Ostara — The Spring/Vernal Equinox
Been a bit slack on the old blogging front recently, for which I apologise. My boyfriend’s been off work this week, and although it’s been a pleasant distraction — going for coffees/brunches, afternoons spent drinking, clothes shopping (much needed… no, I mean that — my wardrobe is a scant, desperate, threadbare affair) — it’s a distraction nevertheless. Thing is, before you know it, the wheel of the year’s turned a little more and spring’s sprung.
I don’t know if it’s just me but this winter has seemed to drag on. Thing is, unlike most folk, I have no problem with winter and its endless dark nights. In fact, the winter solstice is probably my favourite sabbat of all — it’s the summer solstice that weighs most heavy on my heart as I know it’s downhill from then on with a gradual decrease in light (in the northern hemisphere anyway — perhaps I should decamp Down Under come June).
I have, however, been much more present during these past few seasons. Late last autumn, for example, I planted spring bulbs and have patiently awaited their arrival ever since. In fact, I planted them the same day Prince William and Catherine Middleton announced their engagement (whatever date that was). I remember, because my boyfriend came outside to share in the thrilling news (!) while I was knee-deep in mud, covered in privets, digging about beneath the hedge, wrestling with a multitude of tulips, crocuses, and umpteen other spring flowering bulbs — bulbs which are now emerging flamboyantly, triumphantly from the depths of darkened earth. Thing is, one of my neighbours told me I was too late planting them. Well, let’s just say my sexy tulips are coming along a treat, while his (admittedly) magnificent display of narcissi, daffodils, and crocuses have already flowered and withered. Good things come, and all that…
So, this Sunday (20 March) sees the vernal (spring) equinox, known to pagans as Ostara. The spring and autumn equinoxes mark those points in the year when day and night are of equal length. Ostara, Eostre, Easter, oestrogen… see how the church has nabbed yet another pagan festival? Because I’m lazy, though, I thought I’d quote from one of my favourite books ‘Sabbats: A Witch’s Approach to Living the Old Ways’ by Edain McCoy (I just hope neither her or her publisher sues me):
Ostara (Oh-star-ah) was the name of the Virgin Goddess of Spring in ancient Germany. It is for her that this Sabbat is named. Ostara was a Sabbat of great importance in Greece, Rome, and in Nordic and Germanic lands, and it is from these traditions that the vast majority of our current Ostara customs come. Many of the equinox myths from these cultures concern trips by deities into the underworld, and their struggle to return from the Land of the Dead to earth. When they eventually do return to the world of the living, they have a new life, both literally and figuratively, and this idea of life renewed plays heavily in the symbolism of the holiday. Some of these resurrected deities include Odin, Attis, Osiris, Dagda, Mithras, Orpheus, Hera, and Persephone.
In keeping with the early Church’s practice of grafting saintly feast days onto any pagan festival they could not eradicate, it assigned St. Patrick his feast day near the time of the equinox. After being repeatedly driven out of Ireland, Patrick’s reformed procession was said to have arrived at Tara, the seat of government, to present his new faith to the High King on Easter Sunday. Easter itself falls near Ostara, and celebrates yet another resurrected deity.
At Ostara, the Teutons honoured their Goddess of Spring, Eostre — for whom the Christian holiday of Easter is named — with feasting and ritual. The Norse also honoured their Virgin Goddess and celebrated her mating with the young God, an event most pagan circles have moved to Bealtaine.
Sexual relations were almost obligatory on Ostara Eve, as was a communal meal featuring foods associated with fertility such as cake, honey, and eggs.
The lily, appropriated as a Christian symbol of death, was a symbol of life in pagan Greece and Rome, where it adorned Ostara alters and temples. Young men, playing the role of the lusty young God, would present them to the young women they were courting. Accepting the lily meant much the same thing as accepting a diamond ring does now.
Other celebrations of pagan deities that took place at or near Ostara were the Feast of Isis (Egypt), the Feast of Cybele (Italy), Aphrodite Day (Greece), the Feast of Astarte (Greece/Roman/Persia), the Festival of Athena (Greece), and Hilaria (Rome). All these deities are still worshipped by pagans today; their holidays and customs are well-incorporated into the modern Ostara celebration.
What I find intriguing regards the above quote is that I’ve been magnetically (read: obsessively) drawn to lilies recently, and have had them on display in the house for the past two weeks — for the first time since moving in with my boyfriend to be precise. They just seemed the ‘right’ flowers to have. They are very sexy, though, it must be said. Sexy and flirtatious. True flowers of Aphrodite, splayed open with their wet, come-hither nectar oozing out. Damn floozies.
I’ve also been hankering after honey — even down to ordering samples of honey body oil and bath oil from the PR rep who looks after Lavera’s organic skin and bodycare products (which are luscious, by the way). Anyway, I’m tired and I’d much rather you read what the Green Witch has to say about Ostara in her latest newsletter. I have more I want to say, but, being honest, I can’t be bothered just now — feel I’ve wittered on quite enough for one blog.
Before I forget, however, there’s a ‘supermoon’ tomorrow (19 March) at 18:10 GMT. There’s been a lot of stuff and nonsense attributed this ‘supermoon’, which is why I recommend this article by EarthSky: What’s true — and false — about the March 19 supermoon. Also, this article by The Independent newspaper: Bad Moon Rising.
One final note on the subject of balance (which is what Ostara is all about) — my aunt said something quite profound to me earlier today: “Did you see how angry that tsunami looked? Makes you wonder doesn’t it — you keep killing the sea’s creatures indiscriminately (regards Japan’s history of whaling) and, sooner or later, the sea will make amends.”
Thea is author of the inspiring memoir Running into Myself. Buy a copy from Amazon UK, Amazon US or, better still, order a limited edition signed copy direct from her publisher here (also ships worldwide).
“Thea’s personal journey is utterly compelling. I couldn’t put her book down. Thea manages to make Greek mythology not only understandable, interesting, and relevant to our lives today, but shows how it can be utilised as a tool for self development. She introduces ideas and ways of thinking that broaden your mind, and lights the way for others to follow.”