Sacred Flesh

"But this dark is deep: now I warm you with my blood, listen to this flesh. It is far truer than poems." -- Marina Tsvetaya


Nature's Riches & Rejoicing with Goddess Ostara

Cross-Cultural Goddess Ostara Celebration

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth. - John Milton (1608--1674)

The Vernal Equinox is one of two times in the calendar year when the apparent path of the sun crosses the Celestial Equator. The Celestial Equator is the line which divides the celestial sphere into a northern and southern celestial hemispheres, much like the earth's equator dividing the earth into the northern and southern hemispheres. During the Vernal Equinox the sun moves northward and reaches a point known as the First Point of Aries (zero point of longitude) which was originally in the constellation of Aries, but is now in the constellation of Pisces due to precession. The other point of the year which the sun crosses the celestial equator is Autumnal Equinox, which occurs in September (northern hemisphere).

The Vernal Equinox is the festival of Eostre, Ostara. E‡stre, Ostara is the Teutonic and Eostre and E‡stre are the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring, the Radiant Dawn and Up-springing Light (Grimm Teutonic Mythology). Eostre, E‡stre and Ostara are entomologically related to the Anglo-Saxon word for dawn and to Ostar, the Old High German adverb which expresses movement toward the rising sun --which would be East. Through time Eostre became Easter -- and its meaning changed to the time the rising "son" as opposed to the rising "sun".

Eostre is noted in De Temporum Rationale by The Venerable Bede (673 - 735), as a Goddess whose festival was celebrated in the fourth month of the year. The month was called Eosturmona, in Anglo Saxon and Ostarmanoth or Ostermonat in Old High German. According to E. Cobham Brewer in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, April was called Ostermonath because it was the month of the Ost-end wind (wind from the east). Ostarmanoth would have begun closer to the equinox in our current month of March, since in times past months would have been kept to the 28 day lunar cycle as opposed to our current modern calendar.

Eostre/Ostara is the second in the trilogy of fertility festivals. It heralds the quickening of the Spring season. In the weeks subsequent to Imbolc the earth slowly begins to emerge from Her winter's sleep. As the Vernal Equinox approaches, life hastens its reawakening and the annual process of renewal has begun -- the process of life reaffirming life in the dance of being.

In the US Northeast, the salamander migrations begin, pussy willows become fuzzy, skunk cabbages come out in moist areas, birds begin to return from their winter vacation. Just at the Equinox the chipmunks begin to emerge from their winter homes, sparrows begin to sing, the wood frogs begin to call, and the maple sap begins to run. Similar indicators of spring begin to emerge all over the hemisphere.

It is at this moment that the Sun King begins his semiannual journey across the sky, His warmth and light begin to over take the darkness of Winter. His strength and power will continue to grow until His peak at Summer Solstice in June. Days become longer as we begin our course into the warm summer days and fruitful harvests.

Ostara (Eostre), the Goddess of Spring and the Morning Redness, presides over the Vernal Equinox is commonly depicted standing among Spring's flowers and vines, holding an egg in Her hand. Around Her feet the hares play joyfully in the Spring grass and birds fly above Her. Her head is crowned with Spring's flowers.

Some descriptions say she herself is hare-headed, and yet according to other stories Eostre, changed a bird into a hare. This hare in keeping with her old habits, built nests and filling them with colored eggs. In Teutonic tradition the Oschter haas, Oschier haws, or Osterhase would lay colored eggs for the children, in the nests they built. It is believed that this tradition made its way into US culture with the immigration of the Germans in the early 1700's -- taking the form of the Osterhase lovable Easter Bunny and her nests through time became baskets.

The hare is an obvious fertility symbol who is undeniably tied to the Vernal Equinox. March being the rutting time of hares furthers explains this association. Not only are hares and rabbits fecund -- the rutting time of the hares is quite the spectacle on the countryside. It is said that the typically shy, quiet hare become quite fanatical and fervent. They run for miles and can even become aggressive and can appear quite mad. Hence the English and French expressions - "As mad as a March Hare" "Il est fou comme un livre du Mars". There is no denying that spring has sprung on the European countryside when the hare rutting has begun.

The hare is also associated with the moon in many cultures, due in part to it nighttime eating habits and in part due to being able to see the Bunny/Rabbit/Hare in the moon. Whether Eostre herself is hare-headed or her attendants are hares, she is strongly associated with the hare -- and later its cousin the rabbit for obvious reasons.

Ostara and the egg She carries are symbols of fertility, new and continuing life. The symbolism of the egg reaches through time and across cultures, it speaks of the mystery of life, fertility, birth, and of the universe. From the primordial creatrix, the Bird Goddess, extending through the Bronze Age cultures into the Cosmic Egg mythologies, the symbolism of the egg flows from life, through life and into life, throughout time. The egg and spring time rites go hand and hand across cultural and religious boundaries and speaks to the innate mysteries of life itself.

In many cultures red was the predominate color used to dye eggs, as it symbolizes the morning redness, dawn, the sunrise, the birth of the new day' s sun, the beginning from which all life springs forth. The red egg cracks open and releasing the life within symbolized by the yolk and white, perfect and complete life. Just as the red sky in morning gives birth to the life-giving sun, there is the redness from which new babies emerge from the womb. The coloring of eggs crosses may cultures as does the weight of its magic, folklore is full of egg customs and magic. Which is why we place baskets of eggs in beautiful colors and hues around the house and altar. Eggs are charged as talismans for fruitfulness and success for the upcoming season.

Like most holidays, fire and water are two important elements of this season. Water, Osterwasser, is collected on the morning of the Vernal Equinox, traditionally by young girls in silence, and enough kept in the home as not to run out before the next Ostara. Water has many healing properties. If one bathes in a flowing brook on Ostara morning, they will always remain young and beautiful. Cattle was driven through the brooks on Ostara morning to bless them and keep them from protect disease and ill. A custom that still holds over in many communities today is the sprinkling with water with birch branches of young ladies by young men -- the single young men would go door to door through the village sprinkling the single young ladies until noon The young girls would hide and the young men would seek them out (the hunt). In many villages, even today, the village well is decorated in garland and flowers to celebrate the life giving and rejuvenating gift that water bestows.

The fire, Osterfeuer, symbolizes the sun and its life giving, life affirming warmth for without the gift of the sun there would be no life. Wood and brush were collected along the country side to fuel the Osterfeuer. From the Osterfeuer everyone would take the spring sun to their home fires to bless their home and fields.

Another popular tradition is the hot cross buns, which seem to have Pagan roots. There are mixed reports on the symbolism of the cross on the hot cross buns. Some suggest that the equilateral cross symbolizes the four quarters of the moon, other suggest that is expressing the uniformity of the seasonal year, and still others suggest that it is expressing the equilibrium of the equinox day -- equal day and equal night. One thing is for certain the equilateral cross reaches back through time to the many ages before Christianity.

The Vernal Equinox is the season of new and renewed life, of new fire and new spark. The gentle, slow awakening of the Earth that began at Imbolc -- accelerates with almost lightening speed. There is an intensity, a fervor to the energies of this time, it is if all existence suddenly is whirling its way in a pinnacle climax from which all life bursts onward in its own determination to keep the circle of life spinning.

It is as if the winter ice damns of the great river give way and waters begin to flow at once, you can almost feel this shift on Equinox day, if one is not careful they can easily be swept down river. As this is a time of heightened energy, storms can come in ferociously only to pass in time, but preparation and care needs to be taken so that the damage is not extensive. The storms pass in both the literal and the figurative.

With such whirlwind fervor one can understand the necessity of spring cleaning, the channeling of such immense energies into productive, worthwhile tasks on all levels of our lives. It is a time of clearing away that which is static to prepare for the dynamic force of the new and renewed substance of life. Clearing the fields, if you will, to make possible the seeding.

Depending on the region it maybe the seedling time, time to Bless and plant the seeds. In other areas, the seeds are Blessed for future planting. Seeds, like the eggs, are an important part of this festival because of the promise they each hold of new life springing forth.

Seeding, of course, has a multi-level meaning, for the seeds we plant, can be on the soil of our Being as well as the soil of the earth. It is the time, after the final harvest of fields of self during Samhain, the contemplation during the fallow periods of winter, to plant the new seeds given from our experience, pondered and understood. A time to begin to create new life, from the seeds of experience past. A life rich in the wisdom of experience past, brimming with the promise of times future.

Spring Equinox is also celebration as well as a practice of balance. For it is not quite Spring and yet not quite winter, it is the time when we are perched magically between the two seasons. The trees and plants are stirring with renewed life, and yet we still receive the March wintry storms. It is a time to remember our balance in the greater scheme of things, we are an important part of all that happens around us, our actions and inactions, our deeds and not, all have effect on the Earth, Her people, and the Universe. So it is the time of the year, where we understand our need to walk in balance with the Universe much more clearly.

The Vernal Equinox also reminds us that there will be times in which achieving balance is easier than at other times in our lives. As the seasons of nature are cyclical so are our lives, we individually mirror the movement of the whole, The Vernal Equinox also serves to remind us that there are times when we must individually "clean house" in order to maintain fertile ground, clear out our outdated conceptions and misconceptions, our grievances and hurts, our self-perceived many times self-inflicted wounds, regrets of our past actions and inactions, our grudges and resentments, our inability to forgive others and ourselves. By clearing house we create the room for new experiences, new understandings, new hope and new joy that would elude us had we not cleared the way and made room for them to occur.

Spring speaks to our soul in messages of hope, of growth or new possibilities realized.

A Most Blessed Ostara to you and yours. May you realize all your most gifted potential.

Christina Aubin

You Call It Easter, We Call It Ostara

Easter gets its name from the Teutonic goddess of spring and the dawn, whose name is spelled Oestre or Eastre (the origin of the word "east" comes from various Germanic, Austro-Hungarian words for dawn that share the root for the word "aurora" which means " to shine"). Modern pagans have generally accepted the spelling "Ostara" which honors this goddess as our word for the Vernal Equinox. The 1974 edition of Webster's New World Dictionary defines Easter thus: "orig., name of pagan vernal festival almost coincident in date with paschal festival of the church; Eastre, dawn goddess; 1. An annual Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, held on the first Sunday after the date of the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21." The Vernal Equinox usually falls somewhere between March 19th and 22nd (note that the dictionary only mentions March 21st, as opposed to the date of the actual Equinox), and depending upon when the first full moon on or after the Equinox occurs, Easter falls sometime between late-March and mid-April.

Because the Equinox and Easter are so close, many Catholics and others who celebrate Easter often see this holiday (which observes Christ's resurrection from the dead after his death on Good Friday) as being synonymous with rebirth and rejuvenation: the symbolic resurrection of Christ is echoed in the awakening of the plant and animal life around us. But if we look more closely at some of these Easter customs, we will see that the origins are surprisingly, well, pagan! Eggs, bunnies, candy, Easter baskets, new clothes, all these "traditions" have their origin in practices which may have little or nothing to do with the Christian holiday.

For example, the traditional coloring and giving of eggs at Easter has very pagan associations. For eggs are clearly one of the most potent symbols of fertility, and spring is the season when animals begin to mate and flowers and trees pollinate and reproduce. In England and Northern Europe, eggs were often employed in folk magic when women wanted to be blessed with children. There is a great scene in the film The Wicker Man where a woman sits upon a tombstone in the cemetery, holding a child against her bared breasts with one hand, and holding up an egg in the other, rocking back and forth as she stares at the scandalized (and very uptight!) Sargent Howie. Many cultures have a strong tradition of egg coloring; among Greeks, eggs are traditionally dyed dark red and given as gifts.

There are some Witches who believe that fasting at the Equinox is very healthy and magical: it clears away all the toxins stored over winter, when we eat heavier foods to keep warm, and can create an altered state of consciousness for doing Equinox magic. By eliminating all the "poisons" from our diets for a few days (including sugar, caffeine, alcohol, red meats, dairy products, refined foods), and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, we not only can shed a few pounds and improve the appearance of our hair and skin, but also improve our health over the long term. The overall benefit to health from an occasional cleansing fast helps strengthen our immune system, making our bodies more resistant to illness, and help us feel more alert and energetic. Try it! Be sure to "break" your fast slowly, reintroducing !your normal foods one at a time, instead of going from several days of fruits, grains and herbal tea to a feast of steak, potatoes and chocolate cake! The breaking of the fast can be incorporated into the cakes and wine portion of your ritual, or at the feast many Witches have afterwards.

There are some modern Witches and pagans who follow traditions that integrate the faery lore of the Celtic countries. It is customary to leave food and drink out for the fairies on the nights of our festivals, and it is believed that if the fairies are not honored with gifts at these times, they will work mischief in our lives. Certain holidays call for particular "fairy favorites." At Imbolc/Oimelc (February 2nd), for example, we leave gifts of dairy origin, like cheese, butter or fresh cream. At Lammas/Lughnasa (August 1st) we leave fresh grains or newly-baked bread. At Samhain, nuts and apples are traditional. And at Ostara, it is customary to leave something sweet (honey, or mead, or candy)--could this be connected to the Easter basket tradition? Perhaps a gift of sweets corresponds to the sweet nectar gathering in new spring flowers?

To refer again to The Wicker Man, the post office/candy shop where May Morrison works (she is the mother of Rowan Morrison, the young girl who is supposedly missing and who Sargent Howie has come to Summerisle to find) offers a large selection of candies shaped like animals. When Sargent Howie says "I like your rabbits" Mrs. Morrison scolds him saying "Those are hares! Lovely March hares, not silly old rabbits!" And when Howie goes to dig up the grave of Rowan Morrison (who it turns out is neither dead nor missing) he finds the carcass of a hare, and Lord Summerisle tries to convince him that Rowan was transformed into a hare upon her death. Clearly this is an illustration of the powerful association with animals that many ancient cultures have (Summerisle being a place where time has seemingly stood still and where the pagan pursuit of pleasure and simple agricultural ways define the way of life). The forming of candy into the shape of rabbits or chicks is a way to acknowledge them as symbols; by eating them, we take on their characteristics, and enhance our own fertility, growth and vitality.

For clearly the association of rabbits with Easter has something to do with fertility magic. Anyone who has kept rabbits as pets or knows anything about their biology has no question about the origin of the phrase "f*** like a bunny." These cute furry creatures reproduce rapidly, and often! Same with chicks, who emerge wobbly and slimy from their eggs only to become fluffy, yellow and cute within a few hours. The Easter Bunny may well have its origin in the honoring of rabbits in spring as an animal sacred to the goddess Eastre, much as horses are sacred to the Celtic Epona, and the crow is sacred to the Morrigan. As a goddess of spring, she presides over the realm of the conception and birth of babies, both animal and human, and of the pollination, flowering and ripening of fruits in the plant kingdom. Sexual activity is the root of all of life: to honor this activity is to honor our most direct connection to nature.

At Beltane (April 31st-May 1st), pagans and Witches honor the sexual union of the god and goddess amid the flowers and fruits that have begun to cover the land; but prior to that, at Ostara, we welcome the return of the spring goddess from her long season of dormant sleep. The sap begins to flow, the trees are budding, the ground softens, ice melts, and everywhere the fragrance and color of spring slowly awakens and rejuvenates our own life force.

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.

Blessed Be in the Season of Spring! Go Forth and Flower!

Peg Aloi

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