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March 20, 2011

Ostara – The balance of light and dark

Today is the spring, or vernal equinox. On this day, as well as on the fall equinox (September 21) the length of day and night are equal in proportion across our whole planet.  That is, in North and South America and everywhere else it is exactly 12 hours of night and 12 hours of day light today. Pretty cool huh?  

This balancing act is the result of Earth’s annual orbit around the sun.  Due to the fact that the Earth’s axis is tipped 23 degrees the Northern Hemisphere tips toward the sun in summer and away from the sun in winter. Thus, at the summer solstice (June 21) the North Pole will receive 24 hours of sunlight while the South Pole will be in total darkness. At the winter solstice (December 21) the situation will be reversed.

Ancient Celtic people called this day Ostara. It is the root of the Christian tradition of Easter. This is the celebration of springtime, birth and re-birth as well as the traditional time for planting. The colors red, green and yellow are traditionally associated with this day and it is thought to be a time of magic because of the balancing of dark and light.

This time of year also has great significance for the Lakota people who historically inhabited the region from the Colorado Rockies, east to the Missouri river and north into Canada. Since ancient times Lakota people watched as the constellation Aries moved closer and closer to the sun until it could no longer be seen. To the Lakota Aries and Triangulum represented Cansasa (chan-sha-sha) red willow, the bark of which is used in a ceremonial smoking mixture. When the sun lit the red willow it represented a pipe ceremony in the heavens.  This was the time to begin the annual migration to sacred sites in and around the Black Hills in South Dakota. Along the way the people performed a cycle of ceremonies that culminated with the Sun Dance at Devils Tower, known to the Lakota as Mato Tipila (Mah- toh- tee-pee-lah) the Bears Lodge.  

 Whatever you may believe, it’s reassuring that in this time of great uncertainty and change, Sun and Earth sail on in their cosmic dance quite unperturbed by the confusion of humanity.

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