Viriditas at the Vernal Equinox

Equinox Green_Viriditas

The wheel of the year rolls on and the vernal equinox arrives with her green veils and tricksy weather, promising warmth and verdant new life to those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. This year, my observance draws from an extraordinary 12th century German nun, a childhood book that gave me my first language for green magic, and a Chinese energy practice that nourishes balance in body and mind. There is resonance between all of these and the seasonal wonder that I encounter whenever I step out my door. These are baby figs poking forth within the tree’s unfurling leaves.

Equinox Green_NascentFigs

The tilt of earth governs the seasons, the obliquity of the ecliptic bringing us by turns closer and farther from our star, the sun. These are the celestial particulars, but here on the ground, many of us turn to the dirt to tell us where we are in the great spinning of the heavens.

Equinox Green_Viriditas_detail

Viriditas was a term invented by the twelfth century abbess, mystic, writer, composer and herbalist Hildegard of Bingen. Her writings on “the greening power of life” were translated by her or her transcribers into church-approved Latin. She used it broadly to describe everything from the intrinsic vitality of all living things to the touch of the divine.

I have loved this word for a long time. I used it in a demonstration of how to create a medieval border in my Beginner’s Guide to Calligraphy and Illumination in 2006, and later made another version on tea-stained paper in the freeform style you see above. If you’d like to try your hand at drawing an intricate medieval-style border, it’s really easy and fun. I have put a free download here to show you how.

Medieval Border sample 200px

The Secret Garden was my favorite childhood book and taught me my first language for the enchantment of the green world. Dickon, a twelve-year-old wild child, reveals to Mary, a lonely orphan, “the greening power of life.” His word, though, is “wick,” the secret green heart in the seemingly dead branch.

Equinox Green_SecretGarden
When it looks a bit greenish an’ juicy like that, it’s wick,” he explained. “When th’ inside is dry an’ breaks easy, like this here piece I’ve cut off, it’s done for. There’s a big root here as all this live wood sprung out of, an’ if th’ old wood’s cut off an’ it’s dug round, and took care of there’ll be—” he stopped and lifted his face to look up at the climbing and hanging sprays above him—“there’ll be a fountain o’ roses here this summer.

Qigong, or Chi Kung, depending on the practitioner, is a meditative series of exercises that corresponds to the “meridians” that trace the organs of the body and also align with certain seasons, colors and emotions. I first learned it nearly twenty years ago from various teachers, and have lately been refreshing my knowledge with a delightful artist and teacher in England, Caroline Ross, who I found through her dedication to making art materials from earth. It is curious how information is passed and received these days, but during the isolating years we came through, such connections proved a rich resource. I followed her from Instagram to Substack.

Equinox Green_Wood Chi

This page from an old journal delights me with its green page and its optimistic interpretations of what this practice is all about. The element of Wood is associated with the liver and its cleansing role in the body, with the emotions of anger and shouting, with the eyes, and with the burgeoning season of spring and flourishing green growth. With this page I came to realize that viriditas, or wick, was very like chi, or qi. Sometimes my fingertips tingle when I’ve been doing it for a good long stretch.

In the times we live in, when horrors arrive in the daily news and fear stalks our hopes for a better future, a bit of wick is an antidote to despair. I’ve heard there are antidepressant microbes in dirt, and I don’t doubt it, though I do wonder how such things can be measured. However it works, I’ve known for a long time that dirt under my fingernails is good medicine.

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