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JUST WHEN DOES SPRING START?

It would seem obvious that for Christians springtime revolves around the three days between Good Friday and Easter. The cold dark force of Winter is overcome and Spring blossoms forth. This is not as simple as it seems. Good Friday was celebrated by Jesus Christ as Passover and just happened to be on Friday that year. He died on the 15th day of Nissan, which in the Jewish calendar is automatically the Full Moon. All four Gospels say that he died on Friday. One of many possible dates for this is the 3rd of April in the year 33 CE, when it is known there was a partial lunar eclipse. Easter was mandated to be on Sunday by the Council of Nicæa in 325 CE, effectively making it not just a sun- and moon-based holiday, but since it revolves around the days of the week, also a human-based holiday. The simple definition of Easter is that it is the first Sunday after the Full Moon that occurs on or after the Vernal Equinox. If the Full Moon falls on a Sunday then Easter is the next Sunday. So for Eastern Orthodox Christians, who follow the Julian sun and moon based calendar, similar to the Hebrew calendar, it always falls after Passover. Even for Jews, however, exactly when the Vernal Equinox and the New Moon begin was based entirely on observation until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Since then all decisions have been based on calculations, and so the dates come out differently for different groups. For Catholics, who follow the Gregorian sun based calendar, it is also somewhat unclear. Just when the Equinox and the Full Moon occurs changes, according to your place on the earth.

Yet from a scientific perspective, it is quite clear that we can tell the exact moment of both the Vernal Equinox and the following Full Moon. Just look in any almanac. The ecliptic is the ring of constellations (the zodiac) that the sun traces through the year. When the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator each spring we have the vernal equinox. This time is known exactly. For instance the last one was March 20, 2006 18:25 UTC (GMT). Next year it will be March 21, 2007 00:07 UTC (GMT).

The actual moment of the Full Moon is that time when the Moon is opposite to the Sun in the sky, and can also be found in any almanac. So for instance the first Full Moon after the last Vernal Equinox was April 13, 2006 16:42 UTC (GMT) on a Thursday. The next Full Moon after the next Vernal Equinox will be April 2, 2007 at 17:16 on a Monday. Technically speaking, Passover begins about then, but is calculated based on the Jewish system relating to time zones in the middle east and on the ancient sun and moon based calendar, so it is never quite exact according to our modern conceptions. And now, of course, we have progressed from the sun-based Gregorian calendar to Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) which is based on a cesium atomic clock, corrected and coordinated with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Where does that leave us? We all know that Easter symbolizes the new year of springtime growth. Just when it starts can be calculated according to the four systems mentioned above. We start with the Sun and the Zodiac to get to the Vernal Equinox, which we can calculate exactly now. This seems to relate to our highest spiritual ambitions as human beings, as in Christianity we refer to the light within. Next we have the Sun and the Moon to get to the Full Moon. We can also now calculate this exact time. This seems to relate to the human world we know so well, of thinking, feeling, and willing. After this we come to the Moon and the Day to get to Friday and Sunday. This seems to relate to the world of nature around, of our society, our commerce, our agriculture, and our leisure activities. And finally we come to the Atomic Clock. We are able to know the exact millisecond that Easter starts anywhere on earth in our time zone.

And now we are able to know exactly when Easter starts. If only we could all agree on all of the above! And so, when will we say that Spring starts? If by Spring we refer to the seasons and to our soul and spirit, it would seem that we should stay with the calendar of the sun and moon. After all, we can now calculate exactly when that is, and there will be no argument about it. My recommendation is that next year on April 2, 2007 at 17:16 on a Monday we start with the following verse, and I hope that consensus comes:

FRÜHLING

Wenn aus den Weltenweiten
Die Sonne spricht zum Menschensinn
Und Freude aus den Seelentiefen
Dem Lich sich eint im Schauen,
Dann ziehen aus der Selbstheit Hülle
Gedanken in die Raumesfernen
Und binden dumpf
Des Menschen Wesen an des Geistes Sein.

SPRING

When from afar the sun breaks forth
To warm the hearts and minds of men,
Then joyful souls commune with truth
And vision springs to life again.
Then thoughts emerge from depths of soul
To spread like gleaming light,
And thereby join man's ways and goals
To the ways of spiritual heights.

This commentary, and the translation of Rudolf Steiner's weekly verse from the Calendar of the Soul, is by John Riedel MD on 10/23/2006.

   Page last updated on Tuesday October 24, 2006 at 00:19:35.