Equinox comes from the Latin words aequi, which means “equal,” and nox, which means “night.” Twice per year the daylight and the nighttime hours are the same. At the September equinox, the sun transitions over the celestial equator to move south. The northern hemisphere rotates into winter, and the southern hemisphere moves into summer. For the sake of my location in the northern hemisphere, I’ll address this upcoming March equinox as the spring equinox, also known as the vernal equinox (the southern hemisphere’s spring equinox occurs in September). After the spring equinox, we observe the days starting to creep towards the soul-warming summer months. This time period signifies a transition towards the sun; a time for rebirth, renewal, and potential for growth. Here we move from the sedentary, internal, yin energy, to active, external, yang energy.
The equinoxes are acknowledged by cultures throughout history, including ancient Roman and Greek mythology, and through sun correlations at structures such as Stonehenge in England, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In Ireland the ancient structures of Grianan of Aileach date back to Neolithic farming communities 5000 years ago. One of the passage tombs of Carnbane East is directed to receive the beams on the rising sun on the spring and autumn equinox, illuminating art within the tomb.
The Mayans of Central America celebrated the equinox at their great pyramid El Castillo, located within Chichen Itza and built between the 8th and 12th century AD. At the spring and autumn equinoxes, the afternoon sun creates a series of triangular shadows which emulates a serpent “slithering” down the pyramid. This process is known as “The Return of the Sun Serpent.”
In the shamanic cultures, where direct attunement to nature is deeply ingrained in the rhythm of day to day life, the equinox is a natural progression of Mother Earth bringing balance to our dualistic world. Without darkness, there would be no light. Winter and summer bring Earth into balance and harmony to our existence.
If you feel like this time period is throwing you out of balance, consider acknowledging the shift and easing into it with grace. Here are some rituals you can do to celebrate the upcoming spring equinox.
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “spring cleaning”? The Equinox is a perfect time of year for turning over a new leaf. Decluttering or cluttering clearing is modern day alchemy. Our “stuff” can represent our identity or a certain aspect of our lives. Too much clutter can feel disorganized or even chaotic, and it can create feelings of being physically or emotionally heavy. If you want to move forward with a clean slate, clutter clearing is essential. Go through your shelves and drawers and remove anything non-essential. Clear out old clothes you don’t wear and donate them. By doing so, you will reestablish the life-force flow, and recharge and rebalance the energy within your living space.
Along with spring cleaning, this is a wonderful time for a space clearing. In the shamanic cultures, space clearing is often practiced in the spring. There are various ways of implementing a space clearing but generally, it starts with setting an intention. Perhaps you’d like to incorporate abundance, health or spiritual growth into the new season.
Create an altar dedicated to your intention, utilizing shells, statues, candles, colors (like green for healing or white for transformation), grains (rice is a symbol of abundance and good fortune), plants and flowers, crystals, etc. Use noisemakers such as rattles, drums, and chapakas to call in your intention and shake up the energy of your space. Then use sage, palo santo or cedar to smudge and clear the space. After you have cleared the space, focus on bringing your intention into your space. You can do this indoors in your living space or office, or outdoors in your garden as you bless the land for the fertile time that’s about to commence.
In shamanic cultures, a despacho is a prayer or offering ceremony for births, deaths, healing or transitional times (such as the equinox). Similar to a mandala, a despacho holds the prayers of the participants of the ceremony which brings energy shifts and healing. A variety of ingredients are collected before the ceremony, including things like spices, sweets, grains, beans, leaves, flowers, or incense. The ceremony starts with opening sacred space by calling in the four directions, and then the shaman or person leading the ceremony blesses each ingredient and places them one by one onto a square of paper (oftentimes gift wrapping paper). Prayers of each participant are given to the despacho, which can be blown into cocoa leaves and added to the other ingredients. Then the despacho is carefully wrapped and tied with ribbon or string. The bundle of prayers can be buried for a “slow-release” effect or burned in a ceremonial fire.
Shamans love an opportunity for a fire ceremony, which can be done at full or new moons (see Honoring the Full Moon with Ceremony article <link>), to burn a despacho, or at the spring and autumn equinox. Whoever is leading the ceremony will call in the four directions. Participants create a circle around the fire and intentions can be set and released into the flames.
Coming out of the winter months, the darkness, and the introverted energy, you’ll want to charge up for the days ahead with a fiery yang yoga practice. By practicing standing postures and any type of movement-based flow, you’ll begin to stir up that springtime energy. Try a vinyasa flow filled with active warrior postures, or alignment-based Iyengar. If you only have time to practice for a short while, flow through a few rounds of sun salutations, to salute the incoming sunny season.
If you are a green thumb and have garden space, planting a plant is a wonderful way to energetically contribute to the season of birth and growth. Visit your local nursery and purchase a plant or tree that you’ve been wanting to incorporate into your garden space. Or start planning your garden filled with intention on the Spring Equinox. You can even create a ceremony around planting the plant, giving thanks to Pachamama for caring and providing for us. If you are an avid gardener, consider spending the weekend planting herbs and vegetables. You’ll reap the benefits of the bounty of your garden’s offerings in the weeks to come.