Spring Equinox in Native American Cultures
The night is calm, the air is still, the chill is ever so slight. You can hear the bugs starting to jostle around and make their noises and the few calls of birds building their nests. These are signs that Spring (or the vernal) equinox is upon us.
The equinoxes mark the changing of Earth’s orientation and are significant to our yearly calendar – along with the moons, days and solstices. Simply put, the equinoxes occur when the “wobble” of the earth reaches a position where the sun crosses the equator. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the March equinox means marks warmer weather and longer days – and the first official day of Spring (March 19 this year). Vice versa, March equinox marks the beginning of fall in the Southern Hemisphere.
The equinoxes are recognized by many Native cultures for the purposes of practicality and ceremony. For one thing, equinoxes traditionally helped mark migration periods when tribes moved north or south, where herds of animals for hunting might be, and what plants might be dormant. Knowing what the seasons represented and how they impacted lands at any given time was essential to the survival of nomadic tribes.
For many Native American cultures, the seasons also coincide with certain traditions and beliefs. The arrival of warmer weather signals the return of animals and plants. Beautiful greens roll across the plains and mountains, and wildlife forages in the area. Tribes recognize this as the time to gather, confer with one another and make decisions that affect the community as a whole. For our ancestors, these gatherings decided who got to go where, how adversarial tribes were to be handled, and what new resources were available.
Spring represents a time of rebirth, where warmth returns, flowers bloom and animals come out of hibernation to greet a new year. Even today, we are reminded that spring marks renewal and we look forward to the good tidings ahead.