My freshman year in college, at Temple University, I rode the El to the subway to campus every day, and always felt this mystical presence in the smelly, loud trains rattling on rusted tracks at the moment the tracks turned underground and entered center city Philadelphia. There was a popping in my ears as pressure changed, and every conversation, if only for a second, would halt, as we subconsciously recognized the daily commuter katabasis that framed the day--escape from the sun in the morning to the world of work--reemerge into the sunlight after into the world of home. We were all minor heroes entering the underworld of bosses, teachers, and business downtown, and when fall came, and the sunlight was gone when we came out of the tunnels, every pair of eyes still looked outside seeking some sign that all was right in the world-the lights on the Ben Franklin bridge, the moon, row home and shop windows glowing beneath us.
It was only natural for me, as a Wiccan, to unconsciously find myself murmuring a short prayer every time I witnessed this minor transition and the effect it had on my fellow commuters. We are taught to notice these effects, to pay attention, to recognize the divine spark in all of us and to make note when it is communally altered by anything. After September 11th, there was a lot of talk from the media about our collective trauma, our collective stress, as if the concept that an event could bother a nation as a whole were somehow new and unusual when, in fact, people have known for years that changes, catastrophic and manmade or minor and natural, affect us all.
Ancient peoples recognized that people were affected by the things that happened to them, not just the huge acts of war and terror, or famine and disease, but of small things like less daylight, drops in temperature, minor increases in rainfall, changes in activities. Today, we use science to diagnose these changes when they occur in the extreme. Winter's dark brings seasonal effective disorder, spring's pollen nasal allergies, summer's color the desire to call in sick and hit the beach. To the ancients, of many different cultures, these things were just the power of the seasons.
On March 20th, 2002, at 2:16 pm EST, the northern Hemisphere's vernal (or Spring) equinox will occur, while the southern hemisphere sees the autumnal equinox. For both hemispheres, the day and night, as our ancestors noted, will be of equal length, with the northern days that follow growing longer until they reach their longest point in June and the nights growing in the south.
For Wiccans, the Spring equinox consists of being mindful of the changes occurring around us, with simple acts like spring cleaning or digging out summer clothes part of a greater sacred event that may include a feast or a communal ritual honoring any number of gods. The secular festival of Earth day also occurs on the equinox, and some Wiccans will celebrate that day with their greater communities in environmental and peace activism, while others eschew Earth day for spiritual duties, finding the greater community's one-day awareness of Earth's bounty and our treatment of her less than genuine.
Regardless of how it is noted, whether secular or spiritual, as the first day of Spring or as Earth Day, Wiccans teach that it is noted, if not by a rite or a ceremony, then by something innate within us that cannot help but notice the transition.