Ostara is a traditionally Wiccan holiday which marks the Spring Equinox. It is often centered around rebirth, fertility, and venerating the goddess Eostre. Eostre is an Anglo-Saxon goddess, representing spring, new beginnings, etc. Ostara, being one of the eight sabbats, is one of the most important Pagan traditions.
The eight sabbats are the eight major holidays and celebrations still modernly celebrated by Modern Pagans. All of these holidays are based on the movement of the sun and how it affects our planet through seasons, life cycles, and the growth of our food. These sabbats include Samhain (October 31), Yule (December 21), Imbolc (February 1), Ostara (March 20-21), Beltane (May 1), Litha (June 21), Lammas (August 1), and Mabon (September 21). All dates listed above are exclusive to the Northern Hemisphere. From an astronomical standpoint, Ostara is the true midpoint of the year, with day and night being equal at this time.
Modern celebrations of this ancient holiday still hold their roots from antiquity, including even the modern holiday of Easter. Pagans often celebrate this holiday through using ancient fertility symbols such as eggs and hares, taking the lengthened days to their advantage, and celebrating the bloom of new flowers. This time of year also marks the start of the agricultural cycle, as farmers will plant new seeds around this time. Other ways to celebrate are meditations, planting new seeds in your garden, making seasonal treats and meals, and setting new goals. Anything that makes you feel renewed and rejuvenated fits the theme of this spring holiday.
Many may choose to offer to or pray to Eostre, as was customary for traditional celebrations. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about how exactly she would be honored. Her earliest mention is in the writings of a monk named Saint Bede in 8th century Northumbria. Bede mentions that in the month of Eosturmonath (now translated to Paschal Month) on the Old English calendar, Eostre would be honored with feasts. This month is modern day April. The Old English season of Summer begins at the Spring Equinox, and during this time days were longer than nights. This is consistent with Eostre’s image as a goddess of dawn, spring, the coming of the sun, and rebirth. WIth such little information about how exactly these feasts or celebrations were conducted, most offerings or prayers to Eostre can only be assumed. Modern pagans may try to follow the spirit of the tradition as closely as possible while creating their own version of modern festivities.
Although traditionally this holiday celebrated Eostre, other religions under the umbrella of Paganism have deities that fit the spirit of fertility, rebirth, and new beginnings. This leaves room for many modern Pagans to fit this holiday into their practice. It would be extremely difficult to fit every single deity that could assume this role into one article, but I’ll mention a few.
The Greek deities Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysus can all be rightfully venerated during this time. Demeter is a Greek goddess of agriculture and is considered the “sustainer of Earth’s bounties.” As Ostara is greatly associated with the agricultural cycle and planting of new seeds, Demeter would be a wonderful choice to be honored with offerings and prayers for the Spring Equinox. If you may choose to plant new seeds in your own garden at this time, Demeter’s assistance or worship would still be warranted. Persephone is the Greek goddess of spring and all growth associated with it, often worshiped alongside her mother, Demeter. Along with her domain of Spring, she was associated with the Underworld. In Greek myth, Persephone was abducted by Hades, Greek King of the Underworld, and brought to his realm to be his bride. Her mother, Demeter, was stricken with grief at the loss of her daughter and refused to allow the Earth to bear fruit until Persephone was returned to her. To keep the peace, Zeus commanded that Persephone spend a part of her year in the Underworld with her new husband, and the remaining part on Earth with her mother. Her return to the Earth was marked by the blooming of Spring flowers, fertile land, and the return of the sun’s warmth. In her absence was Winter, the death of plants, and the freezing over of the land. This gives Persephone the roles of both Spring and rebirth in her possession, making her a shoe-in for Hellenic polytheistic worship around this time. Dionysus is the Greek deity of wine, vegetation, pleasure, madness, festivity, and theater. While his association with the spirit of Ostara may be more subtle, Dionysus is often given the epithet of “twice-born.” This is a reference to his mythology, where he was born from Semele, and then, while she was dying, sewn into Zeus’ thigh. This saved his life, and Zeus kept him there until he was fully matured, before symbolically birthing him again. Along with his element of rebirth, the followers of Dionysus included fertility spirits such as the satyrs and sileni. Phallic shapes commonly associated with male fertility were prominent in many of his shrines and cults.
Ceres and Proserpina are Roman goddesses, sometimes considered to be the Roman equivalents of Demeter and Persephone. Their domains are much the same as the two Greek goddesses. Although Ceres and Demeter share some mythological differences, Proserpina and Persephone are virtually identical in this respect. Liber and Libera are two Roman deities who represented fertility and cultivation. Liber is sometimes thought to have merged with Dionysus, although Liber was traditionally a native Italian deity. On March 17th, Rome would hold the festival of Liberalia, where young boys would first assume the “toga virilis”, or the “toga of manhood.” This is quite close in time to the celebrations of Ostara in modern day which also celebrate new beginnings and fertility.
Frigg is a Germanic goddess, the wife of Odin. She represents marriage and fertility. Historically, she was also commonly invoked for divination-related rites, which many modern Pagans may be performing during Ostara.
Morona and Vesna, two Slavic goddesses, fit the spirit of Ostara quite well. They are both necessary for the cycle of death and rebirth in the ancient Slavic world, but never existed at the same time. Morona, the Slavic goddess of winter and death, is widely hated and cursed for her ugliness and cruelty. She is believed to bring death in her wake, and will plunge the world into cold and unforgiving winters. Vesna, the Slavic goddess of spring and rebirth, is loved for her beauty and kindness. With the coming of Spring, an effigy of Morona will sometimes be carried to rivers to be symbolically drowned, but in some cases it will be burned instead. Vesna’s return is often celebrated on March 1st where she would then be honored with a procession marching into the fields, decorated with flowers, and songs be sung to thank her.
The goal of this article is to acknowledge the ancient history and traditions of Ostara, while also opening the door for new and modernized celebrations and rites to be born. It’s likely that there is a Pagan deity which represents fertility, spring, rebirth, or new beginnings in some shape in nearly every Pagan subclass. Regardless of your particular path or practice, there will always be a way to fit the beauty of the ancient Spring Equinox festival into your life.
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