Ostara (or Eostre) is the festival we celebrate at the Spring Equinox – when the day and night are of the same length. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, it is between 20 – 23 September depending on the year. Read on to find out the meaning of this festival, where Ostara came from and how it is celebrated today.
OSTARA KEY FACTS
- Celebrated 20-23 September
- Lesser Sabbat
- Spring Equinox
- Ostara comes (in part) from the Germanic word “Ost” which means “East”, relating to dawn & the renewal of life. Both Ostara and Eostre are Germanic names of the Maiden Goddess as Lady of the Dawn.
- Also known as Spring Day / Eostre / Vernal Equinox
In this article:
- Earth Rhythm
- Personal & Spiritual
At this point in the Wheel of the Year, we celebrate new life bursting out from Winter’s slumber. The light half of the year begins, and from tomorrow the days are longer than the nights.
The Earth is warming and many plants begin to respond to the longer days. Seeds fallen to earth in the autumn now awaken. Farmers sow their fields. All life “springs” forth in joyous renewal.
Personal & Spiritual
It is a time to celebrate the coming light. We plant seeds – both metaphorically and physically – for what we want to bring to bloom. We take time to honour what we have achieved since the Winter Solstice. While we stretch, breathe deeply, clear the cobwebs and prepare for new growth. It is a day of balance – with the night and day being of equal length. We recognize and honour light and dark, inner and outer, yin and yang.
I In the mythological cycle, the seed is planted in the Goddess.
She changes from Maiden to Mother so that, nine months later, She may give birth again to the God (the Sun) at the Winter Solstice.
While an ‘Easter bunny’ delivering eggs to children might not make much sense to a resurrection of Christ holy day, viewed through the symbolism of its roots, Ostara (Eostre) it all begins to make sense…
Spring flowers, eggs and baby animals all represent the theme of new life, fertility and abundance, and were used for traditional decoration.
The Rabbit, the ancient symbol of the Moon, represents the Earth’s renewed fertility.
Eggs, and all seeds, contain the potential for life. The egg at this time symbolizes the rebirth of nature, the fertility of the earth and creation. In many traditions the egg represents cosmic creation – the whole universe. “The ‘cosmic’ egg contains a balance of male and female, light and dark, in the egg yolk and egg white. The golden orb of the yolk represents the Sun God enfolded by the White Goddess, perfect balance, so it is particularly appropriate to Ostara and the Spring Equinox when all is in balance for just a moment, although the underlying energy is one of growth and expansion.” – “The Goddess & The Greenman”
The Rabbit (Hare)
In Celtic tradition, the rabbit / hare is sacred to the Goddess. It is the totem animal of many lunar goddesses, most notably the Goddess Eostre.
Eostre was the Germanic Goddess of Dawn / Spring.
Hares are nocturnal and thus associated with the moon. The life of both Hare and Moon would die each dawn, in order to be reborn (resurrected) every evening. Symbolically through this resurrection, they represented immortality.
Since the hare can fall pregnant again while still being preggers (woah rabbit slow down there), it’s also a major symbol of fertility and abundance.
Hot Cross Buns
Believe it or not, these too have their roots in pagan Ostara!
The cross on the bun has four equal length arms, a Celtic Cross.
“A Celtic Cross, the four equal armed cross of balance within the circle. You have two Equinoxes crossed by the two Solstices… The four seasons, the four Sacred Directions of North, East, South and West… The five elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water with Spirit at the Centre. The circumference represents the cycle of the year… The circle of life, with the still point of balance at its centre.” – Glennie Kindred, “Sacred Celebrations”
COLOURS: Think pastels – shades of Pink, Green, Yellow and White
PLANTS & HERBS : Traditionally Narcissus, Daffodils, Honeysuckle, Lilies, Lemon Balm. But ANY plants and herbs you see dominating this time of year in your area applies.
FEAST: Eggs, Herbs, Leafy Greens, Seeds, Light Breads, Honey, Milk
How To Decorate Your Altar
- Take a walk in nature and collect some wild flowers and seeds
- Ornaments such as birds, rabbits, insects that undergo transformation (eg butterflies)
There are a number of other symbols that signify the season including insects undergoing transformation or bees busy harvesting honey. Nature deities play a prominent part in the season, too.
Ostara is a time of balance between light and dark, so symbols of this polarity can be used. Use a God and Goddess statue, a white candle and a black one, a sun and moon, or you can use a yin and yang symbol.
- Crystals, such as Clear Quartz, Rose Quartz, Agate, Aquamarine, Moonstone and Aventurine
- An offering of milk or honey for the fae folk (the milk represents the lactating animals who have just given birth, and honey is a symbol of abundance the season is to bring)
- The High Priestess or 9 of Cups tarot cards
Activities for Ostara
- Sow seeds
- Spring clean (donate unwanted stuff to charity!)
- Make a vintage frame of pressed flowers
- Braid a flower crown
- Paint eggs
- Make a flower wreath
- Put out gifts for the Fae folk
- Take a walk in nature, collect little natural treasures for your home
- Meditate on the idea of balance, yin and yang
History of Ostara
Our ancestors celebrated Ostara. They didn’t write their traditions down. Sadly, this knowledge (and lifestyle) was eventually overtaken and lost to newer religious practices. These newer religions reflected a separation from the land and natural cycles. However, over the years our historians have been able to find many threads that together weave the tale:
According to linguist Guus Kroonen, we are able to follow and trace the transitioning of the word (it’s etymology): “the Germanic and Baltic languages replaced the old formation *h₂éws-os, the name of the dawn-goddess…[REF] In Anglo-Saxon England, her springtime festival gave its name to a month (Ēosturmōnaþ, West SaxonEastermonað),[REF] the equivalent of April, then to the Christian feast of Easter that eventually displaced it.[REF][REF] While in southern Medieval Germany, the festival Ôstarûn similarly gave its name to the month Ôstarmânôth, and to the modern feast of Ostern (‘Easter’), suggesting that a goddess named *Ôstara was also worshipped there.”[REF][REF]
During the 8th Century, the scholar Bede wrote a document called “De Temorum Ratione” (“The Reckoning of Time”). He writes: “Eosturmonath … was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.“[REF]
Original text: Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes. (Old English ca. 450-1100)
Historical Texts & Documents
Another important piece of evidence worth mentioning here, was the discovery of the matronae Austriahenae in 1958. The ‘matronae Austriahenae’ discovery refers to over 150 Romano-Germanic votive inscriptions to deities named the matronae Austriahenae, a triple Goddess, found near Morken-Harff and datable to around 150–250 AD.
In his late 19th-century study of the hare in folk custom and mythology, Charles J. Billson cited numerous incidents of folk customs involving hares around the Easter season in Northern Europe. “the sacredness of this animal reaches back into an age still more remote, where it is probably a very important part of the great Spring Festival of the prehistoric inhabitants of this island.”[REF]“
The last bit of interesting history I’ll share (there’s really too much to list it all), would be scholar Jacob Grimm’s document from 1835, Deutsche Mythologie . There are some real gems that had me chuckling.
Spirit of the Light
Here he notes that the Goddess Ostara and her festival were so deeply rooted in the people’s faith that Christian teachers had to ‘tolerate’ the word and absorb it into the Christian doctrine:
“We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart (temp. Car. Mag.). The great Christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG remains the name ôstarâ … it is mostly found in the plural, because two days … were kept at Easter. This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.[REF]“
He also notes the link to the Equinox, stating that the Old High German adverb ôstar “expresses movement towards the rising sun”. And further references the Old Norse Prose Edda book Gylfaginning attests to a male being called Austri, whom he describes as a “spirit of light.”
Here he speaks of the pagan traditions that were still practiced by the people under the guise of Christianity: “Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great Christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.REF]“
“The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast and the reception of spring, particularly in the matter of bonfires. Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate : I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs, and to the Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit for the people’s amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.[REF]“
There is a lot more to discover, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief trip into history and how we weave the thread of modern day Ostara into our Wheel.
- “Eight Sabbats of Witchcraft” – Mike Nicols
- “How to be a Modern Witch” – Gabriela Herstik
- “Ostara: Rituals, Recipes, & Lore for the Spring Equinox” – Kerri Connor
- “The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today” France Gerace & Clare Leslie
- Wikipedia – Deutsche Mythologie (Teutonic Mythology); Eostre
- “Ostara & The Hare” – Stephen Winick, Library of Congress, Folklife Today
- Amongst others, absorbed over the years.