A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.
Carl Sagan (1994: 77) Pale Blue Dot, A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Random House.
Spring is the time of new growth, of greening, of animals creating new life. Days lengthen, the sun grows stronger, trees blossom, birds sing to establish their nesting territory. All around us, we sense the creative forces of nature at work. The natural changes around us are signals that it is time to wake up from the dormant days of winter and to begin a new phase in our lives.
For the ancients, the seasonal cycle of light and dark, warmth and cold, created a natural rhythm of activity and rest. In contemporary life, we have lost some of that rhythm but awareness of the seasonal changes in nature can help us balance our lives. Imbolc at the beginning of February is a festival of purification in the Pagan calendar and in many other religious calendars. From Imbolc to spring, as the days grow longer, we start to wake up from the sluggishness of winter. It is time to clean our homes and to clear out what we will not need in the coming season.
With the renewed energy that comes with spring, we can engage with and shape the external world. Spring Equinox is a good time to review where we are now and to plan our objectives for the spring and summer to come. Where do we want to be and what do we want to achieve by the autumn? What new activities can we initiate and bring to fruition over the coming months?
Honoring the body
Spring brings greenness. In many mystical traditions, greenness is associated with divine energy and spiritual wholeness and creativity. The great German medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen used the word ‘viriditas’, greening, to describe the divine immanent in nature. Alchemy evolved in the medieval era and beyond from a process to transform base matter into gold to a spiritual process of transformation of the alchemist. The ‘base matter’ of human personality is transformed into a newer spiritual self. ‘Greening’ is one of the traditional stages of alchemy and is symbolized by a green lion. The lion was considered the king of the beasts, greatest of the animals, and the green lion in alchemy represents the physical self renewing and regenerating itself. Spring is a time for our physical as well as our spiritual regeneration. In Pagan thinking, our spiritual practice benefits from treating our bodies in ways that bring health and create a sense of well-being. We are what we eat so it is important to eat mindfully, aware of the quality of the food we are eating and where it comes from. Imbalanced eating clogs our thinking and reduces our ability to engage in the joy of living in a body, one of the great gifts of nature. When our energies cannot flow freely, our brains do not function at their optimum and life is less joyful and creative.
Honoring the body and caring for it honors the universe that gave us this precious earthly vehicle that enables us to enjoy sensory existence. For Pagans, to be incarnate in the body is a holy gift, the gift of the Gods, and it is a phase of our existence to enjoy. Through physical incarnation we learn to appreciate the beauty of the created universe and the wonder of the others with whom we share it – plant, animal and human beings. All of us together form the anima mundi, the world soul that animates Gaia – our world. Each species, each individual is important and necessary.
With the awakening of spring, what can we do to bring balance in our lives, a balance of the different parts of our lives – mind, body, emotions and spirit – but also a balance between our own wants and needs and that of the planet as a whole? One of the ways we can most honor the renewing, greening spring is to think about how we can contribute to the well-being of the biosphere of which we are part. What spiritual gift can we give to Gaia to reduce the harm that our existence causes? Can we plant a tree, donate to an environmental organization, begin to cycle to work or school rather than driving? Can we eat ‘down the protein’ chain; eating less animal protein and feeding ourselves in ways that benefit us by being healthier and benefit others by causing less harm to the planet and those we share it with? All these are ways in which we can ‘green’ the spirit and honor Gaia too. Each small thing we do and give back to the planet gives us something in return. In Wiccan tradition, the return is threefold; not necessarily in material terms but in spiritual energy. We grow spiritually by contributing to the greater good of the world – that is our threefold return.
Reconnecting with nature
Spring is the season to reconnect with nature. In the cold season, our instinct is to ‘go into the cave’; to stay indoors, to conserve our health and strength and to enjoy the company of family and friends. Spring is the time to spend time in nature. We may be able to visit a sacred site, forest or other natural place where we can be still and silent and draw closer to the sacred. Even if we live in a major city, there will be city parks where spring’s renewal is making itself felt. To visit such places gives us renewed energy and inner peace. It is an opportunity to honor nature as the garment of the Divine; the beautiful cloak that conceals the consciousness within that is ever-becoming, ever-renewing and is still evolving and renewing the universe that we are privileged to inhabit. Our seasonal celebrations remind of that which is abiding and endures – which is not fashion, worldly success, physical beauty; nor is it our mistakes, pain and inadequacies. It is what lies beyond these poles of positive and negative emotions. It is deep joy in being alive and deep peace in the face of eternity.
A prayer for spring
Lady of the green the growing earth,
power of the life force manifesting in the world,
manifest within me the power to create,
to bring growth and renewal,
and to awaken the hope and joy of spring in those I meet.
May the greening of spring inspire our hearts and minds.
Vivianne Crowley, PhD is a university lecturer, psychologist, and Wiccan priestess. She was formerly Lecturer in Psychology of Religion at King’s College and at Heythrop College, University of London, where she specialized in Jungian Studies and Buddhist psychology. She is the author of many books on Wicca, contemporary Pagan spirituality, and Jungian psychology and has taught Wicca internationally for over 30 years. In the UK, she has served as interfaith coordinator of the Pagan Federation and was the first coordinator of Pagan Chaplaincy Services. Vivianne is currently a professor in the Department of Pastoral Counseling at Cherry Hill Seminary.