Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 A Day – Ostara/Spring or Vernal Equinox

Ostara Comments
Ostara/Spring or Vernal Equinox

March 20 – 22

 

The Equinox is the time when the Sun crosses the plane of the equator, making day and night of equal length. This is the actual beginning of Spring and occurs somewhere between the 20th and 22nds of March. In fact, most of our modern-day Easter customs come from the Pagan Ostara, named after the Saxon Goddess Eostre. This is a time of balance, equality, and harmony between the masculine and feminine forces in Nature, the time of year when practitioners of the Wiccan and Witchcraft religions, both physically as well as symbolically, plant the seeds of their desires–seeds that in time will grow into plants representing individual, long-term goals, that began at Yule, the Winter Solstice and rebirth of the Sun.

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Celebrating Spring Equinox

Celebrating Spring Equinox

The spring equinox is one of the four great solar festivals of the year. Day and night are equal, poised and balanced, but about to tip over on the side of light. The spring equinox is sacred to dawn, youth, the morning star and the east. The Saxon goddess, Eostre (from whose name we get the direction East and the holiday Easter) is a dawn goddess, like Aurora and Eos. Just as the dawn is the time of new light, so the vernal equinox is the time of new life.

The Coming of the Spring

Although we saw the first promise of spring at Candlemas in the swelling buds, there were still nights of frost and darkness ahead. Now spring is manifest. Demeter is reunited with her daughter, Kore (the essence of spring), who has been in the Underworld for six months and the earth once again teems with life. The month of March contains holidays dedicated to all the great mother goddesses: Astarte, Isis, Aprhrodite, Cybele and the Virgin Mary. The goddess shows herself in the blossoms, the leaves on the trees, the sprouting of the crops, the mating of birds, the birth of young animals. In the agricultural cycle, it is time for planting. We are assured that life will continue.

Gilbert Murray in Five Stages of Greek Religion writes about the passion behind the Greek celebration of Easter:

Anyone who has been in Greece at Easter time, especially among the more remote peasants, must have been struck by the emotion of suspense and excitement, with which they wait for the announcement, “Christos aneste,” “Christ is risen!” and the response “Alethos aneste,” “He has really risen!” [An old peasant woman] explained her anxiety: “If Christ does not rise tomorrow we shall have no harvest this year.” We are evidently in the presence of an emotion and a fear which, beneath its Christian colouring and, so to speak, transfiguration, is in its essence — a relic from a very remote pre-Christian past.

Resurrection from the Dead

Murray then goes on to recount the myths of the Year Gods — Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus — who like Christ die and are reborn each year. These gods are always the son of a God and a mortal woman. The son is a savior who saves his people in some way, sometimes through sacrifice. He is the vegetation, dying each year (at harvest) to be reborn in the spring.

In ancient Rome, the 10-day rite in honor of Attis, son of the great goddess Cybele, began on March 15th. A pine tree, which represented Attis, was chopped down, wrapped in a linen shroud, decorated with violets and placed in a sepulchre in the temple. On the Day of Blood or Black Friday, the priests of the cult gashed themselves with knives as they danced ecstatically, sympathizing with Cybele in her grief and helping to restore Attis to life. Two days later, a priest opened the sepulchre at dawn, revealing that it was empty and announcing that the god was saved. This day was known as Hilaria or the Day of Joy, a time of feasting and merriment.

Sound familiar? Easter is the Christian version of the same myth. Even the name Easter is stolen. It comes from the Saxon dawn-goddess Eostre, whose festival was celebrated on spring equinox. The date of Easter is still determined by the old moon cycle. It is always the first Sunday on or after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

On Good Friday, Christ is crucified, a willing sacrifice. Altars are stripped, candles extinguished to represent the darkness of the grave. But on Easter, light springs from darkness, Christ rises from the tomb. If you’ve never attended an Easter vigil, I highly recommend it. (I usually go to a Russian or Greek Orthodox church, so I don’t know what the ceremony is like in other Christian churches.) Shortly before midnight all the lights are extinguished and the thronged church is dark and silent. Everyone is holding an unlit candle. The priest lights the Paschal candle, which has been ritually blessed and inscribed with the year. He then lights the candles of those nearby, who light the candles of their neighbors, until the church is ablaze with light and filled with song.

According to my Catholic missal, one of the prayers used during this part of the service (which is called the Service of the Light) goes like this:

We pray you, therefore, O Lord, that this candle, consecrated in honor of your name, may continue endlessly to scatter the darkness of this night. May it be received as a sweet fragrance and mingle with the lights of heaven. May the morning star find its flame burning, that Star which knows no setting, which came back from limbo. Christ is like the morning Star because he descended into Death (the Underworld) and emerged again, like Attis, like Kore, like Inanna and Ishtar.

Eggs and Seeds

Eggs are one of the symbols of this festival since they represent new life and potential. Folklore tells us (combining two themes of the season) (and Donna Henes has demonstrated in public egg-balancing ceremonies in New York City) that eggs balance on their ends most easily at equinox. Z Budapest in Grandmother of Time says that eggs were dyed red (the color of life) on the Festival of Astarte (Mar 17). The beautifully decorated eggs from the Ukraine (pysanky) are covered with magical symbols for protection, fertility, wisdom, strength and other qualities. They are given as gifts and used as charms.

Seeds are like eggs. While eggs contain the promise of new animal life, seeds hold the potential of a new plant. In ancient Italy in the spring, women planted gardens of Adonis. They filled urns with grain seeds, kept the in the dark and watered them every two days. This custom persists in Sicily. Women plant seeds of grains — lentils, fennel, lettuce or flowers — in baskets and pots. When they sprout, the stalks are tied with red ribbons and the gardens are placed on graves on Good Friday. They symbolize the triumph of life over death.

Celebrating

Blend ideas from the many traditions described above to create your own ceremony to honor the spring. Decorate with budding twigs, flowers, willow catkins, sprouting bulbs. Red and green are the colors of this festival. Red represents blood, the blood of sacrifice and life. Green symbolizes the growth of the plants. Honor various spring deities with their flowers: Narcisus and Hyacinth with those blooms, the red anemone for Adonis, violets for Attis, roses and lilies for the goddesses.

This is the traditional time for a great spring feast and the decoration of the table is as important as the food. There are many traditions from which to choose: Nawruz, Passover, Easter, St Joseph’s Day, Maimuna — all are variations on the theme of the spring feast, in which every item is symbolic.

Helen Farias in her seasonal newsletter, Octava, points out that certain foods are associated with springtime festivals: cheese, butter, eggs, pancakes, wheaten cakes, hot cross buns. Since this is a time when young animals are being born, milk is now available for making cheese and butter. In Poland, according to Dorothy Spicer in The Book of Festivals, a little lamb made of butter or sugar is placed in the center of the Easter table, which is laden with food and decorated with eggs, red paper cut-outs and festoons of green. Eggs symbolize new life, of course, and wheaten cakes, grain. In Italy, colored eggs are baked in braided loaves of bread on Easter, combining the two symbols. Hot cross buns, a traditional Easter food, may be very ancient. A wheaten cake marked with a cross was found in Herculaneum, preserved since 79, and may have been used in the spring rites.

Decorating Eggs

This is one of my favorites ways to celebrate spring. I’ve decorated eggs with nail polish, with food coloring and vinegar, with commercial egg dyes and with natural dyes. Pauline Campanelli in The Wheel of the Year describes many natural substances that dye eggs. One of my favorites is boiling a single onion skin with a few eggs to get a soft orange. A handful of onion skins produces rust, a half teaspoon of turmeric gives a sunny yellow and beet juice and vinegar make pink. If you boil eggs with vinegar and several of the outer leaves of cabbage and allow them to cool overnight, the eggs will be a bright robin’s egg blue, but they must be handled carefully since the dye comes off easily.

A few years ago, I finally purchased the appropriate tool, a kitska (I got mine in the art supply department of our local university bookstore), and started making pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs). You place a bit of beeswax in the funnel of the kitska, then melt it over a candle flame and draw on the eggshell. It helps to have a lathe to hold the egg if you want absolutely even lines. Begin with a white egg and put wax on all the areas you want to stay white, then dye the egg yellow and cover all the areas with wax which you want to remain yellow, and so forth through orange, red and a dark color (brown, purple or black). When the egg is done, place it in a low temperature over for a few minutes to melt the wax, which is then rubbed off to reveal the intricate designs and glowing colors of your egg. I love the delicacy of the designs, the smell of the wax and the candle, and the trance-like quality of the whole process.

This is a great project for doing with a group. In the Ukraine, only women created these special eggs and they did so at night, when the children were asleep. If you want to use the eggs as talismans, they should be raw and whole (not blown out). Decorate them with symbols of the qualities you wish for yourself and your family and friends in the coming year. For example, draw sprouting leaves on an egg and bury it in your garden to help stimulate your plants.

Blessing and Planting Seeds

Several years ago, my family celebrated with a very simple but effective ritual, based on the ceremony suggested by Nancy Brady Cunningham in Feeding the Spirit. Each person chose a seed or bulb that was meaningful to them. We blessed the seeds with a prayer from Campanelli: Now is the dark half of the year passing Now do the days grow light and the Earth grows warm I summon the spirit of these seeds Which have slept in darkness Awaken, stir and swell Soon you will be planted in the earth To grow and bring froth new fruit Blessed be! We sat quietly and visualized our plants in full bloom. Then we invoked each of the four elements necessary for the plants’ growth. We placed the seed in a pot of soil and patted down the earth, poured water on it, breathed on it to represent air and held the pot over a candle (or up to the sun, if outside) to represent the element fire (the warmth of the sun).

Add another layer of meaning to this ceremony by choosing seeds which represent the things you want tog row during the new year- — wisdom, understanding, patience, etc. Visualize those qualities coming into full bloom in your life as you plant your seeds.

Sources
Budapest, Zsuzsanna E, The Grandmother of Time, Harper & Row 1989
Campanelli, Pauline, The Wheel of the Year, Llewellyn 1989
Cunningham, Nancy Brady, Feeding the Spirit, Resource Publications 1988 [I believe this is out of print]
Farias, Helen, Octava no longer exists but some of Helen’s writings on seasonal holidays can be found in back issues of The Beltane Papers.
Murray, Gilbert, Five Stages of Greek Religion, Doubleday 1955

Article Taken from

School of the Seasons by Waverly Fitzgerald

The Seasons, 2014

The  Seasons, 2014
 
Vernal Equinox  (Spring begins) March 20th at 11:57 morning.
Sun on Equator,  crosses the line North, enters the sign of Aries.
 
Summer Solstice  (Summer begins) June 21st at 5:49 morning.
Sun Runs High, at  Northern tropic (turn), enters the sign of Crabba.
 
Autumnal Equinox  (Fall begins) September 22nd at 9:28 evening.
Sun on Equator,  crosses the line South, enters the sign of Libra.
 
Winter Solstice  (Winter begins) December 21st at 6:01 evening.
Sun Rides Low, at  Southern tropic (turn), enters the sign of Capricorn.
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The year is divided into  four seasons;
  The first season is  of a frigid complexion, and this is “Winter”;
The second is of the  complexion of Air, and this is “Spring”;
  Then follows the  third, which is “Summer”, and is of the complexion of Fire;
Lastly, there is the  fourth, wherein fruits are matured, which is “Autumn”.
~The Turba Philosophorum,  ca. 12 century.
Straight from
GrannyMoon’s Morning Feast

Ostara Lore

OSTARA  LORE

A traditional Vernal Equinox pastime: go to a field and randomly collect wildflowers [Thank  the flowers for their sacrifice before picking them, using a collection formula such as can be found in “An Herbal Grimoire”].  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.

It is important at this time of renewed life to plan a walk (or a ride) through gardens, a  park, woodlands, forest and other green places. This is not simply exercise, and you should be on no other mission. It isn’t even just an appreciation of nature. Make your walk celebratory, a ritual for nature itself.

Other traditional activities include planting seeds, working on magickal gardens and  practicing all forms of herb work – magickal, medicinal, cosmetic, culinary and artistic.

Foods in tune with this day (linking your meals with the seasons is a fine way of attuning  with nature) include those made of seeds, such as sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, as well as pine nuts.

Sprouts are equally appropriate, as are leafy, green vegetables. Flower dishes such as stuffed nasturtiums or carnation cupcakes also find their place here. [Find a book of flower cooking or simply make spice cupcakes. Ice with pink frosting and place a fresh carnation  petal on each cupcake.  Stuff nasturtium blossoms with a mixture made with cream cheese, chopped nuts, chives and watercress.]

The Wicca Book of Days for March 21 – Aries, the Ram

The Wicca Book of Days for March 21

Aries, the Ram

The arrival of the Spring, or Vernal Equinox – which usually falls on March 21, give or take a day – also marks the start of the astrological year as the zodiacal month of Pisces gives way to that of Aries, the Ram. Imagine a headstrong ram lowering its head, kicking u its heels, and charging forward, and you’ll understand the kind of springtime energy that Aries unleashes. And small wonder: its influences are Mars, which supplies bloody-mindedness and aggression; fire, which provides hot-blooded energy; a masculine, or positive, polarity, which removes inhibitions; and a cardinal quadruplicity, which contributes initiative and pushiness.

Furze Day

According to the Celtic tree month calendar, March 21 is the day of the Furze (or gorse). You could mark this by bringing a sprig of Furze (Ulex) inside, for instance or researching the Gorse (Ulex europeaus) Bach Flower Remedy.