vernal equinox

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vernal equinox:

see equinoxequinox
, either of two points on the celestial sphere where the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect. The vernal equinox, also known as "the first point of Aries," is the point at which the sun appears to cross the celestial equator from south to north.
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vernal equinox

(ver -năl) (spring equinox) See equinoxes.

Vernal Equinox

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Ancient, Religious (Neopagan)
Date of Observation: On or about March 21
Where Celebrated: All over the world
Symbols and Customs: Flowers
Related Holidays: Beltane, Easter, Imbolc, Lughnasa, Mabon, May Day, Nyepi, Passover, Samhain, Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice

ORIGINS

The vernal equinox-from the Latin vernalis, meaning "of spring," and equinoxium, meaning "time of equal days and nights"-is one of two times during the year (the other being the AUTUMN EQUINOX) when day and night are of equal length all over the world. This occurs because the ecliptic, or the sun's path through the sky, and the earth's equator intersect, with the sun above the equator. At this precise moment, known as the equinox, exactly one-half of the earth is illuminated by the sun's rays while the other half is in darkness, producing a day and a night that are both twelve hours long.

In ancient times, the vernal equinox marked the beginning of the year and the point from which the twelve constellations of the zodiac were calculated. For this reason, the vernal equinox was sometimes referred to as the "first point of Aries," because at one time spring began when the sun entered the zodiac sign of Aries. But because of a phenomenon known as the "precession of the equinoxes," which refers to a cyclical wobbling in the earth's axis of rotation, the vernal equinox has shifted westward over the centuries, and spring now begins when the sun is in Pisces, the next constellation to the west.

In terms of earthly weather, the astronomical seasons mean nothing. In many parts of the United States, for example, where spring is widely identified with the months of March, April, and May, winter weather can persist well into April and even into May. In Great Britain, on the other hand, spring is popularly thought to include February, March, and April. In the Southern Hemisphere, of course, the seasons are reversed: There, spring begins around September 23 and ends about December 21.

The vernal equinox marks the changing of the seasons, which people in all parts of the world have honored since ancient times. Many cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the SUMMER SOLSTICE and WINTER SOLSTICE, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

As the season of planting and germination, when life and light replaced the darkness and death of the winter season, spring had a profound influence on ancient peoples and played an important role in their folklore, mythology, and art. Most ancient New Year rites taking place around the time of the vernal equinox involved one or more of the following elements: (1) fasting; (2) purgation, usually involving fire, the ringing of bells, and the cleansing of houses and temples; (3) invigoration, often in the form of a mock combat between the forces of life and death or the release of sexual energy; and (4) jubilation in the form of feasting and merriment.

The people of Bali, for example, celebrate the vernal equinox and the New Year by driving the devils out of their villages and then observing a day of stillness, known as NYEPI. After luring the evil spirits out of their hiding places with an elaborate offering of food, drink, and money, with samples of every kind of seed, fruit, and animal found on the island arranged in the shape of an eight-pointed star, the demons are driven out of the village by people running through the streets lighting firecrackers and banging on drums and tin cans. The following day, Nyepi, is observed as a day of absolute stillness: no cooking or fires, sexual intercourse, or work of any kind is permitted.

The early Christians, who regarded the seasons as symbolic of the course of human life, identified spring with rebirth and resurrection. The Christian festival of EASTER, which takes its name from Eostre, the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, is a joyful celebration of the resurrection of Christ observed on the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Even the Jewish feast of PASSOVER is rooted in ancient agricultural customs associated with spring and planting.

During the 1960s, the modern Neopagan and Wiccan movements emerged in Great Britain, the United States, and other English-speaking countries. They follow a nature-oriented religion loosely linked to ancient Celtic and other beliefs and inspired by old European folk practices. They celebrate eight sabbats, known as the eight spokes of the wheel of the year, which include SUMMER SOLSTICE, WINTER SOLSTICE, VERNAL EQUINOX, BELTANE, SAMHAIN, IMBOLC, LUGHNASA, and MABON.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Flowers

Ancient sculptors and artists often depicted spring as a female figure carrying flowers. Flowers are a traditional symbol not only of spring but of the transitory beauty associated with this season. Flowers in a field are a popular Christian symbol of the Virgin Mary and the Church, and white flowers in particular are associated with the Virgin.

In the United States and other countries, spring remains a popular time for flower festivals and garden tours. Just as seeds are planted in the spring, it is also a time for other kinds of beginnings, including graduations and weddings.

FURTHER READING

Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. Heinberg, Richard. Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth's Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1993. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Olderr, Steven. Symbolism: A Comprehensive Dictionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1986.

WEB SITE

National Maritime Museum www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/conWebDoc.3843

Vernal Equinox (Spring Equinox)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Equinox, Latin for “equal night,” refers to one of the two days of the year on which daytime and nighttime are equal in duration. The vernal equinox, which occurs on or around March 21, marks the beginning of both the sign Aries and the spring season. The vernal equinox is especially important for Western astrologers, who utilize the Sun’s position against the backdrop of the stars at the spring equinox (the vernal point) as the place where the zodiac begins.

Vernal Equinox

 

one of the two intersections of the ecliptic with the celestial equator. During the vernal equinox, the sun in its apparent annual motion along the ecliptic crosses from the southern hemisphere of the celestial sphere to the northern hemisphere. It is denoted by Y or Vernal Equinox (Y is the sign of the constellation Aries, in which the vernal equinox, shifting about the celestial sphere as a result of precession, was located 2,000 years ago, when the ancient Greeks composed the astronomical terminology.) The vernal equinox plays an important role in astronomy. It is the reference point in some systems of celestial coordinates and is used in problems connected with the measurement of time. The sun passes through the vernal equinox on March 20 or 21.

vernal equinox

[′vərn·əl ′ē·kwə‚näks]
(astronomy)
The sun's position on the celestial sphere about March 21; at this time the sun's path on the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator. Also known as first point of Aries; March equinox; spring equinox.

vernal equinox

vernal equinoxclick for a larger image
i. That point of intersection of the ecliptic and the celestial equator occupied by the sun as it changes from a south to a north declination, on or about March 21. Also called the March equinox or the first point of Aries.
ii. That instant the sun reaches the point of zero declination when crossing the celestial equator from south to north.

Vernal Equinox

March 21 or 22
The vernal equinox, Latin for "of spring" and "equal night," is one of the two occasions during the year when the sun crosses the equator, and the days and nights everywhere are nearly of equal length. It marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.
See also Autumnal Equinox; Higan; Nyepi; Shunbun-no-Hi
CONTACTS:
Lab for Particles and Fields
Code 672
Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771
301-286-0447
www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov
The Royal Observatory Greenwich, National Maritime Museum
Greenwich Park
Greenwich, Greater London SE10 9NF United Kingdom
44-20-8312-6565; fax: 44-20-8312-6632
www.nmm.ac.uk
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 222
BkDays-1864, vol. II, p. 364
DictDays-1988, p. 37
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 1105
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 215

Vernal Equinox (Chichén Itzá)
March 21
ChichÉn Itzá, located on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, is one of the country's biggest and best preserved Mayan ruins. Every year on the Vernal Equinox, the angle of the sunlight hitting the enormous El Castillo pyramid creates a shadow that gives the illusion of a snake slithering down its side. The Mayans believed that this was Kukulcán, the feathered snake god known to the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl.
Researchers were not aware of the annual awakening of the serpent god until 30 to 40 years ago, but since that time tourists have converged on the site on March 21—although the serpent can be seen up to four days before or after the equinox. Visitors enjoy folk dancers, musicians, and poets while they wait for the moment of the serpent's appearance, when the hours of sunlight equal the hours of darkness. Although the serpent can also be seen at the Autumnal Equinox in September, this is during the rainy season and cloudy weather often spoils the effect.
CONTACTS:
Yucatan State Tourism Office
Calle 59 No. 514 POR 66 y 64
Centro C.P., 97000 Mexico
52-999-924-9389; fax: 52-999-928-6547
SOURCES:
WildPlanet-1995, p. 536