Beyond Eggs: Ways to Celebrate Oestara
by Melanie Fire Salamander
The wheel of the year turns; the days get longer, dawns earlier. The Spring Equinox, Oestara, approaches. You want to celebrate, but how? The same way you did last year? Nah, boring. Or maybe you’ve never planned an Oestara ritual before. Maybe it’s a holiday you’ve always gotten stuck on: You understand Imbolc, you understand Beltaine, but Spring Equinox — what do you do then? Following are some ideas to get your imagination ticking.
First, as with any Sabbat, consider whether you want only to celebrate the time of year and the goddesses and gods of spring or also to perform magick to accomplish a goal. If you want to perform magick, what goals do you and your co-ritualists have, and how do you work for those goals in magick appropriate to the time of year?
Whether you perform magick or simply celebrate, your Oestara rites begin with understanding the time of year. If Litha, June 21 or thereabouts, is Midsummer, Oestara is Midspring. It’s the second of the three spring holidays, Imbolc marking spring’s first glimmer and Beltaine spring’s height and power. If Imbolc is about inspiration, Beltaine about consummation, Oestara is about growth. At Oestara, the seed that stirred at Imbolc sprouts and pokes its head above ground. At Oestara, you can begin to feel spring: The crocuses and daffodils are out; the cherries blossom. The air smells of wet earth and flowers; earth and air begin to warm. You see the tall spring cumulus, feel the first spring wind, greet kite-flying weather. You can make your Oestara ritual part of this burgeoning spring, celebrating Earth’s fertility and the fertility in your own life.
You can also consider Oestara as a time of balance between light and dark. Night and day equally divide the 24 hours now; the dark half of the year gives way to the light. You can perform rituals to ask for balance in your life, and to honor both dark and light.
You can also work with Oestara as the first quarter of the Sun-year, parallel to the first quarter of the Moon. It’s a time to start new things or to consolidate beginnings. If the first inspiration began at Imbolc, now is the time to pour on nurturance and growth. You can also plant new seeds now. Symbolic associations for Oestara include the element air, the direction east and the time of dawn.
In a related association, this time belongs to the Maiden and her parallel the Young God. Other gods and goddesses concerned with Spring Equinox include the Greek wine-god Dionysos and his Roman counterpart Bacchus; the Greeks held Dionysia at Spring Equinox, when the new wine made the previous harvest was first drunk. The Norse at equinox celebrated the feast of the goddess Iduna, bearer of the magick apples of life, symbol of the light half of the year. We get the name of the holiday from the Germanic goddess Eastre or Oestara, whose symbolism is similar to Aphrodite’s, whose associations include Near-Eastern Astarte and Indian Mother Kali and whose consort is the lusty Moon-Hare.
On the day before the equinox, the Greeks and Romans honored wisdom goddess Athena and her counterpart Minerva. Rhea, mother of Greek Sky-Father Zeus and an aspect of the Great Mother, has her feast day March 15. March as a whole is sacred to the Roman god Mars and his Norse equivalent Tyr, and to the Anglo-Saxon Earth-Mother Hertha.
To celebrate Oestara, you can do any of the following, or use these ideas as a springboard.
Get out in Nature.Take a walk around your neighborhood or favorite park. See which plants are sprouting, which budding, which blooming, which still are in the grips of winter. Feel the air; smell the scents of Oestara.
Clear a space for a garden, or start flowers, herbs or vegetables indoors.It’s too early in this climate to plant fruits and vegetables; frosts can happen as late as April in the Northwest. But you can clear weeds, grass and rubbish from the spot where you plan a garden, or you can start seeds indoors. Check with your favorite garden store what flowers and vegetables might best be started now.
Pick up litter at your favorite park or beach.Help the earth rejuvenate by getting rid of the mess. Even an hour of cleanup can make a big difference.
Ritually color hard-boiled or blown eggs.Eggs, a potent symbol of fertility, figured in pagan spring worship long before their appropriation by the Christian Easter. Ukrainian pysanky, blown eggs with patterns drawn in wax and dyed, are pagan amulets for fertility, prosperity and protection. Pysanky have come to us basically unchanged in form from the hunter-gatherers of Eastern Europe.
For your own rituals, you can draw in crayon or white wax on hard-boiled eggs symbols that represent things you want in the coming sun-year, or write on the eggs these things’ names, or both. You can then use Easter-egg or natural dyes to color the eggs; your wax symbols and writing will stand out against the dye-color. Next, raise energy in ritual for your goals, charge the eggs with that energy, then peel and eat the eggs, taking in the things you want to manifest. Alternatively, you can mark and dye unboiled eggs, then crack tiny holes in both ends with a pin and blow out the matter inside, keeping the eggshell on your altar.
Perform oomancy (divination by eggs).To perform the most common form of egg-divination, separate egg whites and yolks. You then drop the white into hot water and divine from the shapes it assumes.
Perform love or other divination with apples.Apples are a Northern European pagan symbol of spring and of love. You may recall from childhood two forms of love-divination by apple, using the seeds and the stem.
To divine whether someone loves you by apple seeds, choose and eat an apple thinking of your loved one. Next, split the core and count the seeds chanting this rhyme: One I love, two I love, three I love I say, four I love with all my heart, five I cast away; six she loves, seven he loves, eight they both love; nine s/he comes, ten s/he tarries, eleven s/he courts, twelve s/he marries. To divine the first letter of your spouse-to-be’s name, twist an apple’s stem while chanting the letters of the alphabet. The letter at which the stem breaks is his or her initial.
Both these love-divination techniques can be adapted to other uses. To adapt the former, alter the rhyme with words suiting your situation. To adapt the latter, you can simply chant yes and no while twisting till the apple stem breaks; you can also chant “yes, no, maybe” or use words more specific to your situation.
Meditate on the imagery of the seed.Consider a seed and how it relates to the earth, how it falls from its mother plant into a rich loam made from the breakdown of other dead plants. Consider how the seed is influenced by sun and rain, by the energy from sky and earth. Or contemplate as a seed an idea or situation in your life, then imagine the seed breaking open and sending out roots and sprouts. Study what these roots and sprouts look like, where they find barriers and where they grow most strongly.
Perform magick by planting a seed to grow with your spell.A traditional love-spell runs as follows. (Of course, you shouldn’t perform this spell to draw a particular person, but rather to draw the right person toward you.) Just after the New Moon, plant the seed of some sturdy plant in a pot. Water thoroughly, and charge your spell by raising energy and saying over the plant: As this root grows, and this blossom blows, may my true love be inclined toward me. You can adapt this spell to any purpose naturally achieved over time, such as the success of a business.
Meditate on the season’s flowers.Around us now bloom crocuses, daffodils and early tulips. You can find or purchase cut or living flowers and meditate on them. Sitting before the flowers, consider what is growing in your life. Flowers are the sexual organs of plants; consider what this says to you.
Perform magick to give back to the earth.Raise and send energy to return to the Earth, our mother, some of the bounteous energy and fertility She gives to us.
Meditate on the Moon-Hare.Rabbits provide an obvious symbol of animal fecundity. Meditate on the Moon-Hare, the animal the early German tribes and the Aztecs saw on the face of the moon, and see what comes to you about literal or creative fertility in your own life.
Honor the spring or Earth goddess or god of your choice, or a goddess or god of balance.To honor balance, venerate Roman Janus or his female counterpart Jana, or any pair of twin goddesses or gods. You can also honor goddesses and gods of spring or fertility now. Greet Oestara with rites like those of Aphrodite; drink new wine in honor of Dionysos; celebrate warlike Mars, deep and fertile Hertha or ever-young Iduna. Likewise, you can honor the Maiden, either sole and free or ripe for consummation.
Light around your house pairs of white and black candles, symbolizing dark and light.Each time you pass a pair of candles, you can honor the balance of light and dark we find this time of year, and the balance of light and dark within yourself.
Light a bonfire at dawn on the Equinox to honor the light half of the year.Not only did ancient Northern Europeans burn such fires, but also the Mayans.
Meditate or perform ritual at dawn or sunset.These liminal times are particularly significant now when we balance between dark and light.
Meditate or perform ritual for balance in your life and in the earth’s life.Meditate on that ancient Eastern emblem of balance, the Yin-Yang symbol. Consider what is dark and hidden, rightly or wrongly, in your life, and what is daylit. Consider how you best can create balance, honoring both sides of yourself. Likewise, contemplate what you see as dark and light in the world around you. Meditate upon what this year will bring, dark and light, and how best you can take right action in the world. You can also use these symbols actively, raising energy and asking that balance come to your life.
Do a ritual denoting the passing of the year’s dark half.Medieval Bohemians, after honoring the Christian savior on Easter Sunday, performed a ritual for his pagan rival on the following Monday, or Moon-day. Village girls sacrificed an effigy of the Lord of Death in the nearest running water, singing “Death swims in the water, spring comes to visit us, with eggs that are red, with yellow pancakes, we carried Death out of the village, we are carrying Summer into the village.”
As an updated variation, you can create an effigy of the dark half of the year and imbue it with the things of winter you’d like to leave behind. You can then either burn it in a bonfire or drop it in the nearest watercourse. (In the former case, you’ll want to make the effigy’s components flammable, in the latter biodegradable.) To return with the spring, bring back to your home greenery cut with respect or water from the stream.
Use the energy of the time of year as you would the first quarter of the moon.You can use the energy of this time of year to fuel any new project or goal.
Meditate on beginnings, on the East, on air, on dawn. This station of the year reflects these traditional associations. In meditation, note how these symbols connect organically and how you relate personally to them.