that I had been spiritually dead, or at least slumbering. Her arrival precipitated many changes, including my interest in the Wheel of the Year.
I don’t wish to glamorize parenthood as some sort of spiritual rite. Awakenings may be triggered by any number of events, and they usually take us by surprise. Probably they cannot be planned.
It just so happens that my trigger was a happy one, and I feel I owe my daughter a debt of gratitude for that. It’s safe to say I would not be writing this book if it was not for her.
Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband and a father. His formative years were spent in Indiana and northern Sweden, and he has lived in New Orleans since 1999. His work has appeared in Red Rock Review and the collections Please Forward, Godless Paganism and Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral. His new book is Spinning in Place: A Secular Humanist Embraces the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year. [ link: http://tiny.cc/spinning ] Currently he is working to establish a local chapter of the Green Party in New Orleans. More at BartEverson.com