Ostara (around 21st March)
This is the Spring Equinox and occurs between March 20 and 22 and is regarded by many as the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a celebration of Spring and growth, the new life that springs up after the cold months of Winter. The name Ostara may derive from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Eostra, though this is not known for sure.
Spring proper is when nature begins to awake from it's winter sleep and the first green buds appear representing new life and beginnings. Animals emerge from their hibernation, birds begin to build nests and the dawn chorus gets louder as the male birds stake out their territory. Generally, people also begin to feel more refreshed and energetic as the nights draw out and the weather begins to get warmer.
The Spring Full Moon has been called the Hare Moon or Awakening Moon. It is during this time that the cosmic tides change. We move from the destructive tide that has ruled the winter months to a sowing tide. It is a time for new beginnings on a personal, magickal and spiritual level as we sow the seeds that will be harvested later in the year. It is the time when the young ram-headed god is complimented by the enchanting moon maiden. It is at the spring equinox that the sun enters the sign of Aries, the ram, the symbol of the virile young Horned God lusting after life and experience.
The vernal equinox was christianised as Easter which is the festival mourning and celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. The early Celtic Church originally celebrated Easter at the same time as the Jewish Passover. This reflected the fact that the first Christian Church in Jerusalem founded after the crucifixion followed many Judaic traditions. The Roman Church decreed that Easter would be on the first Sunday after the full moon that followed the Spring Equinox.
Many Pagan beliefs and symbols survived in the Christian celebration of Easter (as in most other Holy Days!). The most obvious is the name itself which comes from the Germanic goddess Oestara or Eostre of the spring and dawn. She was the daughter of Jord, or Mother Earth, in Germanic mythology. In the 19th century young people in Germany were still setting up altars to her covered with flowers on Easter Day.
Other Easter symbols such as the Easter Bunny or Easter Hare, the Easter Egg and hot-cross buns are also all pre-Christian. The hare was sacred to Nerthus, Freyja and Eostre and so it is not surprising that it was also one of the shape-shifting forms ascribed to witches. Today it is an important totem in some areas of the Traditional Craft. In the past at Easter the traditional dish was hare. Some people however refused to touch it as there was a taboo dating back to pagan times that it was unlucky to kill or eat hares.
The Easter Bunny is of course a modern version of the hare and it is an obvious symbol of fertility and increase in springtime. It may also be connected with the Tinner's Rabbit symbol found in parts of Cornwall and linked by some folklorists with the survival of the Old Religion. This symbol of three rabbits chasing one another with only three ears between them can be found in many churches on Dartmoor which were either built or restored by the local tin mine owners. The symbol has been variously ascribed as an alchemical symbol, a pagan symbol for the Moon Goddess, and with witches.
The Easter egg is another potent symbol of fertility, birth and new life which are all celebrated in the rites of spring. Many ancient creation myths feature the birth of the universe or it's life forms from an egg. The Neolithic sun bird goddess survives in folk memory as the fairy tale about the goose which laid the Golden Eggs. The egg was also closely associated with witches, as the egg yolk was used for divination from the yolk, as a sacrificial substitute and in spell casting.
The traditional hot cross bun eaten in their millions on Good Friday has it's origins in the sacred cakes made by Roman bakers as offerings to the Moon goddess Diana. The equal armed cross design represented the four phases of the moon. Offerings of these buns were made to Hecate and buried at crossroads (places sacred to Hecate). Some traditional witches wear an equal armed cross within a circle instead of the pentagram. The cross is a multi faceted symbol which can represent the sun, the moon, or the four elements and all contained in a circle symbolising spirit.
This is a very powerful time to do magic, not only because of the balancing of the earth's energies, but because of the way our own beings echo the earth's changes. We are literally reborn as we emerge from our winter sleep, ready to partake of all the pleasures of the earth, and to meet the challenges we will face as the world changes around us daily. As we greet and celebrate with our pagans brothers and sisters of the Southern Hemisphere (for whom the Vernal Equinox more closely resembles the beginning of autumn, in physical terms!), we remember that Spring is not only a season; it is a state of mind.
© Traditional Witch 2006