Written for Axis Mundi, Spring 2008.
The Spring Equinox and Ostara
Ostara is a modern Neopagan festival. It is loosely based on several holidays which were celebrated around the spring equinox. The modern holiday does not have a strong relation to any known historical Pagan religious observation.
In the northern hemisphere, the end of March is the focus for a number of religious and traditional celebrations. As the sun appears to cross the earth’s equator on the 20th or 21st of March, entering the Zodiacal sign of Aries, day and night will be equal in length. This astronomical phenomenon is a day anciently revered amongst Pagan peoples. Their festivals included Alban Elfed, the Teutonic festival in honour of Eostre, Roman Hilaria Matris Deûm, Welsh Gwyl Canol Gwenwynol (‘Day of the Gorse’), the Christian Feast of the Annunciantion of the Virgin Mary (Lady Day) as well as Easter itself. The Wiccan Eostar (Ostara) Sabbat (one of the four lesser Wiccan holidays or sabbats of the Wheel of the Year) is a more recent addition to the Spring time festivities.
Here in the southern hemisphere the spring equinox will fall this year on Tuesday September 23, 2008 at 1:44AM. Many southern hemisphere pagans choose to celebrate Ostara when it is seasonally appropriate, in September, rather than following the northern dates.
Ostara, is a time to celebrate the arrival of Spring, the renewal and rebirth of Nature herself, and the coming lushness of Summer. The equinoxes are the balancing points in the cycle of the seasons, when the day and night are of equal length, reminding us of the harmony of the whole; yet the light is growing stronger by the day. The forces of masculine and feminine energy, yin and yang, are also in balance at this time. Buds of flowers and leaf, all manner of eggs and just-born life are celebrated in decorations and imagery as Pagans rejoice in the Earth’s reawakening.
Spring is a rousing of nature after the cold sleep of winter. As such, it is an ideal time to clean your home to welcome the new season. “Spring cleaning” is much more than simply physical work. It may be seen as a concentrated effort to rid your home of the problems and negativity of the past months, and to prepare for the coming spring and summer. The urge of spring is to do, create and bring in the new.
At Ostara we also think of renewing ourselves. We renew our thoughts, our dreams, and our aspirations. We think of renewing our relationships. This is an excellent time of year to begin anything new or to completely revitalize something. This is also an excellent month for prosperity rituals or rituals that have anything to do with growth.
Deities for Ostara
Appropriate Deities for Ostara include all youthful and virile Gods and Goddesses, sun gods, mother goddesses, love Goddesses, moon gods and goddesses, and all fertility deities. Some Ostara deities to mention by name here include Persephone, Blodeuwedd, Eostre, Aphrodite, Athena, Cybele, Gaia, Hera, Isis, Ishtar, Minerva, Venus, Robin of the Woods, the Green Man, Cernunnos, Lord of the Greenwood, The Dagda, Attis, The Great Horned God, Mithras, Odin, Thoth, Osiris, Adonis and Pan.
Eostre [pronounced ESS-trah or Y’OSE-tree] is an Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the dawn, from whom “East” (where the sun rises) and “Easter” got its name – as the fertility goddess of the Northern European peoples, her legend was manipulated by the invading Romans – newly Christianised, they merged Eostre’s spring legend to coincide with the time of Christ’s resurrection. When the Saxons invaded Britain, they brought this vigorous Goddess with them and she was eventually adopted into the Celtic pantheon. She is also goddess Ostara, the maiden, in German mythology, celebrated when night and day are equal and balanced (the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere) and is the one for whom the Ostara Sabbat is named. She is seen as spring personified, a Goddess of rebirth, new beginnings, and fertility.
Eostre comes into your life with her springtime message of personal growth. It is time to open to things in your life that facilitate growth, development, evolution. Is there a class or workshop you’ve been wondering if you should take? Do it now! Is there something new that you want to include in your life? Let it in now! Have you just gone through a period of stagnation and lethargy where nothing seemed to be happening? Let it go! Now is the time of growth. The Goddess says that wholeness is nurtured when you stretch. The stretching promotes your growth.
The Legend of Eostre (or… Why the Easter Bunny Lays Eggs)
As already explained, many southern hemisphere pagans celebrate Ostara in September, approximately six months after the northern hemisphere Ostara, Spring Equinox, and Easter. However, the symbolism of eggs, bunnies, hares, fertility etc are all associated with the Ostara sabbat whether in the north or the south so I thought it would be appropriate to explain how those connections are believed to have come about.
The modern belief that eggs are delivered by a rabbit supposedly comes from the ‘legend’ (which may actually be of modern origin, ie 20th century) of the Goddess Eostre. Eostre was walking one fine Spring day and came upon a beautiful little bird. The poor bird’s wing was badly injured and Eostre, feeling great compassion for the little creature, wanted to heal it. But the little bird’s wing was so badly damaged that Eostre knew it would never be able to fly again even after she healed it. So, Eostre decided to help the bird by healing it in a way that would give it mobility and a little something more… She turned it into a hare!
During the transformation, the hare retained the ability to lay eggs. The hare was so grateful to Eostre for saving its life that it laid a sacred egg in her honor, joyously decorated it and then humbly presented it to the Goddess. She was so pleased and so touched by the hare’s thoughtful gift that she wished all humankind to share in her joy. In honoring her wishes, the hare went all over the world distributing these beautifully decorated little gifts of life and continues to do so even today.
Over time, the story has changed a little, with the hare becoming a rabbit, giving rise to the “Easter Bunny” instead of the “Easter Hare”.
It is a fact however, that in real life, hares nest in what is known as a “form” — basically, a nest for bunnies. When the hares abandoned a form, it was sometimes taken over by plovers, which would then lay their eggs in it. The locals would then find eggs in the hare’s form, which further explains the bunny/egg connection with Easter and perhaps the origin of the legend itself.
The Green Man
The Green Man is the personification of the spirit of nature itself in its vegetation form; the living heartbeat in every cell of a plant, shrub or tree, and the divine essence of the seasons. He is the divine essence in the world of trees and flowers. He is health through the plants and fruits we eat. And he is the ongoing cycle of the year, the infinite wheel of life. The Green Man emphasizes the fertility, regeneration and different life/seasonal phases as shown by the world of vegetation. He also represents the great solar god; the one that rises in spring, blooms in summer, declines in autumn and dies in wintertime, to be reborn the next spring again. He is the great fertilizing force of the land: he is the great masculine life-essence, the God, the Father, the Shepherd, the Lord of Light and the Lord of Darkness, and the other side of the receptive Goddess-energy of nature.
The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky