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Photo of a lake in a valley where the sun and the moon are edited to be in the sky at the same time

Ancient British traditions to celebrate the Spring Equinox

The beginning of spring was always an important part of the calendar for our ancestors. It meant that they had made it through another winter and could begin their harvest.


The Spring or Vernal Equinox has been celebrated by a myriad of pagan faiths at least as far back as the Neolithic era. Unlike solstices which celebrate the longest day or night, equinoxes mark the two points of the year (March and September) where night and day are exactly equal. While the equinoxes are a celestial phenomenon and celebrated globally, here in the UK we have always had our own ways of doing things.

Wake up and smell the flowers

The overarching theme for Pagan equinox celebrations is one of duality and perfect balance, the male sun in harmony with the female moon. Many pagan faiths celebrate the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth so the Spring Equinox heralds the Earth awakening from its winter slumber and life returning with gusto.

For this reason, bright spring blooms such as daffodils, daisies, crocuses and bud-laden willow boughs would feature heavily in decorations for homes, altars, and even headdresses. However, certain flowers were off-limits.

Lily of the Valley was considered bad luck and regarded as being an omen of death if brought into a house. Bluebells too were approached with caution due to their link with the fae. They did have their uses though, with the gummy sap of the bulbs used to attach fletchings to arrows for hunting.

What’s in a name?

Many pagans today celebrate the Spring Equinox as ‘Ostara’, which is a Latin variation of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, spring, fertility, and rebirth Oestra (or Eostre) who has her roots in Germanic cultures. In the 8th century CE, the month of April was still known as ‘Eosturmonath’.

Only English and German-speaking countries refer to the Christian holiday in spring as ‘Easter’. It’s worth noting that Easter is mentioned in the Bible just once and only in the King James’ version circa 1611.

The invite list

While much of the celebration focused on Eostre, she was certainly not the only deity worshipped at this time across the British Isles. Those who worshipped a Triad, or Triple Goddess, would celebrate her Maiden aspect’s rebirth. In England, this would also symbolise the return of the horned God Cernunnos.

In parts of Ireland, Danu, the mother goddess, and Epona, the horse goddess, were both honoured. Epona initially blessed horses for hunting and then eventually for ploughing fields. While in Wales, the goddess Rhiannon was also celebrated for her link to horses, forgiveness, fertility, the moon, and rebirth. As was Ceridwen, goddess of hares, magic, mysticism, and rebirth, who is often represented on altars by a cauldron.

On the Orkney Isles, the Vore Tullye, a battle much like that of the solstice’s Holly and Oak Kings, is celebrated. Teran the Winter Spirit battles the Sea Mither for weeks, with the Sea Mither emerging victorious in spring and Teran winning the rematch in autumn.

Mad as a March hare

In folklore, the hare was the messenger of the moon, or even considered to be the moon goddess herself taking its shape to walk on Earth. Given how active they are with their own fertility rituals in spring, it's no wonder hares became synonymous with these celebrations. A hare's foot was often kept as a powerful fertility charm.

There’s evidence of hares being sacrificed and held in such high regard that they were given ritual burials alongside people in the Neolithic Age and continuing into the Iron Age. Julius Caesar documented that due to their religious significance, hares were still not killed to be eaten in Britain.

Feasting, frolicking, rituals, and rites

Herb-stuffed eggs were served as a part of the feast while painted eggs appeared as decorations and dedications on altars. They symbolised fertility and the emergence of life but also protection. For this reason, empty egg, snail, and sea shells were often crafted into protective charms at this time of year. Round spiced buns laced with dried fruit and intersected with a Celtic Cross were also specially prepared and served with wines or ales infused with honey and violets.

A somewhat controversial equinox ritual and meal began around the 1700s in a Leicestershire village called Hallaton. The Hare Pie Scramble is exactly what it sounds like, people scrambling to get a lucky slice of a large hare pie. Despite the best efforts of a disgruntled Parson in 1790 who disapproved of its pagan connotations, the tradition continues to this day.

Historically, work carried out at this time was that of preparation to ensure a fruitful year, success wasn’t to be taken for granted. Horses, harnesses, ploughs, seeds and homes were blessed and it was common to show a piece of silver to the sun at dawn then wrap it in blue cloth and secure it above a door to ensure success. In the same vein, predictions and divinations would be made regarding the health of livestock, family and crops. While those of marrying age would sneak to a spring, such as Cerne Abbas in Dorset, at first light with hopes of catching a glimpse of their future spouse.