The labor of spring and “sprucing up”

Maybe I’m alone in this, but by my experience, the beginning of spring is neither beautiful nor lighthearted.

In my geographical/familial sphere, at the vernal equinox the weather is testy, the neighborhood is ugly, and feelings are raw.  There’s an uneasy tension of motion and stillness, the desperate need for cleanliness in a season of mud, and a struggle to re-emerge when I’m not quite done coping with the withdrawals of winter.

hilde cosmic tree spring

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (12th century) depicts my spring moods, complete with “pestilential mist” the color of choleric irritability. (Detail from “Cultivating the Cosmic Tree,” L. Divinorum Operum I.4.)


In my personal history, too, spring is a season of death and loss.  When my heart is only craving white funeral lilies, everyone around is pushing tulips.

Grieving, interrupted by birth pangs

The transition from water to land (fish to ram) is mucky and difficult.  Emotional sensitivity butts heads with the drive to express oneself, to form one’s feelings into reason, forcing out that first cry of creative logos.  March represents the final throes of the labor begun in September, the outside edge of the emptiness that necessarily precedes rebirth.

This kind of liminal space is supposed to be exactly the sort of playground witchy kids like me relish, but quite frankly, March always makes me feel like I woke up already late for school, fretting and anxious.  It helps me understand why the most intense part of labor is called “transition.”  March presents in a visceral way the drama of the mystical internal experience confronting the objective needs of the rational.

Intellectually, I always thought that spring was supposed to be the time when everyone started to feel happily energetic again – birds chirping, bunnies emerging, flowers starting to bloom.  So on top of the malaise of March in general built up a filmy layer of awkward guilt for not having a better attitude about the season, not being in sync with all the pastel frivolity of Ostara.

Since my day job happens to be at a Catholic institution, I’ve gotten into the habit of framing my decidedly pagan spiritual reflections within Catholic traditions (probably to the consternation of both sides!), and this month in particular revealed some profound parallels to what, at the outset, seemed to be my backwards experience of springtime.

In the Catholic calendar, the spring equinox falls between two relevant observances: Ash Wednesday (this year on March 1) and the feast of the Annunciation (March 25).  In ridiculously simplified terms, these days recognize contrition, grief, and the need for mercy, followed by a proclamation of approaching birth/rebirth.


At least the angel Gabriel brought appropriate flowers  (Auguste Pichon: The Annunciation, 1859)

Even Hildegard, relentless exponent of viriditas/fecund greenness that she was, in the visionary text that accompanies the Cosmic Tree illumination above describes the experience of spring as one of hunger that is satiated through repentance, when flowers are cast off in favor of the fruit of divine justice.

All that said, the month of March in my magical calendar both asserts the need and presents an opportunity for honoring loss, (particularly in the form of veneration of ancestors), tender self-care, acknowledging and addressing worries with supportive charms and affection; a time of healing and courage.  I think I’ve mentioned before my practice of carrying over some Ash Wednesday themes in my recognition of what I call the Ash Moon, the new moon this time of year that facilitates a thoughtful review and release of burdens.  This month is ripe for cleansing and protection work, deep experiences of forgiveness, and purging of “stuff” both physical and mental/emotional/spiritual.

Personally, this year I started with the mundane stuff: some long overdue housecleaning, peppered with a bit of genealogy research (verifying exact death dates for many of those spring losses).  One morning last week, writing out my daily to-do list, I had jotted down “continue sprucing up.”  It occurred to me that actual spruce (the tree) might have some folk significance, but when I consulted the OED etymology, I was surprised to learn that this expression originally indicated personal tidiness by referring (somewhat obliquely) to fashionable adornments imported from the area of Northern Germany (that is, Prussia, or, in the 16th century, “Spruce”).  It so happens that most of the family I was researching this month were also originally from that area of Germany.  Thus March’s full moon for me must from here on out be the Spruce moon.  Spring cleaning and ancestral recognition BOGO.

To close, I want to first share a little affirmation that turned up in my Lenormand spreads over the last few days that seemed rather fitting:


from the original Das Spiel der Hofnung deck ca. 1800 (courtesy British Museum)



Cut free your guilty heart



Hold fast in faith your innocent heart



Only the heart that is open can bring honor and satisfaction



And lastly, some uplifting spring imagery from Hildegard as we look ahead to April:

O viridissima virga

O branch of freshest green,
O hail! Within the windy gusts of saints
upon a quest you swayed and sprouted forth.

When it was time, you blossomed in your boughs—
“Hail, hail!” you heard, for in you seeped the sunlight’s warmth
like balsam’s sweet perfume.


with all the tenderness I can muster,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: