“Spring is come home with her world-wandering feet,
And all things are made young with young desires.”
Spring celebrates the Goddess as Maiden – Kore returns from the Underworld and brings the fructifying principle of nature back with Her. Hibernating animals reawaken, migratory creatures return; plants, busy with root-growth all winter, begin pushing up and out. The sunlight, growing since Yule morning, now graces and warms our days. By Ostara – our Spring Equinox holiday takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring – we have nearly three more hours of sunlight each day than at the solstice. Even if the weather’s still wintry, the earliest plants are struggling to rise and the nights are significantly shorter.
So are the shadows. As the sun moves from a southern to a northern declination, we lose the low light angle and long daytime shadows of deep winter. The light gains ascendancy and winter literally recedes. The Vernal Equinox occurs on the first day on which the sun rises north of the equator, falling within a day either way of March 20. This year it’s March 20, today. The days and nights of equal length actually occur a few days earlier, this year on March 16 (sunrise to sunset, this day was still a few minutes less than twelve hours long) and March 17 (the daylight hours exceeded twelve hours by several minutes).
“Vernal” comes from the Latin verb vernare, meaning “To renew oneself in Spring, to be young.” In a seasonal ordering of the Beth-Luis-Nion tree alphabet, Robert Graves connects the Latin vernare to the letter Fearn, between letters Onn and Saille. In his poetic hand, the letters Onn-Fearn-Saille evolve into Anna Fearina Salmaona, “Queen of the Spring, Mother of the Willow,” a lovely image now, when the small willow aptly called red-twig gradually begins budding. If your concept of “willow” tends only toward tall and weeping, watch for this widespread wild version glowing red along Colorado creek beds. A decorated willow-branch archway figures in an Argentinean springtime ritual for mothers and godmothers.
The color red rules in Ostara traditions. Numerous sources speak of eggs being dyed red now to symbolize rebirth, and red is surely a more compelling hue than the tender pastels that dominate modern Easter decor. Zsuzsanna Budapest connects red eggs to the Festival of Astarte (March 17), an ancient Near-Eastern rite joining female/male energies (a nice analogy for the night-day balance). Pauline Campanelli associates scarlet eggs to the Druids, colored red with furze (Onn) blossoms to honor the Sun. Red dye can also be obtained from bark of the alder, named as a tree of resurrection in The Odyssey.
Eggs and the color red were both common burial inclusions. Eggs have been found in or on ancient graves in Hungary, Egypt, Russia, Greece and Britain; red ochre has been found in megalithic graves in Pembrokeshire’s Prescelly Mountains, at the Çatal Hüyük site in Turkey and on the Salisbury Plain, among many others locations. In the funerary context, red is usually interpreted as a charm for either rebirth through reincarnation or new birth into a life-after-death. At birth, we arrive slicked with our mothers’ blood; there is a pleasing symmetry in departing back into the Earth’s womb wearing the same color. And of course Spring, symbolically associated with the East (and the dawn) is as logical a time for rebirth rites as the autumn (sunsets and the West) is for death-rites.
Why the big emphasis on eggs? For our ancestors, eggs were scarce during the winter months. Hens need sunlight (and the Vitamin D it provides) to produce eggshells, so back then, when the hens began laying plentifully again, Spring had really returned. Foods imported from distant regions and factory farms with artificial light sources now put eggs in the grocery stores year around. An egg is first “born” when its laid, and then again when it hatches. And while we tend to associate eggs with birds, remember that eggs are also laid by snakes. By shedding their old skins, snakes symbolize regeneration and transformation as well (and they present an alternative to all the seasonal cuteness, though, alas, I’ve yet to see a chocolate snake). Barbara Walker mentions a 13th Century French custom in which a snake was carried up to the baptismal font during Easter week. Hibernating creatures, snakes too begin reawakening in Spring.
The rabbit or hare, the other main symbol at this time, is cited for its fertility. This is more than mythological: The gestation period for a doe rabbit is a mere thirty-one days. By contrast, cats and dogs carry their young twice as long; even squirrels average forty-four days. Rabbits can begin breeding at six months. Mad as a March hare? That “madness” is estrus, sexual frenzy. Ostara Herself was believed able to take the form of a hare, and these animals, especially white ones, were sacred to Her. In British myth, the hare also symbolizes transformation, another reason for the creature’s significance now.
Ostara’s resurrection theme can’t be over emphasized. This is the time for renewal, rebirth, resurrection after winter’s dormancy. In my group, raw, preferably fertile eggs are decorated in circle and taken home to our personal altars (after we all try to stand them on end, of course, a feat allegedly possible only at the equinoxes). If you plan to garden, Ostara is a logical time to bless those seeds; if you do any pruning, save the wood for the Beltane fires. In celebrations, consider meditations and journeys on such questions as “what is awakening now in my life?”
RITUAL IDEAS and QUESTIONS
— Decorate and balance eggs
— Bless the seeds (or starter-plants) for your garden
— “What is (re)awakening now in my life?”
— “What is coming into balance? What feels unbalanced?”
© 2014 Renna Shesso –
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Alternative spellings are Eostre, Ostre, Eostara, possibly related to Eos and Astarte, and definitely the source of the word “Easter.” Derived from estrus, from the Latin oestrus, or frenzy.
The quote comes from “From the Night of Forebeing, An Ode After Easter” by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)
Zsuzsanna E. Budapest, The Grandmother of Time
Pauline Campanelli, Ancient Ways – Campanelli has extensive information on coloring eggs with natural dyes.
Robert Graves, The White Goddess
Buffie Johnson, The Lady of the Beasts
John and Caitlin Matthews, The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology
Luisah Teish, Carnival of the Spirit
Barbara G. Walker, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets