Here in America, everyone is preparing to celebrate the spring holiday, Easter. The Christian religion adopted the emblems for Easter which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
The Christian holiday is based on essentially the same principles as that in the Old Religion. The manner in which Easter is determined is actually very Pagan.
Ostara is the celebration of the Spring Equinox when day and night balance.
Celebrated around March 21st for Northern Hemisphere (September 21 in the Southern Hemisphere) Ostara is one of the Lesser Wiccan Sabbats and is celebrated on the Spring Equinox, most often March 21st, but varies somewhat from the 20th to the 23rd. The variance, as with all Solar festivals, is due to the differences between the actual astronomical event and our calendar.
Astronomically, the sun crosses the celestial equator at this time. The light and dark are in perfect balance, but the light is growing and the Sun is about to burst forth with new energy. It is the season of fertility and growth.
The word Ostara is one of the many names applied to the celebration of the spring equinox on March 21st. For early Pagans in the Germanic countries, this was a time to celebrate planting and the new crop season. Typically, the Celtic peoples did not celebrate Ostara as a holiday, rather they were simply in tune with the changing of the seasons.
Other names this Sabbat is also called by are the Vernal Equinox or the Spring Equinox, Oestara, Eostres Day, Rite of Eostre, Equinozio della Primavera, Alban Eiber (Caledonii Tradition of the Druids), Bacchanalia, Festival of the Trees, and Lady Day.
History of Ostara
Eostre was the Saxon version of the Germanic Ostara, the goddess of spring to whom offerings of cakes and colored eggs were made at the Vernal Equinox. Her feast day was held on the full moon following the vernal equinox (a time of increased births)— almost the identical calculation as for the Christian Easter in the west.
Rabbits were sacred to her, especially white rabbits, as she was believed to take the form of a rabbit. It is from Eostre the word estrogen derives.
This Sabbat is a time to celebrate the arrival of Spring, when light and darkness are in balance but the light is growing stronger. The forces of masculine energy and feminine energy are also in balance and this day paves the way for the coming lushness of Summer. Ostara is a time for the celebration of fertility and balance, when all elements within and without us are brought into harmony. A time of new life and rebirth, as the Earth wakes from her long slumber at the end of Winter. This is the time of planting, children, and young animals.
Ostara promises freedom form the dreariness of winters, it heralds the return of hope and dreams.
The Goddess at Ostara
Eostre is the Goddess of dawn and new beginnings. Her name is similar to the word for the Christian Easter, because it is from her which the holiday adopted its name.
The other Goddess we associate with the Spring Equinox is Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the Greek Goddess of grain and crops. In the Spring, Persephone comes back from the Underworld to be reunited with her mother. A part of the Goddess that has been sleeping all winter reawakens with the warming of the ground of springs. She who has been mother, midwife, and teacher through the winter now welcomes back her own daughter-self, the Maiden of Springs. At this time of balance the Goddess is both Mother and Daughter.
The God at Ostara
The God of Springs is the young God, playful and joyful, the trickster. He is the spirit of everything that is joyful, light, and changeable. Born at Winter Solstice, nurtured at Imbolc, now he's like a young and mischievous child, still wild and new. He is raw, creative energy that has not yet been harnessed, tamed, civilized. He sees with clear eyes and does not hesitate to announce that the emperor is naked. He deflates the pompous and laughs at self-importance.
The trickster is an important spirit power in many earth-based cultures. To many of the Native American tribes, he is Coyote. To the First Nations of the Northwest Coast, he is Raven, who creates the world. In parts of West Africa, he is Elegba, the small child-God who as a point of light constantly runs circles around the universe. To early African-Americans, he is Brer Rabbit, who tricks his way out of trouble.
In European earth-based traditions, he is the Fool of the Tarot, who leaps blithely from a cliff as he follows a butterfly, yet always lands on his feet, because he takes himself lightly. He is spirit taking the plunge into matter, idea manifesting as form. He is Robin Goodfellow, shape shifter and wood sprite, child of the Faerie King. He comes to us in the springs when all of nature is shifting and changing: seeds poking out sprouts, butterflies emerging from cocoons, tadpoles growing legs and turning into frogs.
The Spring Equinox celebrates him, but of course, his proper holiday comes shortly after, on April Fool's Day.
Ostara is a good time to start putting those plans and preparations you made at Imbolc into action. Start working towards physically manifesting your plans now.
Symbols used to represent Ostara include the egg (for fertility and reproduction) and the hare (for rebirth and resurrection), the New Moon, butterflies and cocoons.
Stones to use during the Ostara celebration include aquamarine, jasper, rose quartz, and moonstone. Mythical beasts associated with Ostara include unicorns, merpeople, and Pegasus.
The Colors of Ostara
The most common colors associated with Ostara are lemon yellow, pale green and pale pink. Other appropriate colors include grass green, all pastels, Robins egg blue, violet, and white. White makes a nice accent with these, though is too stark for an altar cloth representing the season of growth and fertility.
Linking your meals with the seasons is a fine way of attuning with Nature. Foods in tune with this day include eggs, egg salad, hard-boiled eggs, honey cakes, first fruits of the season, fish, cakes, biscuits, cheeses, and honey. You may also include foods made of seeds, such as sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, as well as pine nuts. Sprouts are equally appropriate, as are leafy, green vegetables. Flower dishes such as stuffed nasturtiums or carnation cupcakes also find their place here. Appropriate Ostara meat dishes contain fish or ham.
Plants & Flowers
Plants and flowers associated with Ostara are Irish moss, Daffodils, jonquils, tulips, narcissus, gorse, Olive, Peony, Iris, violets, woodruff and crocus and snowdrops— fill the house with their color after you've finished your spring cleaning to liven things up and chase away the doldrums of winter.
Incense & Herbs
For Ostara incense, you could make a blend from any of the following scents or simply choose one. Jasmine, frankincense, myrrh, dragons blood, cinnamon, nutmeg, aloes wood, benzoin, musk, lemon, African violet, sage, strawberry, lotus, violet flowers, orange peel, or rose petals all make good incenses for Ostara— the scents should be clear and light, floral and evocative, but not overwhelming or intoxicating.
Herbs associated with springs include meadowsweet, cleavers, clover, lemongrass, spearmint and catnip.
Rabbits & Hares
One popular legend is that Eostre found a bird, wounded, on the ground late in winter. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But "the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare but retained the ability to lay eggs. The hare would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre.
Rabbits bear young in the springs, and have come to represent fertility and abundance. Spring equinox is a time for fertility and sowing seeds, and thus nature's fertility goes a little crazy. In medieval societies in Europe, the March hare was viewed as a major fertility symbol— this is a species of rabbit which is nocturnal most of the year, but in March when mating season begins, there are bunnies everywhere all day long. The female of the species is hyper fecund and can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with a first. And as if that wasn't enough, the males tend to get frustrated when rebuffed by their mates, and are said to bounce around erratically when discouraged.
In some early cultures, the nocturnal hare was actually considered a symbol of the moon. In addition to feeding at night, the hare's gestation period is approximately 28 days— the same as a full lunar cycle. The ancients saw the "rabbit in the moon", yet today known as the "man in the moon". Hares, which are bigger and wilder than rabbits, have long been identified with magic, the springs, and the mysteries.
The "Easter bunny" as we know it first appeared in 16th-century German writings, which said that if well-behaved children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. This legend became part of American folklore in the 18th century, when German immigrants settled in the eastern U.S.
In many cultures, the egg is viewed as the symbol of new life. It is, after all, the perfect example of fertility and the cycle of rebirth. In early Christian cultures, consumption of the Easter egg may have marked the end of Lent. In Greek Orthodox Christianity, there is a legend that after Christ's death on the cross, Mary Magdalene went to the emperor of Rome, and told him of Jesus' resurrection. The emperor's response was along the lines of "Oh, yeah, right, and those eggs over there are red, too." Suddenly, the bowl of eggs turned red, and Mary Magdalene joyfully began preaching Christianity to the emperor.
Mary Magdalene and the red eggs aren't the earliest examples of eggs as a spring symbol. In Persia, eggs have been painted for thousands of years as part of the spring celebration of No Ruz, which is the Zoroastrian new year. In Iran, the colored eggs are placed on the dinner table at No Ruz, and a mother eats one cooked egg for each child she has. The festival of No Ruz predates the reign of Cyrus the Great, whose rule (580-529 b.c.e.) marks the beginning of Persian history.
Key actions to keep in mind during this time in the Wheel of the Year include openings and new beginnings.
Symbolically, many Pagans choose to represent Ostara by the planting of seeds, potted plants, ringing bells, lighting new fires at sunrise. You can give yourself the gift of a newly potted plant or take a seed and plant it within. You may want to decorate your altar with a colorful bouquet of Spring wildflowers. Other traditional activities include working on magickal gardens and practicing all forms of herbal work— magickal, artistic, medicinal, culinary, and cosmetic.
Here is a traditional Vernal Equinox pastime: go to a field and randomly collect wildflowers. Thank the flowers for their sacrifice before picking them and it is also best to leave an offering to the plant and/or the Earth for taking the flowers, such as some milk and honey, or a small crystal. The flowers you have chosen reveal your inner thoughts and emotions.
At this time in the turn of the Wheel of the Year, when all things are green and renewed life is all around us, it is a very good idea to plan a walk through gardens, a park, woodlands, forest and other green places. This is not for exercise, nor should you be on any other mission. You should make your walk celebratory, a ritual for Nature itself. Look and listen for the emerging signs of spring: the fattening leaf buds on trees, the first flowers of spring, the first Robin. Contemplate the Earth's movement toward greater light and less darkness. Other activities may include the planting of your herb and/or vegetable garden.
Alas, as with most other once sacred holidays, today, Easter is just another huge commercial venture— Americans spend nearly $1.2 billion a year on Easter candy, and another $500 million on Easter decorations each year.
© 2013 Rosalind Scarlett