Ostara © Helena Nelson-Reed
Glad Bringer of Brightness, hail!
Maiden of Grace, Lad of Laughter.
Gifts of vigor are returning,
Spring’s surprise, rainbow’s embrace.
Quickened be the heart within us,
Opened be our souls to grace,
May the blessing be abiding.
Welcome sit in every face.
Caitlín Matthews, Celtic Devotional: Daily Prayers and Blessings
As you probably know, this is the Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere, and it is Autumn Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.
At 5:37am, Eastern time, the subsolar point (the place on the Earth’s surface where the center of the Sun is exactly overhead) crosses the Equator, moving northward.
Across the globe, we are all experiencing the same phenomenon: light and the dark are equally in balance.
For our friends below the equator, the months of long daylight now fade, and darkness closes in.
Meantime, after today here in the Northern Hemisphere, there will be more daylight hours than darkness. Now the Earth warms, and we make our journey towards the Summer months.
As Winter departs, and Spring arrives for us in the north, the world begins anew.
We celebrate it as the lesser Sabbat named Ostara. “Lesser” Sabbat only means that it is a holiday associated with the seasonal quarters (equinoxes and solstices) of the year. The cross-quarters are considered the “Greater Sabbats.”
It is also known as Lady Day or Alban Eilir (in the Welsh and Druid traditions).
This time has been a universal celebration of the miraculous resurrection of life triumphing over death for many thousands of years, with the Christian God being a rather recent addition to a very long lineage.
The forces of masculine and feminine energy, yin and yang, are also considered to be in balance for this brief moment.
From Pesach to Eostre
Christians around the world will soon celebrate their most important sacred day, the festival of Easter. “Easter” is the name that was given to their rites in some parts of Europe around the 8th century, C.E.
Previously, it had been simply called Pesach, or pascha in Greek, because it was held at the time of the Jewish feast Passover. The reason, of course, is that it was at Passover that the events around their dying and resurrecting God took place. So why the name change, and what does “Easter” mean?
In 325 C.E., the church council of Nicaea decided that the observance of the Christos’ resurrection should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon, on or after the Vernal Equinox.
This meant that they were parting ways with commemorating it during the prescribed dates of Passover, the Pesach.
In fact, as Christianity spread across Europe, many of its Jewish characteristics faded and blended in with the Pagan customs and beliefs of the local populations.
From prehistoric times, people around the world had long held rites of fertility, renewal, and celebration for the return of life in early Spring. Naturally, this fit right in with the theme of the dying and reborn sacrificial God of the new religion.
The English word “Easter” is derived from the name “Eostre” or “Eastre.” Eostre is the Anglo-Saxon word for Ostara, the Germanic Goddess of the Dawn.
It is probably no coincidence that the similarly named Greek Goddess of the dawn is the beautiful, chariot driving Eos. And our word “estrus” comes from Her name, as it is one of the more notable signs of Springtime.
Bede the Venerable, a scribe who lived around 673-735 C.E. wrote that the fourth month of the year, “Esturmonath” was named for Her. The month of April, in Anglo Saxon, Old High German, and some modern German dialects, is called “Ostara’s month.” Place names suggest that Ostara was venerated throughout ancient Germany and Denmark.
Sadly, we do not know very much about Ostara Herself. As a Goddess of fertility, She was also a grain Goddess, so offerings of bread and cakes were made to Her.
And we believe that the Anglo-Saxon Pagans made offerings of colored eggs to Her at the Vernal Equinox. They placed them at graves especially, probably as a charm of rebirth. (Egyptians and Greeks were also known to place eggs at grave sites).
Rabbits are sacred to Ostara, especially white rabbits, and She is said to be able to take the form of a rabbit.
The source of this may be in one myth that tells of how Ostara found a bird dying from the cold, because She had been late returning the warmth to the land. Filled with remorse, She changed it to a white snow hare, to save its life. Yet it was still able to lay eggs like a bird. Thus, some stories tell us this is how the Ostara Bunny brings eggs to children on Easter.
According to the scholarly collection of German oral histories and myths, Deutsche Mythologie, published by Jacob Grimm (yes, the same one, who with his brother, collected fairy tales), various traditions throughout Germany were still practiced in the early 1800s in Her honor. From these records we know of the Ostern Hare, Ostara eggs, and Pagan hilltop ceremonies, particularly sword dances and celebratory bonfires, at dawn.
In climates where Winter was a time of constantly living on the edges of death, the return of the Sun, the lengthening of daylight, the warming of the land, and the birth of new livestock were celebrated with gratitude and joy we can scarcely imagine today.
Thus, despite all the hardships and loss that our ancestors may have endured in the Winter, this was always a time of rejoicing. We would do well to learn to appreciate this gift as they did.
Let us celebrate this day when Persephone returns from the Underworld, ending the grief of Her Mother, Demeter. Now Amaterasu is coaxed out from Her cave of mourning by the laughter of the kami, thanks to the Goddess of the Night and Stars, Amanouzume.
Today we honor the Green Goddess and the Lord of the Greenwood. She blankets the Earth with Her magnificent fertility, bursting forth from Her sleep. And the dazzling young God awakens and grows to maturity.
Thank You, Astrologers Everywhere
At the moment of Equinox, in the tropical astrology system, the Sun enters Aries, the first sign of the zodiac and the sign of new beginnings. Aries is the ram of fertility, bursting with life and initiatory power. As we arrive at the 0º point of Aries, this is the first day of the astrological year. Thus, it is recognized as International Astrology Day.
Here’s to all those brilliant women and men who, for thousands of years, have studied and interpreted the patterns of the stars. They were the healers and wisdom keepers of ancient times, and entire civilizations relied on their careful calculations and interpretations.
Whether you practice Vedic, Sidereal, or Tropical astrology, modern medicine and astronomy owe you a great debt. May you continue to learn and advise in your profound service to humanity.
We need you now, perhaps more than ever, as we navigate the treacherous tides of the changing epoch.
A Time for Celebration
The Spring Equinox is the time for fresh new beginnings, taking action, planting seeds for future harvests, and of tending gardens. Spring is a time of the Earth’s renewal, a rousing of nature after the cold sleep of Winter.
This makes it an important time to clean your home to welcome the new season. Spring cleaning is much more than a yearly chore. It is a sacred rite that rids our homes of any negativity or stuffiness left over from Winter.
And heaven knows, with the past year of spending so much time there, a good refresh is much needed! So an energetic and physical clearing for your sacred hearth are ideal at this time.
Other things to focus on at this time include working with the energy of openings and new beginnings. Thus, you may wish to invoke Lord Ganesha, who Opens the Way.
Spring is associated with the element of Air, so now is a time to work with communication, ideas, stories and songs, and developing new skills.
In addition to Ostara/Eostre Herself, you might want to invite Aphrodite, Athena, Cybele, Gaia, Hera, Isis, Robin of the Woods, the Green Man, Cernunnos, Thoth, Osiris, or Pan to bless your rites. (Maybe not all at once, of course!).
It is also an ideal time for spellwork around fertility and abundance.
The most common colors associated with Ostara are pastels, like lemon yellow, pale green and pale pink. Other appropriate colors include grass green, Robin’s egg blue, lavender, and white.
Stones to use during your Spring celebrations may include aquamarine, clear or rose quartz, amethyst, and moonstone. Rabbits and snakes are frequently associated with this Sabbat.
All Spring flowers are energetically ideal, although some experts warn that the Faery Folk are insulted by cut flowers, so a living plant on your altar might be more diplomatic. I love the little pots of primroses that you can sometimes find in grocery stores this time of year.
Stand in the sunlight today (hopefully you are getting some), and feel the sap rising in you; the desire stirring within to form new, joyful beginnings.
Bless your seeds, both green growing ones, and the seeds of your dreams, and let this powerful cusp energize the life and passion within them.
Now is the time to start putting those promises you made at Imbolc into action, and begin physically manifesting your resolutions.
Today, The Wheel has turned and for the next six months, in the Northern Hemisphere, the Light overpowers the Dark. What will you give birth to? What will you grow in your heart’s garden? How will you celebrate this miraculous gift of sparkling new life?
Regardless of the challenging news of the day, this is a time most ancient and sacred. We are given a moment of perfect balance in which we can slow down, and realign our Winter-weary spirits with the gentle, beautiful pace of Nature.
No matter what is happening in the human world, birth, hope, and beauty abound in the Real World.
May the Lady and the Lord awaken and bless the seeds of your desires. May Ostara, the Lady of the Spring Dawn, shine upon you, protecting you from all harm, bringing sweet awakenings, and returning life to all you cherish.