Ostara’s Spring: Celebrating the Little Bit of Pagan in All of Us
BY: Debra Moffitt
When spring rolls around there’s an itch to get outdoors, celebrate Mother Earth and enjoy the season. Ostara, the Pagan festival that comes to us from traditions that pre-date Christianity, formalized it. It fetes the arrival of Ostara, the spring. Ostara is personified by the goddess who represents the dawn, the coming of new light and rebirth through many of the rituals, decorations and gifts that we’re familiar with to this day. They include colorful Easter eggs, rabbits, and baskets filled with sweets. Due to the popularity of these symbols in ancient times they were coopted by Christianity from “pagans” (which to them meant anyone who’d not adopted the religion) into what we know as Easter celebrations. Many of us continue to celebrate the season with a little bit of pagan influenced décor and delights.
The festival of Ostara falls around the equinox and is related to spring festivities that celebrate renewal, planting new seeds and fertility. These rites of spring come to us from the Celts and Saxons before they were conquered by the Romans some 2,000 years ago. The spirit of Ostara festivities aimed to inspire gratitude to the earth and environment in a beautiful and meaningful way.
Ostara (or Eostra) is an Anglo-Saxon goddess who represented dawn, and her name derives from the Germanic word for “east.” She’s depicted as a young woman surrounded in light and budding trees and flowers. The Ostara festival falls on the day of the equinox, the day when light and dark are equal. It also marks the time when more light will begin to come in, days will be longer, nights shorter and food will be more abundant. At a time when people had to store food to last the long harsh winters, this festival was particularly anticipated as a time of renewed hope.
Inspired by the equinox where light and dark of the physical day are equal, Ostara is a time to celebrate life and balance. On this occasion it was believed that taking water at dawn from springs and drinking them would restore balance and be beneficial for a body. Villages celebrated with bonfires and often ate the remaining ham that had been stored up over the winter. With the promise of a new beginning in the fresh blossoms in trees and green sprouts of bulbs from the ground, new nourishment was available and a sense of possibility restored
The name of this Pagan goddess is connected to one of the most sacred Christian holidays. Ostara’s (Eostra’s) or the traditional Easter festival was transferred to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection to incorporate the Christian meaning of Easter after Anglo-Saxons and Germans converted to Christianity. This merging between “pagan” and Christian festivals occurred throughout Europe, and remnants of it, like the Easter eggs, remain visible to this day in both European and American cultures. The “pagan” cultures didn’t deny divinity; they simply celebrated it in a way that was more closely connected to the earth and Nature in forms like Ostara who became a deity they worshiped as they saw her powers manifest every spring.
The symbols that surround Ostara include eggs, rabbits and spring flowers which speak of the fertility and new life she brings. The egg, especially, has always been a sacred sign of fecundity. Eggs carried the power of becoming, of creation. Some ancient legends believed that the Earth was hatched from an egg, and of course eggs abound in birds’ nests at this time of year. They became natural associations with fertility, birthing and creation. The egg or lingam is still much revered and often placed on altars in Hindu culture. Rabbits, too, were associated with the spring festivals because of their great fertility. They produce a large number of offspring and breed many times during the season.
Modern Pagans celebrate Ostara with feasting and fun. It’s a joyous celebration that may be combined with rituals to promote balance, plant new seeds both literally and figuratively, and prepare for a wonderful new season of rebirth. Even if you’re not Pagan, everyone can enjoy the ancients rites and rituals of spring that connect us both to the earth and to our possibilities to grow spiritually. You may want to get some soil and plant seeds for lettuce; prepare a kitchen herb garden or bring some potted plants into the house. Bringing in spring colors will help you to connect with spring energy and move you into a place where you begin to tap into the energy of renewal. Colors like lilac, pastel pinks similar to the cherry blossoms and bright tulip colors will add touches of freshness to interior spaces. In ancient times, when planting took priority as a way to sustain a community, clearing away debris and weeds was an important step before spring planting. What needs to be cleared from your house and life to bring in that essential balance so that the seeds you long to plant can grow? This is an ideal time to take a moment to contemplate what needs to be brought into balance in your life.