All cultures living in temperate climates celebrate the coming of spring with rituals and festivals. This was one of the most important of spring festivals among pre-Christian Germanic tribes, dedicated to the goddess Ostara, a goddess associated with the "east" and thus "dawn" and "morning light." Ostara is a time to celebrate the renewal and rebirth of Nature herself, and the coming Summer. At the vernal equinox[12:32 PM EST March 20th, 2010], the world is poised on the brink of light and dark, suspended between the cold months and the new warmth of the growing season. Light and darkness are also in balance, as are masculine and feminine energy.
Ostara is a fertility festival celebrating the rebirth of the God and the awakening of life from the Earth. Some Wiccan traditions worship the Green Goddess and the Lord of the Greenwood. It is one of the Lesser Sabbats, usually celebrated anywhere from March 19th to 21st. Some celebrate on the fixed date of March 25 (Lady Day), while others celebrate on the next full moon (a time of increased births). While the equinox is a solar holiday, Eostre is a lunar goddess. This may be viewed as symbolic of the goddess (the moon) and the god (the sun) coming together in completion. Other names by which this Sabbat may be known are Oestara, Esther, Eostre's Day, the Rite of Eostre or Rites of Spring, Alban Eilir, Festival of the Trees, and the Bacchanalia. The Christian holiday of Easter is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox.
According to the Venerable Bede (673-735), the Anglo-Saxons called the fourth month Eostur-monath for the goddess Eostra. Her festival became the celebration of Christ's resurrection when Anglo-Saxon and German peoples were converted to Christianity. While English and German Christians still attach the name of Eostra to their most sacred holiday (Easter or Ostern), other European languages base the name on the Hebrew word "pasah," to pass over, reflecting the Christian holiday's Biblical connection with the Jewish Passover.
The Spring-cleaning tradition derived from the old witches who would cleanse their space each spring and set up a "hedge" of protection. All motions involving scrubbing of stains or hand rubbing the floors should be done clockwise. This custom aids in filling the home with good energy for growth. Another Springtime tradition for ancient pagans and magicians was to dig a small trench (hedge) around the outer perimeter of their homes. At each quarter they would bury an egg. A modern practitioner might also add iron, old rusty nails, metal keys, old razor blades, pins and needles or witch bottles filled with the above items to diffuse magical attacks and negativity. (If you are unable to dig a perimeter, you can improvise by placing iron keys above your door, and pentacles and sigils drawn on pewter or parchment paper under your carpet or floorboards.
As a time of cleansing and renewal, Ostara is an excellent time to begin some new projects It is an excellent month for prosperity rituals or rituals that have anything to do with growth. Spells for improving communications, fertility, and abundance are especially strong at this time. Some Pagan customs include ringing bells and lighting new fires at dawn for cures, renewed life, and protection of the crops. A common belief in nineteenth century Germany touted the curative properties of water drawn early on Easter morning. One nearly universal craft is decorating hard-boiled eggs.
Eggs have long been a symbol of rebirth. They have been found among the grave goods of Anglo-Saxons, within the tombs of the Egyptians, and were placed on the fresh graves of the deceased in Greece. In ancient time, eggs were gathered for use in the creation of talismans and ritually eaten. The gathering of different colored eggs from the nests of a variety of birds has given rise to two traditions still observed today, the Easter egg hunt and coloring eggs in imitation of the various pastel colors of wild birds. Some believed that humankind was inspired by watching birds weave nests to begin weaving the first baskets. This is perhaps the origin of the association between colored Easter eggs and Easter baskets.
Eggs are still used today in a variety of fertility rituals. In Sweden, eggs are thrown over the field before plowing. In Germany, they are thrown high in the air before sowing to ensure that the grain will grow just as high. In the Orkneys and Shetlands, boys would go from house to house, begging for eggs. On Sunday, they would build a fire in the hills and boil their eggs. Once they were cooked through, they would throw the eggs to see which would remain unbroken the longest before eating them. How high the eggs were thrown and how lucky the eggs were that remained unbroken the longest were taken as predictors of the growth of the crops and the luck of the year.
The custom of coloring eggs seems to be limited to the Germanic countries, Slavic countries, and America. In Scotland and Ireland, the custom is virtually unknown. Each spring in Germany, bakery windows are filled with elaborately painted eggs. Eggs are also hung from flowering branches to make "egg trees." Easter is celebrated in Germany more enthusiastically than it is anywhere else in the world with decorations go up a good month before the festival. There are parties, egg hunts, and other celebrations weeks in advance of Easter itself.
In many places, it is traditional to keep Easter eggs or shells all year to ward the family and cattle against harm. They are also used specifically as a charm against hail and lightning. For this reason, great care and thought goes into the creation of egg decorations, egg-trees, and boiled and decorated eggs for eating.
Ostara eggs can either be hard-boiled so that they may be eaten or blown while raw, removing the yolk and white while leaving the shell mostly intact for use as hanging ornaments to decorate your home or egg-tree. The traditional method for preparing eggs as decorations and luck-talismans for the coming year was to leave the egg intact and raw. The contents of the shell would eventually dry up completely over time, though there was the danger of a big stink if it was accidentally broken before then. The decorated raw egg is, magickally speaking, the best type of egg to keep, as the life-potential of the egg remains within the shell.
To blow an egg out, make a small hole with a needle at either end, being sure to pierce not just the shell but the yolk as well. Place your mouth over one end and blow gently until all the contents are out. If this doesn't work, either you are not blowing hard enough, the hole is too small, or the yolk membrane is still intact. Reserve the raw egg for use in baking cakes or omelets. To hang the blown egg, use a piece of wire which is an inch or so longer than the egg and make a loop in one end. The wire may be used as the hanger by twisting the bottom end until it will not come back through the hole, or you can tie a piece of yarn or ribbon to the wire and pull it through the egg, tying it off at the bottom.
Another use of blown eggs at Easter time is to make cascarones or confetti-filled eggs to break over Ostara celebrants. Take the blown egg and remove a circle of shell carefully at one end. Fill with confetti, then glue a small piece of tissue paper over the hole to keep the contents in place. Cascarones must either be decorated before the larger hole is made, or spray-painted after filling.
Some natural dyes which have been used for eggs are carrot, red cabbage, and beets (for red); saffron and gorse flowers (yellow, orange, or brown, depending on the cooking times); spinach, artichoke leaves, sage, mint (green); beetroot, sunflower seeds, elderberry fruit/bark (purple); gall nuts, oak bark, elder twigs or bark (black). Onion peel can be used get any color from yellow to red to dark brown. The egg is gently cooked in a strong solution of whatever colorants you have chosen in water with a few drops of vinegar. The vinegar is a fixative. To vary the colors, mark patterns or portions of the egg with wax or a crayon to prevent the dye from adhering to that part of the shell.
How to make Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs)
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Meaning of Symbols and Colors
Eostre is a goddess of the moon, an ancient measurer of time. The lunar month of 28 days gives us thirteen periods in 364 days, equivalent to the solar year. The hare, though viewed as a symbol of fertility, is also a symbol of the moon. Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of the moon, midwifery and weaving, has a rabbit totem. Mexican panels of 600-900 AD show her giving birth to and suckling a rabbit, and another shows the rabbit representing phases of the moon. The Egyptians called the hare Un, which means open, to open, and the opener. The month of April, the first month of the spring season, comes from the Latin "to open." Un also means period of time. The hare as "opener" symbolizes the New Year at Easter, and the beginning of new life within the young. Since the hare can sleep with its eyes open, the Romans equated it with vigilance and believed that rabbits watched over everything. According to one story, Buddha placed the rabbit in the moon after it voluntarily gave itself as food for one of Buddha's hungry friends. In another, a rabbit jumped into a fire to feed a hungry Indra and out of gratitude, Indra placed the rabbit in the moon. Rabbits were significant totem animals however and eating them was prohibited in Britain and Egypt. A Scottish superstition suggested that eating rabbit was equivalent to eating one's grandmother. In Asian myth, rabbits and the moon are virtually identical. The Rabbit in the Moon sweeps its surface clean with bound horsetails according to Japanese stories. The rabbit pounds rice into flour, making mochi which means both rice flour and full moon. The Sanskrit word, cacadharas also means both moon, and "that which carries the hare."
Rabbits also represent immortality and vitality. Pliny the Elder stated that rabbit meat enhanced one's beauty and radiance for a week afterwards, and Chinese myth believed rabbit meat was essential for vitality. According to Chinese myth, the rabbit is a symbol of longevity. Its fur turns white at age 100 and blue at 500. In Eastern Asian myth, rabbits created an elixir of immortality. The Algonquin trickster rabbit, Manabozho, is thought to embody all life-giving energy.
In Greece, live rabbits were popular love gifts, indicating sexual intentions. European wedded couples in the Middle Ages exchanged rabbit-shaped rings. Rabbit's popularity as a sex charm or fertility totem is related to its natural cycle. A rabbit's gestation period is approximately one month, and it tends to be the first animal to give birth in the springtime, continuing to have litters of kits throughout the year. In Asian folklore, a rabbit may become pregnant simply by staring at a full moon, licking a male rabbit's fur under a full moon, or running across a moon-lit water's surface.
Symbols of Ostara: eggs, New Moon, the hare, butterfly cocoons
Altar decorations: hard-boiled eggs colored and painted with magical symbols, wildflowers, a small potted plant, rabbit decorations
Traditional Foods: leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and seeds (such as pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds, and pine), flower dishes (such as carnations cupcakes or nasturtium blossoms stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese, chopped nuts, chives and watercress), sprouts, eggs (hard-boiled, egg salad, or any way you like them), honey cakes, biscuits, ham, the first fruits of the season, spiced wine, fish
Herbs and Flowers: crocus, daffodil, Easter lilies, ginger, gorse, honeysuckle, hyacinths, iris, Irish moss, jonquils, narcissus, olive, peony, snowdrops, violet, woodruff, and all spring flowers
Colors: yellow, pink, light blue, green, all pastels
Gems: amethyst, aquamarine, fluorite, jasper, moonstone, rose quartz
Animals and mythical beasts: hares (rabbits), merfolk, Pegasus, snakes, unicorns
Goddesses: all virgin goddesses, moon goddesses, goddesses of love, mother goddesses, androgynous deities, fertility goddesses; Eostre, Rheda (Teutonic), Ma-Ku (Chinese), Lady of the Lake, Blodeuwedd (Welsh-Cornish), Aphrodite/Venus, Persephone/Proserpine, Cybele, Gaia, Hera, Minerva/Athena (Roman/Greek), Isis (Egyptian), Coatlicue (Aztec), Ishtar (Babylonian)
Gods: all gods of love, moon gods, gods of song and dance, sun gods, fertility gods; Adonis, Pan (Greek/Roman), Cerrunnos, the Green Man, the Stag King, Robin of the Woods, the Green Man, The Dagda, The Great Horned God, Lord of the Greenwood (English), Ovis (Roman Etruscan), Dylan (Welsh), Odin (Norse), Thoth, Osiris (Egyptian), Attis (Persian), Mithras (Greco Persian).
Activities: Decorate or dye hard-boiled eggs. Plant seeds or start a magical herb garden. Take a long walk in nature. All forms of herb work (magical, medicinal, cosmetic, culinary and artistic) are practiced now. Go to a field and randomly collect wildflowers or buy some from a florist, taking one or two of those that appeal to you. Bring them home and divine their magical meanings by the use of books, your own intuition, a pendulum, or by other means. The flowers you�ve chosen reveal your inner thoughts and emotions.
Some Ostara Links
Druidic Ostara Rite
The House Rabbit Society
Gingerbread Grandma's Ostara Site