Ostara/ Vernal Equinox 20th March 2021
Ostara (pron. O-star-ah), Spring equinox/ Vernal Equinox/ Mean Earraigh (pron. Meen Arri/ Arruh), First Day of Spring Stones: Clear Quartz, Lapis Lazuli, Amazonite, Citrine, Rose Quartz, Moss Agate Colours: Yellow, light green, sky blue Tarot Card/s: Temperance/ The Emperor Sign: Pisces/ Aries Herbs/Incense: Violet, Acorn, Dandelion, Honeysuckle, Tansy I've never been so thrilled to see Ostara poke her head out from beneath the sodden paths and windswept hills as I am this year. Trees are budding, a new colour palette is emerging and sometimes, even here in Scotland, it hasn't been raining all day. In this blog post, I want to get the less narratively satisfying bit out of the way from the get go. Frankly, it seems that once again, there is very little evidence to support the idea that Ostara has been celebrated as a recognised festival by our ancestors. Despite what internet memes would have us believe, there seems to be no direct link between Ishtar (a Mesapotamian Goddess of War), Ostara, Eostre (a Germanic Goddess of The Dawn, new beginnings and the East) and Easter at all. In fact, the one account we have of a link between Eostre and Ostara, comes from the account of an 8th Century Monk named Bede, who commented on worship of the Goddess being incorporated into the timing of Easter celebrations. As it turns out, Bede has been wrong before, so is not considered the most reliable source. All in all, these theories do not offer examples of the practicality or folkloric history of this festival that I like to share in these writings; and I'd like to look at this one a little differently. Instead, in this article, I'll be focusing on the Vernal Equinox. It is unknown and unlikely that a specific festival was held around the 20th-22nd of March every year, but it is highly likely that the turn of the season would have been seen as reason to celebrate! We'll explore now, some of the traditions, foods and flowers of The Spring Equinox; as well as some ideas on how to celebrate Ostara today. 'Tis the season to get FLORAL. I've always been a fan of the Victorian idea of 'The Language of Flowers' - the symbolic and often convoluted meanings of the flowers we give to others; receive from our loved ones and decorate with. What better time than the Spring Equinox to get acquainted with a little selection of Spring blooms and how they can speak for you in your altar space? Daffodils: Commonly thought to be associated with selfishness (they're not called Narcissus for nothing), but now associated with fresh starts and renewed confidence. A trumpet heralding good news. Watch out when adding our sunny yellow friends to a full bouquet, contact with Daffodil stems makes other flowers wilt faster! Violets: To show that 'the giver's thoughts are filled with love', sweet little Violet is all about love, innocence and abundance. Useful in glamor and love spells. also known as 'Love-In-Idleness' - the flower used to make the pesky love potion in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Primroses: When given, roughly translates as 'I may learn to love you but it's too soon to tell.' Also thought to bring youthfulness and sweetness. Very edible, I'm thinking of making syrup this year if I find a solid patch! Dandelions: Faithfulness and wish fulfilment. Enhances Psychic ability and healing - great for harnessing Solar energy. Honeysuckle: Prosperity, enduring love and passion. There is an old Scottish belief that Honeysuckle protects your home from evil. In the true spirit of celebrating the abundance of Spring, let's take a look at the feast that follows the Winter famine. Spring Greens (in the Kale family), fruit wines, milk and honey are all Springtime goodies (sticking with veggie or plant based when I can these days). In Germany, it's traditional to eat Grüner kuchen (Green Cake) - a savoury, yeasted leek cake and Seven Herb Soup around the time of the Vernal Equinox. The roots of this seem to pre-date Christian history but again, without records to prove this, it is very much guesswork at the true source.
SIMNEL CAKE has long been a popular tradition in the UK, having migrated over from being a strictly Mother's Day tradition previously. The word Simnel was already in use as the name of a fine milled flour, often made into plain cakes to be eaten in March in 1267 - and over time; spices, fruit and eventually Marzipan were added to make it an Easter staple. This versatile cake can be covered in pretty chocolate eggs or edible flowers for a delicious Ostara feast centre-piece!
We can't mention Spring Equinox food without talking about EGGS. Eggs have long been a symbol of fertility and creativity, for obvious reasons! However, the concept of eggs in Springtime celebration being specifically associated with a Saxon fertility Goddess, lacks solid evidence and seems to be much more early Christian in origin. The consumption of eggs in Spring coincides perfectly with the end of Lent and provided much needed sustenance that even the poorest rural parishioner could obtain.
The egg-based shenanigans vary widely across county and time and Pace-Egger is a name that has appeared in a lot of my research. The name Pace-Egg or Peace-Egg is thought to come from the Latin 'Paschal' meaning Easter although could well be related to the speed at which your egg travels too, because language is fascinating. In North-West England, Pace-Eggers would be gangs of children, or cross-dressing adults; knocking at doors armed with wooden clackers; chanting and begging for eggs...In Kendal, Yorkshire and Cheshire, Pace-Eggers would be LOUD; a rowdy rabble putting on Mummers Plays (Folk plays performed by locals and merry-makers) complete with a central character called the Toss Pot (A Lord of Misrule type character with a problematically blackened face) who would generally raise chaos and scandalize the crowds. These celebrations became so boisterous that one young person was accidentally killed during one in 1842.
In the villages of Near Sawrey and Near Sawrey, close to Lake Windermere, an all-female troop of Pace-Eggers were known to meet and chant in the woodlands between the two villages. Some of the lyrics they chanted and sang can be heard in 'The Pace-Egging Song' by The Watersons (1965). In contrast, heavily Presbyterian areas of Scotland, abjectly banned the consumption or enjoyment of eggs after Lent, thinking them to be far too Catholic!
In the midlands and The Black Country, Pace-Egging referred to the boiling and then dying of eggs AND dressing in many petticoats and chasing your boiled egg down a hill at high speeds (in the hope of spotting a rogue ankle). These traditions seem to have faded from memory by 1830. My partner's Grandfather is 95 years old and remembers 'JARPING' as a small boy in Hartlepool - boiling and dying your Peace-egg and then pitting your egg against someone else's in an egg fight, similar to playing conkers, but smashing eggs together instead. Britain is a VERY strange place.
A brief thought on the use of RABBITS in your Vernal Equinox decorating too! Rabbits really do make perfect sense as a poster-child of Spring; the eating of fresh shoots and leaves; the intense multiplication habits; but the popular theory is that much of their association is thanks to the much more mystical Hare. The Hare and the rabbit are in the same family but are in fact completely different species and although both share some DNA with deer, the Hare falls slightly closer to the deer end of that scale than to the rabbit end! In my research, my favourite theory on their association with fertility is that the Hare was once believed to be hermaphrodite and that both sexes were able to breed. This, coupled with the idea that they had a second set of teats in the womb and that fur grew in their mouths, making them able to produce vast multitudes of babies (Leverets) throughout the mating season. This belief may have stemmed from the fact that the Hare has an almost unique ability to be pregnant and conceive simultaneously - and can carry different stages of growth at the same time - enabling them to give birth to up to 4 litters per year!
As ever, I like to include some handy hints and tips on what you can do for your own practice over festival times and Ostara has lots to offer up in more modern Pagan tradition. The giving of seeds, bulbs or seeded bread is a personal favourite - honey cakes, violet creams and (obviously) chocolate eggs are all winners, but there is something wholesome about including the opportunity to grow something in the year ahead that is very appealing. Cut flowers in the home and giving cut flowers to others is also a large part of this festive time and allow us to appreciate the pops of Springtime colour indoors as well as out (especially when the Spring showers put the kibosh on your outdoor adventures).
Manifestation work, meditation and intention setting are wonderful things to do at this time, to use the energy from the Sun moving in to Aries as the driving force to make things HAPPEN. Eggs, flowers, Hare imagery, fruit wine and pastel ribbons are all perfect for an Ostara altar. Spring cleaning is a must, cleansing and space, crystals or cards that have needed some TLC for a while; opening all the windows to invite the new; even a little bonfire or beach fire if you're able to get rid of some unwanted bits would be great. Forage for leafy things like wild garlic, nettles or chickweed and if you manage nothing else at all, make time for a walk out in nature, to see her in full swing!