Ostara: Spring has Sprung. (March 19th – 22nd)
By: Celtic Bard Jeff
Ostara is also known as the spring or the vernal equinox, and by the Druidic as Lady Day or Alban Eiler. As spring reaches its midpoint, night and day stand in perfect balance, with light on the increase. The young Sun God now celebrates a hierogamy (sacred marriage) with the young Maiden Goddess, who conceives. In nine months, she will again become the Great Mother. It is a time of great fertility, new growth, and newborn animals.
The next full moon (a time of increased births) is called the Ostara and is sacred to Eostre the Saxon Lunar Goddess of fertility (from whence we get the word estrogen, whose two symbols were the egg and the rabbit.
The Christian religion adopted these emblems for Easter which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The theme of the conception of the Goddess was adapted as the Feast of the Annunciation, occurring on the alternative fixed calendar date of March 25 Old Lady Day, the earlier date of the equinox. Lady Day may also refer to other goddesses (such as Venus and Aphrodite), many of whom have festivals celebrated at this time. ¹
As with Imbolc, this is a good time for purification of your home and even yourself—what habits or ruts have you still not shaken free from that you would like to let go of? This is also a good time to be planting seeds for what you’d like to manifest in the coming months—both literally, if you have a garden, and figuratively in terms of spell work.
Before Christianity came to dominate the cultures of Europe, most pagans celebrated festivals on or near the Equinox, often honoring deities associated with fertility and abundance. One such deity was Ostara (also known as Eostre), a Northern European goddess of fertility who was worshipped in many areas populated by Germanic tribes. As part of the strategy to absorb and therefore eliminate the pagan religions, the Christians eventually adopted the name Easter for their own Spring holiday, and the Equinox festivals gradually declined over time.
This time is also known as Alban Eiler, Rites of Spring, Eostra’s Day, Vernal Equinox, March Equinox, Spring Equinox, Lady Day, Bacchanalia.
Ostara is the second of three spring festivals on the Wheel of the Year. Coming in between Imbolc and Beltane, this is a time for celebrating the balance between extremes that is found amid the seasons. Although it may still be chilly in many regions, this is the official beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere—it is the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, the moment of exact balance between the light and the dark.
Though it’s typically celebrated on March 20, the exact moment of the Equinox varies from year to year. This is due to a slight misalignment between the Gregorian calendar and the actual rate of the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The Equinox also occurs at differing local times, so depending on where you live, it may fall the day before or the day after the date listed on any given calendar. For this reason, a date range of March 19-21 is often cited in sources on the Wheel of the Year.
In the Wiccan mythology, the growing daylight is evidence of the God moving from infancy toward maturity. Likewise, the Earth becomes warmer and more fertile as the Goddess is coming into the full power of her Maiden aspect. The promise of greener, warmer, more bountiful times is becoming apparent as buds and blossoms emerge from the trees and shrubs, bees return to begin the pollination cycle, and fields of grass wake up from their winter slumber. This is a time of innocence and child-like wonder as the end of Winter finally becomes a reality and being outdoors is pleasant again. We have not yet arrived at the passion and heat of Summer but are instead enjoying the more balanced energies of this Equinox.
To honor the energies of this time of year, you can decorate your altar with fresh flowers and a young, small potted plant or two. Use flower petals to mark the sacred circle, and fill your cauldron, if you have one, with fresh spring water to float petals upon. Images of hares, eggs and pastel colors are also traditional decorations. Foods appropriate for Ostara celebrations include eggs, sprouts, young greens, and other seasonal crops such as asparagus and fiddlehead ferns. Ostara rituals and spells often focus on balance. It is also not uncommon for Spring Equinox rituals to promote renewal. ²
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. Symbolically, many Pagans choose to represent Ostara by the planting of seeds, potted plants, ringing bells, lighting new fires at sunrise, either in the fireplace (if the weather us still cold enough), in the the cauldron, or light a balefire (if outdoors). I always give myself a gift of a newly potted plant or take a seed and plant it within my cast Circle. Ritually, a fire may be lit in the cauldron during (not before) the rite itself. 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.
Green Man Here is a traditional Vernal Equinox pastime according to Scott Cunningham: 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, a small crystal or even a coin. Or buy some from a florist, taking one or two of those that appeal to you. Then bring them home and divine their magickal meanings by the use of books, your own intuition, a pendulum or by other means. The flowers you’ve chosen reveal your inner thoughts and emotions. When all things are green and renewed life is all around us, it is a very good idea to plan a walk (or a ride) through gardens, a park, woodlands, forest, and other green places. This is not simply for exercise, and you should be on no other mission. It isn’t even just an appreciation of Nature. You should make your walk celebratory, a ritual for Nature itself.
Another very popular Ostara activity is decorating and coloring or dying hard-boiled eggs - or other eggs such as wooden or paper Mache and drawing Pagan and magickal symbols on the colored eggs. You could then choose to either keep the eggs, bury them in the Earth or cast them into a fire as offerings to the Goddess - the choice is yours. If you use hard- boiled eggs, bury them in the Earth when the ritual is over, but -alternately - here is an alternative. Make your eggs from the paper Mache ones (the cost factor comes in to play here, they are much cheaper than wooden ones, but the wooden ones are much smoother). The first thing I do is paint them each a different color - whatever shade strikes you - whether it be dull, bright, pastel, or primary. Then I use gold and silver paint pens to draw Pagan designs and magickal symbols all over them. You may opt to use other color combinations. It is entirely up to your personal choice. I have one egg that is totally covered with interconnected triangles (Triple Goddess).
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, and Pan.
Foods in tune with this day (linking your meals with the seasons is a fine way of attuning with Nature) include eggs, egg salad, hard-boiled eggs, honey cakes, first fruits of the season, fish, cakes, biscuits, cheeses, honey and ham. 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. May the Lord and Lady bless you all with fertility, abundance, success, and all things new! ³
Sources: ¹ Wicca; ² Wicca Calling; ³ 13 moons