The name for the festival of the Spring Equinox in Druidry is Alban Eilir, which means 'The Light of the Earth'.
As the Sun grows warmer, so life begins to show through the soil. Small signs at first – the daffodils and crocuses – then more green as the bluebells and wood anemones spread through the woodland. Plants are seen by some as inanimate greenery with no actual feelings and life force. But Druids see life in all living things, from rocks and stones, to rivers and springs, plants and trees – all life is sacred.
Have you ever thought about how you recognise the beginning of Spring? Is it the plant life? The weather? How does a plant know when it is time to grow? The Spring Equinox falls on the 19th, 20th, or 21st of March each year. But a plant cannot tell the time or see a calendar. Yet it knows. If it has senses, then it has consciousness, if it has consciousness then it is more than an inanimate life form. So it is the return of life to the Earth that is celebrated at Alban Eilir, the time of balance.
One of the inner mysteries of Druidry is the Druid’s egg. Life-giving, it is the egg protected by the hare, which is the symbol of Alban Eilir – still celebrated by the giving of Easter eggs by the Easter bunny.
The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids works with Druidry as a spiritual way and practice that speaks to three of our greatest yearnings: to be fully creative in our lives, to commune deeply with the world of Nature, and to gain access to a source of profound wisdom.
In ancient times a Bard was a poet and storyteller who had trained in a Bardic college. In modern times, a Bard is one who sees their creativity as an innate spiritual ability, and who chooses to nurture that ability partly or wholly with Druidism.
Winter sometimes seems so long, that we could be forgiven for wondering whether Spring will ever return. But the Goddess of Spring is merely sleeping through the darkness of Winter, and while she stirs at Imbolc, she is truly awake by the time of the Spring Equinox.
The forces of light are equally balanced with the forces of darkness at this time, but light is on the increase – and will reach its apogee at the Summer Solstice three months later.
The symbolic plant of the Equinox in Druidry is the trefoil or shamrock, which is also customarily worn on St. Patrick’s Day, 17th March – almost at the time of the Spring Equinox. The usual explanation for the use of the shamrock is that St Patrick once used its three-leaved shape to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity, but in fact shamrock is probably the national emblem of Ireland because of its earlier Druidic associations, and it is seen by some authorities as a survival of the trignetra, a Christianised wheel or sun symbol.
The three-fold green leaves of Spring in the Druid ceremony and in the Irish buttonhole on St. Patrick’s day bring us back, then, not only to the Sun God and the doctrine of the Trinity (which some say evolved from Druidry), but to the teaching of the Awen, and to the concept of the Triple Goddess – for Artemis, the Triple Moon Goddess of the Greeks, fed her hinds on trefoil.
In Druidry, Spring is considered so important, that three festivals are dedicated to this season: Imbolc, marking the first stirrings of Spring, Alban Eilir marking its more obvious beginning, and Beltane marking the time of its fullness, before it develops into the very different quality of Summer. The following quotation by Nuinn elaborates on this theme:
“Spring with the Druid Movement is at least a triple celebration. One could indeed take it back even to winter solstice, with the rebirth of the light. However beginning with Imbolc or Brighid as the first of a trio, we have the first plough, the washing of the face of the earth and eight lights because it is distinctly a Mother Goddess occasion. So we have the use of earth, water, and light.
The second festa is the spring Equinox, Alban Eilir. Here in the open air again, if we celebrate at Parliament hill, we have the use of the stone of free speech (earth), the first fire of spring (the censer), and the sword of aither or spirit: and transformed water (wine) is given by the Spring lady, as well as atom-seeds for growth.”
“Alban Eilir, at the point of balance between Imbolc and Beltane, is at the point of balance too between day and night, and it is a perfect time to open to the quality of balance in our own lives.”
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More on the Spring Equinox
Read posts from fellow Druids and OBOD members with musings, experiences, songs and stories about the Spring Equinox, Alban Eilir: