The Eostar Bunny
... and other Pagan heralds of spring.
After even the longest, most bitter winter, spring comes with the promise of regeneration. Ice cracks, snow melts, buds swell, and new shoots poke up through the damp earth. All are animated by the primal force of life renewing itself. That power of regeneration, that cycle of birth, growth, death, decay, and renewal, is what Pagans call Goddess.
In the spring, at the equinox (March 20, 21 or 22) when day and night are equal and the sun rises and sets due east and west, we celebrate the earth's regeneration with the festival we call Eostar. Eostar, or Ostara, was the Germanic Goddess of spring, and she has given her name not only to our holiday but also to the Christian Easter, which also celebrates rebirth. The symbols and rituals that mark this season allow us to both aid the powers of renewal and draw strength from them.
The egg, of course, is the prime symbol of birth and beginnings. Decorating eggs at this season of rebirth is an old, widespread custom. Coloring eggs is also something that children understand and enjoy. My women's coven for many years would do our best to replicate authentic Ukrainian "pasenke" eggs, the intricately painted and dyed eggs in beautiful traditional patterns that are a feature of the season throughout Eastern Europe. We would cast a circle, meditate on what we wanted to be reborn in our lives, and what symbols or images might represent our desires. Then we'd paint and dye the eggs in appropriate colors, and place them on our altars as a spring spell.
This holiday is especially beloved by children, and our celebration generally includes a massive egg hunt in a park or a backyard. We try also to use the occasion to teach compassion and generosity: We ask the older children to help the younger ones, or at least hold back and give them a chance to find the eggs. And at the end, just as the Goddess is generous with her gifts, we ask the children to give away one of their egg treasures to someone who doesn't have any.
And that bunny--what is she doing laying those colored eggs? She is, of course, the living symbol of fertility, rabbits being what they are. As well, the hare is an ancient symbol of magic. If you look up at the full moon and squint your eyes, you'll see why Aztec and Mayan mythology place a rabbit in the moon. Hares dash through the fields at night on mysterious errands, and have long been associated with magic. They are sacred to Maeve, Queen of the Faeries, as well as to Ostara.
Birds actually do lay eggs, and they are especially active at this season, moving across the lands in their great migrations, returning to their nesting grounds, claiming their territories with dawn songs. If you can squeeze even a few moments out of your life to walk outside in the early morning, sit or stand quietly and listen, you can hear the chorus and notice how it develops and changes over the next few weeks, as new species arrive, as cock robin successfully attracts a mate and begins to breed, as the show-off mating cries eventually give way to the feeding calls of the young.