The very nature of gardening and growing things brings to mind the forces and bounties of Nature, mindfulness, gratitude and the spirituality contained within. Earth reverence, and the presence of God and Goddess, patron saints, guardians, protectors, and magic is what most gardeners feel when they escape to their garden retreat for serenity, peace, quiet and solitude. Earth-based spirituality is not voodoo or disrespect for traditional organized religion, and it's not blasphemy or Satan Worship.
Reverence for the earth and all living things within Nature is not "new-agey" or hocus pocus. It's the customary way some folks express their thankfulness in gardens, forests, when camping and on nature hikes. And they've done it for centuries. This can be done by "practicing" your birth religion in tandem with the practice of focused nature worship. You can have a prayerful Saint's Garden, a dedicated Mary Garden, or a Biblical Garden, and you can have a Native American Medicine Wheel Garden, and Buddhist Zen Garden, and still practice reverence and thanks to Mother Nature for the beauty and bounty of your garden.
Earth-centered religion, or nature worship, is a system of religion based on the veneration of natural phenomena. It covers any religion that worships the earth, nature, or fertility deity, such as the various forms of goddess worship, or matriarchal religion. Some find a connection between earth-worship and the Gaia hypothesis. Earth religions are also formulated to allow one to utilize the knowledge of preserving the earth.
Many religions have negative stereotypes of earth religion. A common critique of the worship of nature and resources of "Mother Earth" is that the rights of nature and anti-ecocide movements are inhibitors of human progress and development. This argument is fueled by the fact that those people socialized into 'western' world views believe the earth itself is not a living being. and earth worshipers are hindering large-scale development, and they are viewed as inhibitors of advancement.
Followers of earth religion have suffered major prejudice over the centuries for allegedly being Satanists. Some religious zealots can be prone to viewing religions other than their religion as being wrong, sometimes because they perceive those religions as characteristic of their concept of Satan worship. An all-evil being does not exist within the religious perspective of western earth religions. Devotees worship and celebrate earth resources and earth-centric deities.
Another perspective of earth religion to consider is pantheism, which takes a varied approach to the importance and purpose of the earth and to the relationship of humans with the planet. Several of their core statements deal with the connectivity humans share with the planet, declaring that "all matter, energy, and life are an interconnected unity of which we are an inseparable part" and "we are an integral part of Nature, which we should cherish, revere and preserve in all its magnificent beauty and diversity. We should strive to live in harmony with Nature locally and globally".
Nature worship or naturism is any of a variety of religious, spiritual and devotional practices that focus on the worship of the nature spirits considered to be behind the natural phenomena visible throughout nature. A nature deity can be in charge of nature, a place, a biotope, the biosphere, the cosmos, or the universe. Nature worship is often considered the primitive source of modern religious beliefs. Common to most forms of nature worship is a spiritual focus on the individual's connection and influence on some aspects of the natural world and reverence towards it.
Cunning folk, also known as folk healers, are practitioners of folk medicine, folk magic, and divination within the context of various traditions of folklore in Christian Europe (from at least the 15th up until at least the early 20th century). Laws were enacted across England, Scotland and Wales that often condemned cunning folk and their magical practices, but there was no widespread persecution of them like the Witch Hunt, because most common people firmly distinguished between the two: witches were seen as being harmful and cunning folk as useful.
In Italy, in the rest of Europe, the primary role of the Italian cunning-folk was apparently in healing, both through the use of herbs and through spiritual healing. The former required knowledge about various plants and herbs on the behalf of the cunning-person, although the spiritual healing was believed to come from an inner power, known as la forza (power), la virtù (virtue) or il Segno (the sign). Such healing was often in the form of removing the malocchio, or evil eye, which had cursed someone. As someone of Italian descent, and raised in the culture, I've seen plenty of curses and the removals of such first-hand.
Italian cunning craft was, and continued to remain rooted in the country's Roman Catholicism, which is evident from the use of charms and prayers, which often call upon the aid of saints. Such magical practitioners also widely believed that they dealt with spirit beings, both benevolent (who would aid them) and malevolent (whom they would have to combat). The latter included the unquiet dead as well as supernatural witches who were believed to cause harm to people, whilst the former included ancestors, the helpful dead and saints, who could help defeat these malevolent entities. Magical tools were also utilized by Italian cunning-folk, and while these varied between both regions and practitioners, these commonly include fiber ropes or cords to bind, knives or scissors to cut away illness, and mirrors and weapons to reflect or scare away malevolent spirits.
you a good witch, or a bad witch? - Glinda The Good Witch, 1939 - The
Wizard of Oz
During the Witch trials in Early Modern Europe, many practitioners of folk magic who did not see themselves as witches, but as healers or seers, were convicted of witchcraft, and many English "witches" convicted of consorting with demons seem to have been cunning folk whose fairy familiars had been demonized, and more than half of the accused witches in Hungary seem to have been healers.
Some people accused of witchcraft have described their experiences as contacting fairies, spirits, or the dead, often involving out-of-body experiences and traveling through the realms of an "other-world". Beliefs of this nature are implied in the folklore of much of Europe, and were explicitly described by accused witches in central and southern Europe. Repeated themes include participation in processions of the dead or large feasts, often presided over by a female divinity who teaches magic and gives prophecies; and participation in battles against evil spirits, "vampires", or "witches" to win fertility and prosperity for the community.
White magic has traditionally referred to the use of supernatural powers or magic for selfless purposes. Practitioners of white magic have been given titles such as wise men or women, healers, white witches or wizards.
Many of these people claimed to have the ability to do such things because of knowledge or power that was passed on to them through hereditary lines, or by some event later in their lives. White magic was practiced through healing, blessing, charms, incantations, prayers, and songs. With respect to the philosophy of left-hand path and right-hand path, white magic is the benevolent counterpart of malicious black magic. Because of its ties to traditional Paganism (nature worship), white magic is often also referred to as "natural magic". It has been thought that effectively all prehistoric shamanistic magic was "helping" white magic, and that the basic essence of that magic forms the framework of modern white magic: curing illness or injury, divining the future or interpreting dreams, finding lost items, appeasing spirits, controlling weather or harvest and generating good luck or well-being.
Goddess, Mother Earth, and Nature Spirits Worship
Mother Earth is a living being, as are the waters and the Sun.
An ancient Ashiwi (Zuñi) prayer-song
That our earth mother may wrap herself
We must try to use the pipe for
mankind, which is on the road to self-destruction. . . .
A holy well or sacred spring is a well or spring or other small body of water revered either in a Christian or pagan context, sometimes both. The term holy well is commonly employed to refer to any water source of limited size (i.e. not a lake or river, but including pools and natural springs and seeps), which has some significance in the folklore of the area where it is located, whether in the form of a particular name, an associated legend, the attribution of healing qualities to the water through the numinous presence of its guardian spirit or Christian saint, or a ceremony or ritual centered on the well site.
In Christian legend, the water is often said to have been made to flow by the action of a saint, a familiar theme especially in the hagiography of Celtic saints. Christianity strongly affected the development of holy wells in Europe and the Middle East. Aside from the spring that issued from the staff of Moses and the Well of Beersheba, there were already a number of sites mentioned in Jewish and Christian folklore.
Herbs are used in many religions – such as in Christianity (myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), ague root (Aletris farinosa) and frankincense (Boswellia spp)) and in the partially Christianized Anglo-Saxon pagan Nine Herbs Charm. In Hinduism a form of basil called tulsi is worshipped as a goddess for its medicinal value since the Vedic times. Many Hindus have a Tulsi plant in front of their houses.
Sacred mountains are central to certain religions and are the subjects of many legends. For many, the most symbolic aspect of a mountain is the peak because it is believed that it is closest to heaven or other religious worlds. Many religions have traditions centered on sacred mountains, which either are or were considered holy (such as Mount Olympus in Greek mythology) or are related to famous events (like Mount Sinai in Judaism and descendant religions).
According to the Torah, and consequently the Old Testament of the Bible, Mount Sinai is the location that Moses received the Ten Commandments directly from God. The tablets form the covenant, which is a central cornerstone of Jewish faith. Saint Catherine's Monastery is located at the foot of Sinai. It was founded by empress Helena, who was the mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine.
The Navajo possess a strong belief system in regards to the natural-supernatural world and have a belief that objects have a supernatural quality. For example, the Navajo consider mountains to be sacred. There are four peaks, which are believed to have supernatural aspects. The mountains each represent a borderline of the original Navajo tribal land. The mountain ranges include Mount Taylor, the San Francisco Peaks, Blanca Peak, and Hesperus Peak located in the La Plata Mountains.
Each mountain/peak is representative of a color, direction, and correlates with a cultural light phenomenon dealing with the cosmic scheme of the rising and of the setting sun. Directionally, the mountains are described in a clockwise motion following the movement of the Sun beginning with the eastern mountain of Blanca Peak. Blanca Peak is associated with the color white and the "Dawn Man" referring to the rising of the sun. Next in the south is Mount Taylor, which is associated with the color blue and the "Horizontal Blue Man" referring to the daytime. In the west is the San Francisco Peaks, which is representative of the color yellow and the "Horizontal Yellow Woman" and is associated with the setting of the sun. And finally in the north is the Hesperus Peak of the La Plata Mountains which is given the color black and belongs to the light phenomenon of the "Darkness Woman" representing the nighttime.
History shows that mountains were commonly part of a complex system of mountain and ancestor worship. Having immortalized fallen brethren in the edifice, the people share a common allegiance with all the other people of a community. The meanings that were etched into the mountain and mound terrain connected the villagers. They were all subject to the same landscape and village history, which were bound together by their cultural significance. The history of ancestors could be told by simply pointing at specific mountains and remembering the stories that were passed down throughout the generations. The worship of ancestors and the mountains were largely inseparable. An interconnected web between history, landscape, and culture was thus formed. Examples of this would be the Hindu belief that Mount Kailas is the final resting place for the souls of the dead, as well as the large cemetery placed on Mount Kōya-san.
Sacred mountains can also provide an important piece of a culture's identity. The Armenian people regard Mount Ararat, a volcano in eastern Turkey believed to be the site of Noah's Ark in the Bible, to be a symbol of their natural and cultural identity”. As a result of the mountain's role as a part of a cultural identity, even people who do not live close to the mountain feel that events occurring to the mountain are relevant to their own personal lives. This results in communities banning certain activities near the mountain, especially if those activities are seen as potentially destructive to the sacred mountain itself.
Astrolatry is the worship of stars and other heavenly bodies as deities, or the association of deities with heavenly bodies. The most common instances of this are sun gods and moon gods in polytheistic systems worldwide. Also notable is the association of the planets with deities in Babylonian, and in Greco-Roman religion.
The 1783 issue of The New Christian's magazine had an essay entitled Astro-theology which argued the "demonstration of sacred truths" from "a survey of heavenly bodies". In the mid-19th century, it was argued that there is a compatibility of "Jewish Astro-theology" of the Hebrew Bible, which places God and his angelic hosts in the heavens, with a "Scientific Astro-theology" based on observation of the cosmos. And it was also expressed in the early 20th century, that each of the three Abrahamic faiths has a planet that governs that religion. Judaism is Saturn: the symbol of Judaism is a hexagram symbol of Saturn, and the day of worship is on Saturday, day of Saturn. Christianity is the Sun: the symbol of Christianity is the cross symbol of the Sun, and the day of worship is Sunday, day of the Sun.
Gaia philosophy (named after Gaia, Greek goddess of the Earth) is a broadly inclusive term for related concepts that living organisms on a planet will affect the nature of their environment in order to make the environment more suitable for life. This set of hypotheses holds that all organisms on a life-giving planet regulate the biosphere in such a way as to promote its habitability. Gaia concept draws a connection between the survivability of a species (hence its evolutionary course) and its usefulness to the survival of other species.
While there were a number of precursors to Gaia hypothesis, the first scientific form of this idea was proposed as the Gaia hypothesis by James Lovelock, a UK chemist, in 1970. The Gaia hypothesis deals with the concept of biological homeostasis, and claims the resident life forms of a host planet coupled with their environment have acted and act like a single, self-regulating system. This system includes the near-surface rocks, the soil, and the atmosphere.
A sacred tree is a tree which is considered to be sacred. They featured in, for example, the ancient Greek, Hindu mythology, Celtic and Germanic mythologies. They continue to hold profound meaning in Shinto, religion in China, and Akan people, among other institutions. Groups are known as sacred groves
Trees are significant in many of the world's religions and mythologies, and have been given deep and sacred meanings throughout the ages. Human beings, observing the growth and death of trees, and the annual death and revival of their foliage, have often seen them as powerful symbols of growth, death and rebirth. Evergreen trees, which largely stay green throughout these cycles, are sometimes considered symbols of the eternal, immortality or fertility. The image of the Tree of life or world tree occurs in many mythologies.
Examples include the banyan and the sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of Judaism and Christianity. In folk religion and folklore, trees are often said to be the homes of tree spirits. Germanic mythology as well as Celtic polytheism both appear to have involved cultic practice in sacred groves, especially grove of oak. The term druid itself possibly derives from the Celtic word for oak. The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions sycamores as part of the scenery where the soul of the deceased finds blissful repose. The presence of trees in myth sometimes occurs in connection to the concept of the sacred tree and the sacred grove.
Numerous popular stories throughout the world reflect a firmly-rooted belief in an intimate connection between a human being and a tree, plant or flower. Sometimes a man's life depends upon the tree and suffers when it withers or is injured, and we encounter the idea of the external soul, already found in the Ancient Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers from at least 3000 years ago. Here one of the brothers leaves his heart on the top of the flower of the acacia and falls dead when it is cut down. Sometimes, however, the tree is a mysterious token which shows its sympathy with an absent hero by weakening or dying, as the man becomes ill or loses his life. These two features very easily combine, and they agree in representing to us mysterious sympathy between tree and human life.
The earth also plays a vital role to many Voltaic peoples, many of whom "consider the Earth to be Heaven’s wife", such as the Konkomba of northern Ghana, whose economic, social and religious life is heavily influenced by the earth. It is also important to consider various Native American religions, such as Peyote Religion, Longhouse Religion, and Earth Lodge Religion.
April 22 was established as International Mother Earth Day by the United Nations in 2009, but many cultures around the world have been celebrating the Earth for thousands of years. Winter solstice and Summer solstice are celebrated with holidays like Yule and Dongzhi in the winter and Tiregān and Kupala in the summer.
Pre-Indo-European societies lived in small-scale, family-based communities that practiced matrilineal succession and goddess-centered religion where creation comes from the woman. She is the Divine Mother who can give life and take it away. In Irish mythology she is Danu, in Slavic mythology she is Mat Zemlya, and in other cultures she is Pachamama, Ninsun, Terra Mater, Nüwa, Matres or Shakti.
In the late 1800s, James Weir wrote an article describing the beginnings and aspects of early religious feeling. According to Boyer, early human was forced to locate food and shelter in order to survive, while constantly being directed by his instincts and senses. Because human's existence depended on nature, men began to form their religion and beliefs on and around nature itself. It is evident that human's first religion would have had to develop from the material world, he argues, because humans relied heavily on his or her senses and what s/he could see, touch, and feel. In this sense, the worship of nature formed, allowing humans to further depend on nature for survival.
The term earth religion encompasses any religion that worships the earth, nature or fertility gods or goddesses. There is an array of groups and beliefs that fall under earth religion, such as paganism, which is a polytheistic, nature based religion; animism, which is the worldview that all living entities (plants, animals, and humans) possess a spirit; Wicca, which hold the concept of an earth mother goddess as well as practice ritual magic; and druidism, which equates divinity with the natural world.
In Europe, according to Baltic mythology, the sun is a female deity, Saulė, a mother or a bride, and Mēness is the moon, father or husband, their children being the stars. In Slavic mythology Mokosh and Mat Zemlya together with Perun head up the pantheon. Celebrations and rituals are centered on nature and harvest seasons. Dragobete is a traditional Romanian spring holiday that celebrates "the day when the birds are betrothed."
Animism encompasses the beliefs that all material phenomena have agency, that there exists no distinction between the spiritual and physical (or material) world and that soul or spirit exists not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers or other entities of the natural environment: water sprites, vegetation deities, tree sprites, etc. This belief was shared in concept by Celts and Native Americans, as well as other ancient peoples. Christian animism is an approach that understands God being present in all earthly objects, such as animals, trees, and rocks.
The indigenous tendency to view the earth and other non-organic entities as being part of bios (life, living) is seen by many post-1500 Europeans as simply romantic or nonsensical.
Writers long ago referred to indigenous Americans’ ways as “animism,” a term that means “life-ism.” And it is true that most or perhaps all Native Americans see the entire universe as being alive—that is, as having movement and an ability to act. But more than that, indigenous Americans tend to see this living world as a fantastic and beautiful creation engendering extremely powerful feelings of gratitude and indebtedness, obliging us to behave as if we are related to one another. An overriding characteristic of Native North American religion is that of gratitude, a feeling of overwhelming love and thankfulness for the gifts of the Creator and the earth/universe.
Black Elk, the well-known Lakota medicine man, told us that “The four-leggeds and the wings of the air and the mother earth were supposed to be relative-like. . . . The first thing an Indian learns is to love each other and that they should be relative-like to the four-leggeds. The Great Spirit made the flowers, the streams, the pines, the cedars—takes care of them. . . . He takes care of me, waters me, feeds me, makes me live with plants and animals as one of them. . . . All of nature is in us, all of us is in nature.”
Luther Standing Bear Wrote in the 1930s:
"The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. . . . The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. . . . Wherever the Lakota went, he was with Mother Earth. No matter where he roamed by day or slept by night he was safe with her."
The Ancient Celts
The Celts venerated certain trees and others, believing that all aspects of the natural world contained spirits, and that communication was possible with these spirits. Places such as rocks, streams, mountains, and trees may all have had shrines or offerings devoted to a deity residing there. These would have been local deities, known and worshiped by inhabitants living near to the shrine itself.
Evidence suggests that among the Celts, "offerings to the gods were made throughout the landscape – both the natural and the domestic." At times they worshipped in constructed temples and shrines, evidence for which have been unearthed across the Celtic world by archaeologists, although according to Greco-Roman accounts, they also worshipped in areas of the natural world that were held to be sacred, namely in groves of trees. Across Celtic Europe, many of the constructed temples, which were square in shape and constructed out of wood, were found in rectangular ditched enclosures known as viereckschanzen, where in cases such as Holzhausen in Bavaria votive offerings were also buried in deep shafts. However, in the British Isles, temples were more commonly circular in design.
Alongside groves, certain springs were also viewed as sacred and used as places of worship in the Celtic world. Notable Gaulish examples include the sanctuary of Sequana at the source of the Seine in Burgundy, and Chamalieres near to Clermont-Ferrand. At both of these sites, a large array of votive offerings have been uncovered. In many cases, when the Roman Empire took control of Celtic lands, the sacred sites were reused, with Roman temples being built on the same sites.
The Celts made votive offerings to their deities, which were buried in the earth or thrown into rivers or bogs.
Importance of Solstice and Equinox
Since prehistory, the summer solstice has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by festivals and rituals. Traditionally, in many temperate regions (especially Europe), the summer solstice is seen as the middle of summer and referred to as "midsummer". Today, however, in some countries and calendars it is seen as the beginning of summer.
The significance given to the summer solstice has varied among cultures, but most recognize the event in some way with holidays, festivals, and rituals around that time with themes of religion or fertility. For example, in Sweden, midsummer is one of the year's major holidays when the country closes down as much as during Christmas. In some regions, the summer solstice is seen as the beginning of summer and the end of spring. In other cultural conventions, the solstice is closer to the middle of summer. Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still).
The summer solstice, also known as midsummer, occurs when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For that hemisphere, the summer solstice is when the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky and is the day with the longest period of daylight. Within the Arctic circle (for the northern hemisphere) or Antarctic circle (for the southern hemisphere), there is continuous daylight around the summer solstice. On the summer solstice, Earth's maximum axial tilt toward the Sun is 23.44°. Likewise, the Sun's declination from the celestial equator is 23.44°.
The summer solstice occurs during summer. This is the June solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the December solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the summer solstice occurs sometime between June 20 and June 22 in the Northern Hemisphere and between December 20 and December 23 in the Southern Hemisphere.
The same dates in the opposite hemisphere are referred to as the winter solstice.
In ancient times, the date of the June Solstice was used to organize calendars and as a marker to figure out when to plant and harvest crops. Traditionally, this time of year was also popular for weddings.
Some historians point to the Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England as evidence of the fact that ancient humans used the June Solstice as a way to organize their calendars. Some believe that Stonehenge's unique stone circle was erected around 2500 BCE in order to establish the date of the Summer Solstice. Viewed from its center, the Sun rises at a particular point on the horizon on day of the June Solstice. Some theories suggest that the builders of Stonehenge may have used the solstice as a starting-point to count the days of the year.
In ancient China, the summer solstice was observed by a ceremony to celebrate the Earth, femininity, and the “yin” forces. It complemented the Winter Solstice that celebrated the heavens, masculinity and “yang” forces. According to Chinese tradition, the shortest shadow is found on the day of the Summer Solstice.
In ancient France and some parts of its neighboring countries, the Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona. The celebration was named after a mare goddess who personified fertility and protected horses. In ancient Germanic, Slav and Celtic tribes, pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. After Christianity spread in Europe and other parts of the world, many pagan customs were incorporated into the Christian religion.
In northern European countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, Midsummer is a festive celebration. When the summer days are at their longest, and in the north it is the time of the Midnight Sun, festivals generally celebrate the summer and the fertility of the Earth. In Sweden and many parts of Finland, people dance around Maypoles. Bonfires are lit and homes are decorated with flower garlands, greenery, and tree branches. In the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Midsummer is an occasion to travel to the countryside and connect with nature. Many people light bonfires and stay up all night drinking, singing, and dancing. My kind of celebration.
In some parts of the United States, events that focus on the theme of the Summer Solstice are held. These events include: local festivals featuring art or music; environmental awareness activities that focus on using natural sunlight as a source of energy; and family gatherings.
The winter solstice, hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice occurs when one of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere (Northern and Southern). For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. At the pole, there is continuous darkness or twilight around the winter solstice. Its opposite is the summer solstice. Also the Tropic of Cancer or Tropic of Capricorn depending on the hemispheres winter solstice the sun goes 90 degrees below the horizon at solar midnight to the nadir.
The winter solstice occurs during the hemisphere's winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the December solstice (usually December 21 or 22) and in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the June solstice (usually June 20 or 21). Although the winter solstice itself lasts only a moment, the term sometimes refers to the day on which it occurs. Other names are the "extreme of winter" (Dongzhi), or the "shortest day". Since the 18th century, the term "midwinter" has sometimes been used synonymously with the winter solstice, although it carries other meanings as well. Traditionally, in many temperate regions, the winter solstice is seen as the middle of winter, but today in some countries and calendars, it is seen as the beginning of winter.
Since prehistory, the winter solstice has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by festivals and rituals. It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.
The solstice may have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even during Neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.
The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months". In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but at the beginning of the pagan day, which in many cultures fell on the previous eve.
An equinox is the instant of time when the plane of Earth's equator passes through the geometric center of the Sun's disk. This occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. In other words, it is the moment at which the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator.
The word is derived from the Latin aequinoctium, from aequus (equal) and nox (genitive noctis) (night). On the day of an equinox, daytime and nighttime are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. They are not exactly equal, however, due to the angular size of the Sun, atmospheric refraction, and the rapidly changing duration of the length of day that occurs at most latitudes around the equinoxes. Long before conceiving this equality, primitive equatorial cultures noted the day when the Sun rises due east and sets due west, and indeed this happens on the day closest to the astronomically defined event. As a consequence, according to a properly constructed and aligned sundial, the daytime duration is 12 hours.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the March equinox is called the vernal or spring equinox while the September equinox is called the autumnal or fall equinox. In the Southern Hemisphere, the reverse is true. The dates slightly vary due to leap years and other factors.
Hemisphere-neutral names are northward equinox for the March equinox, indicating that at that moment the solar declination is crossing the celestial equator in a northward direction, and southward equinox for the September equinox, indicating that at that moment the solar declination is crossing the celestial equator in a southward direction.
Since the Moon (and to a lesser extent the planets) causes Earth's orbit to slightly vary from a perfect ellipse, the equinox is officially defined by the Sun's more regular ecliptic longitude rather than by its declination. The instants of the equinoxes are currently defined to be when the apparent geocentric longitude of the Sun is 0° and 180°.
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