For the past 36 years I have served as an urban shaman, eco-ceremonialist and what The New Yorker dubbed "The Unofficial Commissioner of Public Spirit" of New York City. During these past three-plus decades, I have produced countless public participatory events and ceremonies in parks, plazas, museums, hospitals, institutions of learning, correctional facilities and the streets in over 100 cities in nine countries. My most popular event by far is the Vernal Equinox Celebration that I call "Eggs on End: Standing on Ceremony."
Soon after I started celebrating the seasons in the city on the Winter Solstice of 1975, a friend returned from Asia with an odd bit of equinoctial information for my interest. Apparently, in pre-revolutionary China, it was customary to stand eggs on their end on the first day of spring. To do so would guarantee good luck for the entire year. How intriguing! Of course I immediately set out to prove it on American soil.
That spring I tested it out in the small park across the street from my home with an intimate band of neighbors. It worked! The following spring I mustered all of my trust in cosmic continuity and advertised for a large public gathering to stand eggs up on the Spring Equinox at sunset in Battery Park in Manhattan.
I assumed and fervently believed that the eggs would stand again, but still, the tiniest little thrill of terror would seize me: "Please, please let it work." Of course, if the eggs had not stood, the earth would have been sorely off kilter, and I wouldn't have had a worry in the world!
But of course they stood. And the next morning a photo of them standing against a brilliantly lit skyscraper background appeared on the front page of The New York Times. And the rest is history. "Eggs on End: Standing on Ceremony" has from the first captured the imagination of the press as well as the general public. Whatever else I have done or ever hope to do in my life, I will always remain "the egg lady."
Over the years, the eggs have been covered by every major television, radio and wire service network in the world. It is incalculable just how many millions of people have been exposed to and inspired by this delightful demonstration of astronomy. Just seeing this phenomenon happen on TV or reading about it in a magazine sparks a zestful appreciation of the mysteries of nature.
The event itself is astonishingly simple. The site, some towering landmark megalith, an urban Stonehenge, is decorated. A circle is cast -- marked in day-glo orange fabric, thus transforming a secular public place into a sacred site. Scientific and mythic information sheets are handed out along with jelly eggs. An orange laundry basket containing 360 eggs is passed among the crowd.
Everyone takes an egg, and we all hold them up in the air together, pledging to walk on the earth as if we were walking on eggs. Promising, in honor of the season, to protect our fragile yet resilient planet home. We count down the minutes to the equinox. And when the time is right, we stand our eggs in unison in salute to spring. No matter how many people attend, the real event is always each single person experiencing the influence of gravity, balance and equilibrium.
Response to the eggs has been phenomenal. There is something so powerful in the experience of the egg standing upright that touches people in a very deep and primal place. Standing an egg on its end, feeling it as the yolk shifts inside to find its perfect point of balance, is like holding the entire universe in the palm of your hand. The excitement is profound and never, it seems, forgotten.
I receive notes and photos from folks from all over who have stood up eggs either as a participant at one of my events, or alone, with friends, family or their community. I have pictures of eggs standing on bookshelves, kitchen tables, driveways and even aboard a boat in the Caribbean. Eggs with kids, with astronomers, with physicists, with pet cats. Just go to YouTube and search for "equinox eggs" and see how many exuberant videos there are.
Stood at the first moment of spring, the egg becomes the symbol of a new season, the birth of new life. "Eggs on End: Standing on Ceremony" is every bit a traditional vernal fertility rite, a popular, contemporary celebration of the return of green and growth and light after the dark winter.
It is immaterial whether or not the egg can stand at any other time of the year (as some critics maintain). The important thing is to recognize the symbol, the season, the sky and the kindred souls who surround us. Cynicism magically disappears in the process of sincere participation. And, like the buds and birds of early spring, we, too, are renewed. We feel refreshed and energetic. We can then return with re-charged optimistic resolve back to what we have come to believe is the "real world."
The exact time of this year's Vernal Equinox is 7:21 p.m. EDT. Stand an egg wherever you are.
Join Mama Donna Henes, Urban Shaman & Friends
For her 35th Anniversary Spring Equinox Celebration
"Eggs on End: Standing on Ceremony"
Sunday, March 20 at 7 p.m.
Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York
A family friendly event. Free for all.