Stations of the Gyre
The vernal equinox marks the point in time equidistant between Candlemas and Beltane when the hours of night and day are experienced in equal measure. During this high point of the spring season light waxes and darkness wanes as the days lengthen. Occurring on the gyre of the year directly across from the Autumnal Equinox, this time of celebration concerns the fertility of the community, emphasizing planting and tending, rather than harvesting and processing which takes place on the downside of the year. The imagery that surrounds this season is one of fertility and the emergence of new life—the germination of seeds and the appearance of the reproduction of animals—from where this vitality was hidden in seeds and eggs and secreted within wombs. This mysterious emergence unfurls in daffodils and narcissi, bursts from
seeds and eggs, and arrives with the appearance of young rabbits, lambs, calves, and foals. The cold, dark silence of winter has given way to the burgeoning life of spring. In times prior, this abundance of life, this celebration of warmth and light, was marked by the lack of resources that were the result of the harshness of the preceding winter season. The Christian observance of Lent reflects this: amid the promise of life the people refrained from the consumption of meat, fish, and cheese in an ascetic effort to reserve resources.
Ronald Hutton suggests that, although the contemporary Pagan name for the season originates with the Germanic goddess Ostara, there may be little credence in finding the origins of the world Easter in the Germanic goddess Eostra, who is mentioned only once in an early eighth century source (1996, p. 180). The symbols of the hare and the egg, rather than being associated with these goddesses, are more likely to have originated from more recent Germanic folk traditions.
The relationship that ties hares, or rabbits, with Easter, and with the Vernal Equinox due to the proximity to Easter, is difficult to unravel. The notion that hares are connected with goddess Ostara or Eostra appears conjectural, although it certain accounts for the connection in the minds of Contemporary Pagans. Although the convention of the Easter Bunny appears to come from the German tradition of the Easter Hare—the Osterhase—the hare, along with the egg, nevertheless seem to have strong associations with the Vernal season (Hutton, 1996, p. 203). Like all of the eight sabbats of the year, Easter marks an intense exchange of energies between the human world and the Otherworld. This exchange of energies is signaled by the appearance of Otherworld spirits in animal form. The hare is one of these spirits, heralding the springtime incarnation of the Wild (Walter, 2014, p. 98). In Europe and North America, spring presents the environmental conditions favorable for hares to reproduce, and for birds to build nests and successfully care for their young: consequently we associate the vigorous and fecund hare and the ubiquitous egg with the fertility and flourishing life force of the season. The phases of the moon call forth the appearance of the hare-spirit, who serves as mediator and soul-guide between the human and imaginal realms (p. 98).
The eggs that appear during the Pascal season appeared to have a mystical value that surpasses their importance as a food source. In modern times children frantically search for Easter eggs in the long grass, filling enormous colorful baskets with their booty, and later in the week their parents scramble for ways to incorporate the overabundance of eggs into the family diet. In this position these colorful eggs appear as some object of greed or competition, often occurring in an overabundance that has to either be consumed, or wasted. In Medieval times these eggs, often dyed red, and especially lucky if laid on Good Friday, were a blessing, bestowing good health, acting as charms against lightning, and used to turn aside the maleficence of witches (Walter, 2014, p. 99).
If we approach the hare and the eggs as if they were images occurring in a dream, using the psychoanalytic process of amplification to make connections to mythic, historic, and cultural parallels, we can build a better understanding of the connections to the vernal equinox (Jung, 1947). The hare’s multitudinous young are birthed and nursed in warrens hidden beneath the ground, recalling the groundhog who saunters out six weeks earlier at the beginning of February, ushering in the springtime of the year from where it had been safely sequestered underground. The symbolic connections of the ubiquitous egg appear to relate not only to the regeneration and rebirth that occurs at the vernal equinox, but also hints at something hidden and revealed. The shell of the egg occludes our vision of the contents, separating that which is outside from that which it contains. Like a seed, it holds a potential that is waiting to emerge into the world. In mythology, it is the chthonic and spiritual ophidian serpent that incubates the egg that gives birth to the world, which emerges twice born from the broken shell, the golden yolk sun rising and giving nourishment to universe.
The representation of three hares running in a circle, with one ear from each hare forming a triangle and the second ear either not visible or hidden by the preceding hare’s ear, can be found on medieval buildings throughout Britain. It has been suggested that the iconography of the three hares, which often occurs on religious structures, relates to the Virgin Mary or the Catholic Trinity, although to my mind the resonance of this trio of gamboling hares seems to whisper of some other mystery, far more wild and potent. The Threefold rotational symmetry of the hares recalls the three phases of the lunar cycle (waxing crescent, full, and waning crescent) and the three aspects of the triune goddess—Maiden, Mother, and Crone—although arguably this association between moon phases and the ages of womanhood is a more modern notion popularized by Robert Graves in The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth in 1948 (Hutton, 2001, p.41). Of more interest is the puzzle that these three hares present: that of an un-decidable figure occurring when our brains attempt to interpret a two-dimensional figure as a three dimensional object and fails at the attempt. All the hares’ ears are present and accounted for, and at the same time half of them are missing. Each hare is individually complete, but all three cannot be complete at the same perceptual moment (Singmaster, 2004). The three visible ears frame a triangular opening, and the shape of the triangle is associated with the vulva, the entrance of life into the world, and likewise the exit through which it descends into the underworld. Where are the other three invisible ears? Perhaps they are in the otherworld, framing another gateway—for every door is both an entrance and an exit, and these aspects shift depending upon which side of the door you find yourself—and it is through this other portal that the life that has gone underground in winter can emerge again. These hares in a circle, chasing one another, recalling the spinning of the earth, the revolution of the seasons, the gyre of the year, which also recalls the pacing of the mill, through which witches enter into a liminal state, between the manifest, concrete world, and the hidden, fluid, imaginal realm. Such circle dances—called carols in the Middle Ages--often appear in Medieval literature connected with the equinoxes and solstices that mark changing of the seasons (Walter, 2014, p. 108). Somewhere, here, between the seen and unseen ears of the gamboling hares, as well as hidden in by the opaque shell of the mysterious egg, there is a mystery awaiting revelations. Like the Lenten Veils that conceal the sacred portions of the church during Passiontide, they exist to be rent asunder to yield their mystery with the cresting of the vernal tide.
The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide;
The Vernal Equinox reveals
The gate through all that’s fertile reels;
The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide.