MEDFORD, OR—Despite evidence that the planets are aligned in his favor, local pagan Jeff Birch, 27, said Monday that he would "rather have a peaceful weekend at home" than attend his family's Vernal Equinox celebration on March 21.

"I realize it's supposed to be a festive time of conception and new growth in the womb of Mother Earth and all," Birch said. "But I just know that within an hour of arriving, things will get so bad that I'll be reverting to my 12-year-old self, hiding in the rec room downstairs, wearing my Iroquois false face mask and fingering my runes for comfort. It's not worth it."

The Birches try to have a "nice, sacrificial meal."

"Anyway, wasn't I just back home for Mabon?" Birch added.

Most pagans look forward to marking the Vernal Equinox, when the hours of sunlight equal the hours of darkness. Yet for some, like Birch, this sacred springtime celebration of balance and harmony means contending with family infighting and undue stress.

"Talking to Mom the other day, it was the same old manipulative 'You're coming home, right?'" said Birch, referring to a recent phone conversation with his mother, Freyja Birch. "If I hesitate for even a second, she piles on the guilt—like how this may be the last year Nana Hippolyta can perform the garden fertility ritual, or that without my masculine energy, the yin-and-yang balance will be thrown off—until I finally give in."

"But I don't want to have to use up my vacation time and travel almost 300 miles to Portland just to listen to Grandma Moon Odin Rhiannon complain during the sunrise ritual that Mom's not putting enough rose petals in the cauldron or is letting the bonfire get too low," Birch continued. "That will just set Mom off bitching at Grandma for constantly trying to undermine her spiritual relationship with the Pagan Goddess of Dawn and then no one will speak to each other until nightfall."

Birch said he has little sympathy for his perfectionist mother, who reportedly tries to do too much and invites too many people. He says she is known to spend countless hours weaving thistle wreaths and sun-drying her own currants for hot cross buns in preparation for the Equinox. "It's hard to feel sorry for her when things don't go exactly according to her elaborate, impossible plans," Birch said. "And she knows better than to invite Aunt Isolde, who always has too much mulled mead and starts moaning about the lack of a good high priest in her life."

Besides the usual maiden-mother-crone conflicts, the strained relationship between Birch's sister, Pythia, who recently converted to Wicca, and his father, a devout Dionysian, is another source of tension, according to Birch. "Last year, Pythia brought her covenmate home, and Dad's still having a hard time with it," Birch said. "It's obvious that he doesn't approve of her lifestyle. He's always asking her why doesn't she find a nice warlock to settle down with, or telling her maybe what she really needs is a good old-fashioned bacchanalia. Are other pagan families like this?"

Pythia isn't the first family member to stray from the fold. Fifteen years ago, Birch's uncle Jack married a Presbyterian and has raised two children in the faith. While he is still included in family celebrations, his eccentric monotheism is the source of much awkwardness, Birch said. Two years ago, the black-sheep uncle almost didn't get invited back.

"Having a celestial deity worshipper in our home angered the Goddess Eostre and she punished us with an April freeze," Birch said. "My mom was barely able to salvage her herb garden."

Of all the unpleasant experiences, however, Birch said he dreads the "inevitable" questions about his love life most. "My folks can't wrap their heads around the idea that a man in his late twenties isn't handfasted yet and is okay with it," Birch said. "There's always some new Church of the Sacred Pentacle virgin or a cute single witch from the last Full Moon ritual who they just have to set me up with."

While he treasures happy memories of Vernal Equinoxes from his childhood, Birch said he comes away from today's holidays a few pounds heavier from the rich holiday food, several hundred dollars in debt from buying gifts "that will probably just get returned or regifted at Samhain anyway," and reeling from a fresh family conflict bound to last for months or years.

"I just have to learn how to say no," Birch said. "Maybe I'll skip Beltane this year. I want to lose some weight and work on my six-pack before Summer Solstice."