Monday 9 April 2012

On Easter and the Fertility of Aspens

Ostara by Johannes
Gehrts, 1884 

Most people know (or should know) that modern Easter is a celebration of fertility and spring in Europe, joined with the death and protection of Pesakh (Passover) of the Jews, and the resurrection of Jesus of the Christians.  There's some common threads there, if you look carefully.  Death and Rebirth.

The Resurrection of Christ
by Carl Bloch, 1890
The Christian calendar shows Good Friday, which was last Friday, as the day Jesus was crucified.  He was dead before sundown, as they removed the bodies before the Sabboth, with begins at Dusk.  So Good Friday is the day of Death, and Easter, Sunday, is the day of Life, or Rebirth, when Jesus returns from the grave.

A depiction of the blood
on the door posts.
Artist unknown.
The Jewish Passover, of course, recounts when G-d came to kill all the first born of Egypt.  To be safe, the Jews had to put blood on their door posts, and G-d would pass by.  This is in a way a story of rebirth as well, though different.  And a story of magic.  Death is coming around, and blood is placed on the door post to fend it off, to turn it aside.  It is a sacrifice.  A lamb was prepared and taken care of until the time, then killed, their blood put on the door post to ward off Death.  It is a ritual, a Rite.  The meat had to be roasted.  Everything had to be eaten before morning, or burnt.  You were to eat it with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet, your staff in your hand.  There is the practical aspect that they were to leave immediately afterwards, so needed to be ready, but there is the symbolic aspect of the Rite.  You are prepared to leave, because you will be able to leave.  Blood for Death to pass by (pass over), a meal to consecrate the action, dressed to leave to show that the magic would work.  A Rite both of protection from Death, and to be allowed to live Egypt.  Overcoming Death, receiving a new Life.  In this way, it is a Rite of Initiation.

From a Witch point of view, these symbols and connections are important.  If we look back, we have the Sacrifice of the God on Samhain, the Old Year, the Darkling Twin, he passes through the Gates of Death into the Underworld, the Otherworld.  His journey ends at the Winter Solstice, he settles in.  The old year is dead with him, Autumn gives way to Winter, as his coils curl up around it and he sleeps.  The sun is reborn, a premonition of his return.

At Imbolc, his Bride calls for him and he awakens, uncoils, and prepares for a new journey, swimming up across the Veil through the Well of Worlds, seeking Her, who he died for and will now be reborn for, the New Year, the Bright Twin.

On Imbolc, Spring begins, though it's slow in awaken in Wyoming, often not realized until May or June.  By the calendar, Summer will begin on the first of May, but these are tides, not calendars, and May 1 is a convenient date, but the tide falls where it will.  The Spring Equinox marks the approximate middle of the Spring Tide.  Passover begins on the 15th day of Nisan.  As I've discussed before, the Hebrew calendar is Lunar.  Each month begins when the moon becomes dark.  The 15th of each month lands on the full moon, or close to it, the mid point of the month.  The 15th of Nisan is always the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, so it's a lunar event timed to the solar mid point of Spring.  We're in the middle of Passover at the moment, so the Christian Easter landed on its old determination this year.  Essentially, Passover (which originally determined Easter, Good Friday being the first Friday after the beginning of Passover, until changes in calendars messed it all up) is point of importance between Imbolc and Beltaine.

Cernunnos (La Tène) / 'ernunno
on the Gundestrup Cauldron
Around Passover and Easter is the resurrection of the God.  Jesus, of course, is a type of the Sacrifice God, so it's no surprise that his ressurrection would fall around this time.  Since Imbolc, the God, the Bright Twin, has been swimming upward, and now he emerges, the First Fruits, the rebirth of Spring.  New Life comes from the Death of Samhain.  Now he prepares for his wedding to the Bride, the May Queen, God Herself.  The Serpent warms himself in the sun, and prepares for what is to come.

Spring, be it Imbolc and Candlemas, be it the Spring Equinox and Passover and Easter, be it May Day and Beltaine, is a time of rebirth.  It's Himself reborn, the Sacrificial Mortal God, but also the rebirth of the earth, of the land.

Over the last few weeks, I've been watching the aspen trees wake up.  I work during the week and have an aspen right out side my window.

Aspen tree beginning
to bud, April 2, 2012
On Friday, March 30, it still looked asleep.  No sign of buds.  The next Monday, April 2, there were small buds.  I presumed they were leaf buds, that I would see leaves soon.  It had been in the low 70s F that weekend, but had dropped below freezing that day.  I could see a hard coat around the buds and figured that was to protect the new leaves from the cold that could still come for a few more months.

The same aspen tree
with larger buds, April 5, 2012
By Thursday (April 5), the buds had grown quite large.  I still thought they were leaf buds, but they were getting big enough, over an inch long, that I thought I'd see leaves in the next few days.

The same aspen tree,
now with male catkins,
April 9, 2012
Today, however, I discovered I was wrong.  They had indeed opened, but it wasn't leaves inside.  They were flowering.  In the trees where the buds had been, there were almost two inch long catkins hanging, dangling in the wind.  Very neat to see.

I've never really had a chance to observe the cycles of aspen before this, I haven't looked closely at them over an extended period. But with a tree just outside my window at work, I get to see it, with all its changes, every work day. Very interesting to observe. I'd love to figure out a way to observe the willows and lodge pole pines in the same manner.

From what I read, male catkins droop, and female catkins are erect (make what metaphors you want with that).  The male ones produce pollen, and if fertilized, the female ones produce tiny seeds.  But reproducing that way is actually fairly rare.  Each tree is either male of female, and most groves are basically one tree, reproducing via runners that form an exact natural clone, so essentially, each grove is either male or female.  Logically, this means that a male grove with always remain male only unless it grows far enough to combine with a female grove, whereas if the catkins in a female grove get fertalized, potentially it could contain both male and female aspens.  I really wish the mountain roads were open this time of year, so I could go up and look as several groves and find out which ones were male and which were female and find out if there was a different "feel", a different "energy".  But you can only determine the sex when the trees are in bloom, which is around this time, and the roads don't typically open until Memorial Day, which is May 28th this year (last year, they couldn't get the roads clear for Memorial Day for the first time in like 30 years, because the snow was eight feet deep and kept blowing back full every night, so they couldn't make progress; the roads opened in July).

Which brings us back to fertility and rebirth.  The Aspens awake first, not with leaves to harness the sunlight, but with flowers, the catkins, to reproduce.  They awake in fertility, in Sex, the essence of Creation.  As should we all.

~Muninn's Kiss

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