PROSPECT HEIGHTS — As the sun edged tentatively above the horizon on the frigid first day of spring, a hearty band of celebrants in Grand Army Plaza stood ready to welcome it. They were equipped with 360 eggs and a burning desire to connect with Mother Earth.
The group gathered near the plaza's fountain just before 7 a.m. Wednesday to mark the vernal equinox with a ceremony led by "urban shaman" Mama Donna Henes, who arrived with a shopping cart from a nearby Met Foods stocked with 30 dozen eggs and her small black and white dog, Poppy.
Henes, who specializes in creating rituals to mark important life moments such as equinoxes, solstices, weddings, baby namings and funerals, says standing an egg up on one end on the vernal equinox brings good luck, and also helps city folk get in touch with nature.
"It's a communal experience in the natural wonders of the world," Henes said. "It's about our connection to Mother Earth, our connection to each other, and to our own sense of wonder and awe."
After creating a sacred circle with a ring of scarlet cloth, Henes kicked off Wednesday's festivities by blessing the dozen or so participants. She pressed flourescent orange stickers onto their foreheads, smudged them with ground eggshells, then spritzed them with a mixture of holy waters from sites including Lourdes and the Ganges River.
"The egg represents life, whole life, birth, rebirth and the totality of potential. I bless you with rebirth and growth," Henes said as she walked around the circle with Poppy trailing after her on a leash.
Properly anointed, the group was ready to get to work. The vernal revelers gently placed the eggs on the plaza's chilly cobbletones, held each delicate orb for a moment, then took their hands away for the big reveal: the egg standing up on its own.
"It's amazing," said participant Karen McMullen. "It's a sense of oneness with the egg and the world."
After several minutes, a small forest of upright eggs marched across the plaza. Henes said this year's mass egg balancing, her 38th, seemed to take less work than in previous years.
"You know what? I think it's going to be a good year," Henes said. "These are pretty easy this year. Sometimes you can work at this for half an hour."