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8 Ideas for Celebrating Ostara

posted by Gus diZerega

Ostara, the Spring Equinox, is always especially beautiful here in Sonoma County, California.  This year seems especially nice.  Winter’s rains have been lighter than we would like, but they have been gentle and well timed.  My farmer friends with whom I’ve spoken are feeling good.   Warming temperatures and longer days have brought forth the first abundant flowers, especially the wild mustard that makes it seem as if our craggy valley oaks and vineyards have their feet awash in bright yellow paint.  The threats from frost are virtually over. 

Our season and Ostara’s symbolism are in perfect harmony.


Wiccan Sabbats celebrate our Wheel of the Year, and the Wheel of the Year, like the phases of the moon, symbolize to us the stages of life, from birth to death to rebirth.  Four Sabbats are “Greater Sabbats” originally linked with Celtic agricultural cycles: Brigit, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain.  The other four “cross quarter” Sabbats are correlated with the cycles of the solar year, the solstices and equinoxes.  On the 21st of this month, Witches and many other Pagans will celebrate Ostara, the Spring Equinox.

Equinoxes are times of balance between day and night, light and darkness.  But the balance is dynamic, lasting a day, before shifting into playing a role in that greater balance that is the Wheel of the Year.  For me this sense of balance should be the dominant theme of either Ostara, or Mabon, the Fall Equinox.  But they are very different Sabbats otherwise, for after Ostara the light will continue to grow, whereas after Mabon, it is darkness that increases.

There is another aspect of balance that comes to mind as a am mulling this post over, that between the universal and the concrete.  Solar Sabbats are universal, the Greater Sabbats are specific to time and place.  Together, they balance the universal with the variety that is local.  So while I think it is important to make sure Greater Sabbats are strongly connected with where we live, it is not as important for the Cross Quarter ones.

With these thoughts in mind, I have a few ideas for celebrating Ostara I want to share.  All are suitable for Solitaries.
 
1.    On my altar I will have 4 candles.  I will light two, and with sundown, light another.  I have tried to figure out a simple but visually beautiful way of symbolizing Sabbats and their meaning, and here is my scheme into which this simple observance fits.
 

Yule – 1 candle lit during ritual.  
Imbolc – 1 candle lit, a second during the ritual.
Ostara – 2 candles lit, a third lit at end of ritual or at sunset.
Beltane – 3 candles, one lit during ritual, making 4.
Midsummer – 4 candles, one extinguished at end of ritual.
Lammas – 3 candles, one extinguished during ritual.
Mabon – 2 candles, one extinguished at sunset or end of ritual.
Samhain – 1 candle lit, but extinguished during ritual.

2. I will fill my place with local flowers.  I just spoke with a friend in Maine.  The garden I helped plant still looks like a snow drift.  Maybe the willows are changing their color as the sap tentatively rises, making for a good altar decoration.  If not, it’s good that this is a solar Sabbat!

3 I will watch the dawn, and do some invocations and prayers while I do it.  Ostara is said to have been a Goddess of the Dawn as well as spring, so this is fitting, although very little is known of Her.  If I was in Fairbanks, I might let this slide.

4. In Pagan times eggs and hares were associated with the creation of life and fertility, for obvious reasons.  While it seems all folklore of ancient provenance has disputed origins, regardless of how these customs arose and survived, they are perfectly fitted for symbolizing this time, when almost everywhere spring has arrived or is coming soon.  Dyeing the eggs in Spring-time colors, and having a good old fashioned Ostara Egg hunt is a wonderful thing for kids.

5. A good smudging, followed by a good airing if the weather permits.  Burning sage is the easiest way to smudge a place, though any cleansing incense is worthwhile.  Be sure to get corners and dark places.  Energy collects and stagnates in those places, and most of us have had all winter for that to happen.  

6. Plant a seed associated with a magickal ritual for something you want to grow.  Simple and personal is best.  Focus your intent strongly on the seed, then on the pot of soil after you have planted it.  Take care of it.  I’d recommend a perennial, that you can plant and let continue to flourish with your care, but maybe an annual will do the trick.  Depends on your project.

7. If you have a yard, this is a good time to begin getting in touch with the spirits of your place.  But as with any relationship, it will normally take some time to grow.  The last time I lived for any length of time in a house with a yard, I would make weekly offerings in a out of the way part of my yard, that I otherwise left alone (all the rests was garden).  I would leave a small glass of rum, some tobacco, and a votive candle (be very careful about fire if you do this).  After some months the ‘feel’ of my back yard began to change in ways I and others liked a lot.  But remember, attitude makes or breaks this kind of thing – as with all relationships.

8. If there is a public Sabbat celebration, and you are not part of a coven, try and go.  Some are well done, some can seem like ‘ritual abuse,’ but either way, this is a good way to begin meeting other local Pagans.  In my view the real magic of what we do is most powerful when we work and celebrate together

I hope you, my readers, will share your own ideas, and perhaps practices if appropritae.



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William Hood

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:25 am


I’m curious as to where this idea of Ostara being the spring equinox comes from. I’m only aware of one historical mention of Ostara, by Bede, where he says that Ostara is a month where there is a festival to a goddess by the same name. Is there some historical information that I’m unaware of that states that Ostara = spring equinox? Actually, is there any historical info that mentions it outside of Bede? Or is it a case of early Wiccans co-opting the name into their own festival structure, divorced from its original cultural context? Your take on this is appreciated, thanks. :-)



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D.

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:54 am


If you are lucky you live around a meeting place and have access to a community alternative gathering spot. I use the term “gathering place” rather than a word derived from traditional religion so that it can be as inclusive as possible. Bring mead and local beer, as local beer contains the essence and ego of the surrounding areas. You may have an opportunity to burn a mattress with local teens. That is best. If not bring some garbage, wood and gather surrounding leaves to burn in the fire pit or fire drum. You may also have an opportunity to do a sun salute by setting a fire in a shopping cart and then pushing the shopping cart around to the cheers of co-celebrants. Bottle smashing against walls simulates the great celebrations held in the Viking halls of past times. This is the best way to celebrate the coming of spring.



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Gwyddion9

posted March 19, 2009 at 10:41 am


William Hood,
ostre or astre (that is, Easter) is the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess attested by the seventh-century Benedictine monk Bede’s De temporum ratione (“On the Reckoning of Time”).[1] Bede describes the pagan worship of ostre among the Anglo-Saxons as having died out before the time he was writing. ostre is otherwise unattested. In 1835, Jacob Grimm referred to Bede when he proposed an equivalent Old High German name, Ostara, in his work Deutsche Mythologie. An amount of scholarly theory and speculation surrounds the figure. ( this you’ve already mentioned. )
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eostre
If I remember correctly, most of the Celtic-Pagan holidays observed, fell on either the equinoxes or on the solstices. Yule, for example wasn’t a Celtic holiday. It was co-opted in to their holidays after the many influences of the Norse invaders. Like every religion today, something as been co-opted into the beliefs or holidays by all religions.
As Wicca is a modern religion, I think the 8 sabbats used the old Celtic names to give meaning to the holiday. Also, in researching the histories, many of the contemporary Pagan religions use the old names with the desire to reconnect and to reclaim the old beliefs of pre-Christian Europe. Are the actual holidays a precise representation of the holidays from old, probably not as there is little written information available. In most cases, it is an attempt to keep as closely to the original beliefs of the old holidays as possible, given what history we have and to add to them when filling in missing pieces, as long as it appears to fulfill the spirit of the holiday.



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Travis Miller

posted March 19, 2009 at 12:56 pm


You are correct William. There is only one mention of a goddess named Eostre and that is by Bede and the word, ‘ostara’ is a hypothetical linguistic reconstruction by Grimm as the other poster mentioned. Bede didn’t actually mention anything about the equinox itself in the text. He only wrote that it was the fourth month.
Using Bede’s text as a guide, the first day of Eostremonath begins at sundown on the fourth full moon of the year. This year that falls on April 9th. That is the reckoning most Theodsmen that I’m aware of use.



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Cheryl

posted March 19, 2009 at 2:03 pm


I love Ostara. The excitement of new beginnings and new life bursting forth is wonderful and the energies are so easy to tap into. I’ve just hard-boiled some eggs to color later today so I can use them on my Altar when welcoming the sun tomorrow at dawn.
For any fellow bookophiles, one of my favorites on our Pagan Sabbats is:
Ancient Ways
by Pauline Campanelli
There are lots of other books that are also very good, but I favor the friendly, gentle style that Pauline displays. She goes into much detail, yet her writings are relaxed and easily understood. She lived in New Jersey not far from me; one of the great regrets of my life is that I never met her in person.



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William Hood

posted March 19, 2009 at 4:19 pm


Gwyddion,
I have no problem with Wiccans having their own mythology and their own reimagined versions of holidays, my problem comes when it is picked up as the “ancient, historical” version of the holiday by media and such, when it clearly isn’t. That is just dishonesty. Not only that, but it causes problems for those today who DO try to practice such holidays in their historical and cultural context. Wiccans would be annoyed if the media constantly said that Yule was a holiday worshipping the devil, and non-Wiccan Pagans who practice a different version of the holiday find it equally annoying that the media constantly makes claims about Yule that are Wiccan specific (like the mythology about “the goddess” and “the god” having some kind of relationship at one point in the year, then “the god” dies and “the goddess” gives birth to “the god” again). Again, I have no problem with people believing and practicing whatever they choose, I just find it not-so-great for people to make dishonest claims, especially when they negatively affect other groups.
Travis,
Thanks. I’m tonycoyote, by the way, on livejournal and here and…generally every place.



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Gwyddion9

posted March 19, 2009 at 5:32 pm


William H,
I have no arguments with what you’ve said. I only wish more Pagan books were written from an historical, accurate point rather than the view of what is sensational and will sell books. As I continue to study religious history, I find myself amazed, surprised and sometimes wonder, wtf! Many things are not what people think, regardless of their religious background. It’s an interesting journey and I think more people should take the time to walk this road.



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William Hood

posted March 19, 2009 at 6:44 pm


Agreed, Gwyddion. :-)



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Gus diZerega

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:28 pm


It’s good to remember that given the times, and the attempts to destroy the earlier pre-Christian beliefs, that there was ONE comment about Ostara by a recognized authority means maybe She existed. There were lots of deities in Pagan times, lots of names, often quite localized. That is a fact.
Given the ‘sensitive ways’ in which the Church treated non-Christians for 1500 years or so, I’ll error on the side of respecting possible deities from our past.
Yes, there is a lot of fantasy in some Pagan stories of the past, as with any religion, but actually we’ve sorted much of it out because so many of us take history pretty seriously. Sure, there is more to sort. There always is.
We are not as committed to wishful thinking as I think the Abrahamic traditions are because, fundamentally, the spiritual validity for many of us, including myself, is that the Gods we honor frequently come.



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William Hood

posted March 20, 2009 at 8:09 am


My comment wasn’t really so much focused on Ostara (the goddess) existing, I don’t really dispute that. I’m just interested in where the modern practice of placing the holiday on the spring equinox comes from. I think that religions generally need some kind of mythology about their origins. Religion is a pretty “romantic” endeavor in my experience. I simply wish coverage of religion (and this includes any religious coverage, not just Pagan) didn’t assume any tradition’s internal mythology to be objective history. Although, the press seems to have an aversion to getting off their asses and doing actual research in MOST topics. Feh.
I agree with you assessment of the Abrahamic religions. I think a lot of it is wishful thinking, almost to the point of delusion, like expecting a book written down by men over an extremely long period to somehow be the infallible word of a transcendent being. Ugh.



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Gus diZerega

posted March 20, 2009 at 12:49 pm


Thank you for your clarification, William. Speaking for myself, I think the celebration of the equinoxes is pretty straight forward. They are not an ancient Celtic celebration, but that is not important. They fit for other reasons.
Including the equinoxes completes the logic behind celebrating the solar Sabbats, makes an aesthetic balance with the Greater Sabbats, and helps us reconnect our awareness with natural cycles.
All these are deeply Pagan values – the symbolism of the Wheel of the Year, balance and harmony, immersion in natural cycles trumping a linear historical perspective.



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William Hood

posted March 24, 2009 at 8:54 pm


“They are not an ancient Celtic celebration, but that is not important. They fit for other reasons.”
That right there is the kind of thing I respect. There isn’t any need for something to be “ancient” to be valid, so let’s all be honest about things like you are.



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Jennifer

posted September 21, 2009 at 1:43 am


My son -my first child – was born a few years ago on March 21, labor contractions started just before dawn. Through labor & birthing I felt honored & awed to be giving birth on Ostara – he was conceived close to the previous Summer Solstice, close to my birthday. It is still something that makes me stop & thank the powers that be for that connection. When I called my mother that morning to let her know I was in labor, I reminded her it was the equinox and she too was awed. Since he was born I have made the wheel of the year a topic that is talked about; why we mark the seasons & holy days, what the days are called & why, what the symbolism means. It’s something tangible for him, he sees the leaves change color, he feels the cold & snow, sees the flowers & sun. And oh how he LOVES egg hunts! He has a basket of plastic eggs & we have little hunts throughout the year inside the house. This year we’re going to have one as part of his 5th birthday celebration, outside if it’s warm weather.



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Tiff

posted February 17, 2010 at 3:27 am


My birthday falls on Ostara in 2010 March 22nd. I am looking for a way to celebrate my birthday and Ostara. What is interesting to note is people tell me I look like a beacon of light. Auric wise….. Born on Ostara the return of light? lol .. bad pun. Anywho this is a VERY special time for me. Any suggestions?



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Cheryl Hill

posted February 17, 2010 at 12:23 pm


Well Tiff let’s see… my sister was born on the Winter Solstice, and my husband was born on Samhain. Will you be celebrating as a solitary, or with a coven? Where are you located? Can you celebrate outside, or inside only?



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celestial elf

posted February 18, 2011 at 3:41 am


Great Post!
Thought you might enjoy my Eostre machinima,
featuring Lisa Thiel’s Ostara song,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lZ-YKIeXww
bright blessings ~



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Carrigan

posted February 16, 2013 at 10:33 am


Ostara will be my first Sabbat that I will be celebrating openly and I’m truly excited. My boyfriend, who has been part of a small coven since October of last year, will not be able to celebrate with them as he is helping me move from Nevada (where I live currently) to Pennsylvania (where he lives currently) and even though I haven’t been a “practicing” Wiccan for very long I have been looking for ways that we can celebrate this holiday together, while on the road. Maybe I should clarify that I have been Wiccan since I was thirteen (so almost a decade) but due to family fears of acceptance and later on relationship problems I have only recently become secure with myself to tell people. This post has given me several ideas for what we can do to celebrate. Thank-you :)



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Amanda

posted March 19, 2014 at 10:32 am


I will be celebrating the Spring Equinox by:
Dressing me and my son in spring-like colors….
Eating eggs for breakfast (but I’ll blow the raw egg out of the shell through a hole in the bottom so I can decorate the shells later with my son) with corn muffins….
Making hot cross buns for an early evening snack….
Giving thanks to the four directions at the general time of the equinox….
Planting some beans and peas in places where they can climb to reach the sun….
Decorating eggshells and hanging them up outside….
Calling or sending emails to my pagan sisters (4 out of 5 of us are witches).

My husband isn’t a pagan, but he will partake of the goodies and he will celebrate the turning of the season in his soul – we really love solstices and equinoxes!



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