Ode to Ostara
Author: Morgan Ravenwood
I really feel sorry for those who complain that their lives seem to pass in a blur. One minute it’s winter, the next it’s summer, and so many people never seem to mark the changing of the seasons until the day they look in the mirror, see the lines on their own faces and the gray hair on their heads, and wonder when they acquired them. I feel fortunate that because I am a Pagan I’m not only observing the seasonal changes but am also actually participating in them (or, as I like to put it, “living a conscious life”) , unlike those who simply view them as a spectator or, worse yet, fail to notice them at all. For surely, if life is but a classroom and we are here to learn certain lessons, we can hardly do otherwise and expect to achieve spiritual growth.
While we Pagans are most famous for our celebration of Samhain, which symbolizes the death of the old year and the beginning of the new one, I believe that it is the Spring Equinox that carries a much more important connotation: that of birth and renewal. There is no better place to watch this cycle play itself out than in a garden.
I live in the southwestern desert where we don’t usually get much of a winter, albeit the nighttime temperatures do dip below freezing at times. Despite the mild weather, my small but productive garden knows what the seasons are, and shows its pleasure in the warmer weather with a riotous green display.
I’m like an excited little kid after I first plant the seeds I’ve chosen to grow; every day I anxiously peer into the various pots, barrels and seedbeds, beside myself with curiosity to see if the first seedling has made its appearance yet. Of all the stress-relieving exercises known to man, this has got to be one of the easiest and best. It’s also highly effective for a Pagan in that it offers an opportunity to temporarily abandon the cares of the world and perform a life-affirming activity, which is also one in which they can actually commune with the divine if they will but listen as well as speak. That this can be achieved by performing such a simple activity as tending a garden is part of the deep appeal of Paganism. This is why I feel that every Pagan should attempt to grow something, even if it’s just a houseplant or a few herb seeds in a small pot on a windowsill. It’s also a particularly great way to introduce children to one of the fundamental beliefs of Paganism: that divinity is inherent in all of nature.
In a garden we not only can see the metaphorical drama of the Goddess and God, but of our own lives as well: the seed is planted, it grows to adulthood, produces seed of its own, dies, and is resurrected through its seed, which has been planted in its place. The message is, of course, that nothing is ever truly wasted or dies. Anybody who would argue with that has surely never been a gardener!
This birth-death-resurrection cycle plays in all aspects of organic and biological life. I had an opportunity to meditate on this when my pregnant daughter showed me an ultrasound picture of her baby girl, who was my first grandchild. A myriad of images and emotions swept through me as I gazed upon the image of this tiny little creature lying curled up like a new rosebud. It seemed that I could hear my mother’s voice and see my father’s face and feel their love and pride, and yet above that I also heard and felt the presence of something even greater and more awesome.
Other images flashed before my eyes and mind; I saw myself as a baby and my husband as a child. I thought of the day I learned that I was pregnant with my daughter and saw my husband’s joyful countenance when he held her for the first time. And then I thought how appropriate the term “family tree” is. Whoever coined it must have had some Pagan leanings, to be sure! But most of all, as I looked at that picture, I felt like I’d actually made a difference in this world. And I think that anyone who takes the opportunity-and responsibility–in nurturing a life, whether it’s planting a garden, raising a kitten or having a child, has been given the wonderful opportunity to share a little bit of the divinity—and immortality—that is unique to the gods. For sure, allowing us to share this with them is their greatest gift to us.
The idea of new life springing forward after a long period of silence and stillness is a concept that is shared in most religions today, and it is no secret that all of them have incorporated many elements of the earlier Pagan faiths into their own doctrines. I am betting that many people in these religions today are unaware of the extent of their syncretism. All that most Christians know about Neo-Paganism is that its one and only holiday appears to be “Halloween” (which is known to us as Samhain) . They do not realize that while they are celebrating Easter as a strictly Christian holiday, its roots, as well as its name, originated completely in Pagan faiths.
Ostara, of course, is the holiday that is celebrated at the Vernal Equinox to herald the return of life and light to the world, and its rituals and events largely mirror those of the Christians sans the religious observances in a church, of course. Pagan children need not miss out on the usual springtime celebrations; when my children were still living at home, we always colored and hid eggs for them. We would always plant some seeds or young plants and try to balance eggs on one end at the minute of the Equinox, with which we had a fair amount of luck. The kids loved Ostara because it came earlier than Easter.
However, no children are required for Pagan adults to join in the fun. I still color eggs even when the grandkids can’t visit, and will always continue my seed-planting ritual. The weather around Ostara is usually pretty nice where I live, so I try to get outdoors to spend some time with Nature and observe its rapid changes. After so many years of celebrating our sabbats, it would feel strange NOT to do these things.
I hope I have given some helpful tips on how to celebrate Ostara. May all your celebrations be blessed ones!