|Alphons Mucha - Spring|
With the heralding of spring, the approach of summer, and warmer weather (well, for those of us in the northern hemisphere anyway,) “spring fever” is a common malady. Some battle pollen, while others look with horror upon the emergence of roaches, spiders and other creepy crawly hatchlings and would just as soon the pests stay frozen. Still, most of us happily embrace this time of year, much as they did in the past.
Our European ancestors greeted the vernal equinox with gratitude. Like the Autumn Equinox, the Vernal or Northward Equinox is one of two days a year when the day and night are equal in length. This day marks the end of a long, cold, and at times, very cruel winter, and the beginning of new life, spring.
During the vernal equinox, festivals and holidays take place all over the world. In many parts of Asia this day also marks the New Year.
Before Christianity took hold, the Scandinavian people celebrated Dísablόt, meaning the “sacrificial holiday,” which they held in honor of female deities or the “dísir” and the beautiful shield maidens, the Valkyries. Dísablόt celebrates the “fertility” of spring and summer which enhances the fall harvest.
The dísir (from “Dis” meaning lady) are female entities, ghosts, spirits or deities associated with “fate.” The Disir, depending on mood or whim, could either be benevolent or antagonistic toward the mortal populace. Originally “fertility” goddesses, many evolved into clan protective spirits. Dísablόt is the veneration of female entities including the Norns (the goddesses ruling “destiny” or the Fates in Greco-Roman mythology.) Valkyries (valkyrja “chooser of the slain”) determine who will live and who will die in battle. Half the slain are then taken to Valhalla, ruled by Odin. They will escort the other half to Freya’s field, Folkvangr. In Odin’s realm these warriors are known as “einherjar.”
Valkyries also appear as lovers of heroes and are at times described as daughters of royalty. The swan, horse and raven are all associated with these comely maidens.
Some Anglo-Saxon sources relate the Valkyrie with the Germanic seeress as well as the Shield maidens. These chosen women fought as warriors in Scandinavian folklore and mythology. Both legend and historical accounts attest to the existence of sword wielding daughters of the north.
The Vættir are wights or nature spirits. These include the elves, dwarves, giants and even some gods. The Æsir and the Vanir are prominent groups, families or clans.
The “Viking Thing,” a meeting of freeman to consider law, hold trials, and other weighty matters of government, took place during this time of year as well. This Viking holiday is associated with the Anglo-Saxon modranect or mother’s night
The Latvians celebrated Lieldienas (Big Days) on March 23. This party lasted for three or four days, with each day devoted to a specific deity. At least one day was devoted to Māra
Why Māra? Well, she was the diva of the Latvian goddesses, a feminine counterpart to Dievs (God). All the other female deities in Latvian mythology are merely her assistants, servants or alternate aspects of Māra. She is the patroness of all female duties (children, cattle, “dishes and laundry”), all economic activities (God made the table, Māra made the bread), money, markets and the land. No wonder a spring festival would honor her as the world awakens from the deep sleep of winter. She held your future economic welfare in her hand. Therefore, one might think it best to keep her happy
Of course this is also the time we celebrate Easter, which combines pagan and Christian beliefs, tradition and doctrine. But more on that in a later post.
So, how are you celebrating Easter or the Vernal Equinox this year?