The Day of Ostara
Today is March 20th 2021 which this year holds the Northern Hemisphere's Spring Equinox. It is the day when light and dark are perfectly balanced in the Earth's rotation, and this is typically the time of year when Ostara (also spelled Ēostre and other variations), the Germanic Goddess of fertility is celebrated.
She is usually upheld by Pagans, Wiccans and Witches as a female deity who symbolises new birth, new hope and the conquering of light over dark as the Wheel of the Year moves into Spring. It is in this quarter of the year that feminine energy is said to be abundantly felt in nature as animals and crops are revitalised once again. Obviously this is a general understanding, I'm sure there are plenty of Wiccans and Witches who do things differently, but this is the back story of a Goddess I find so intriguing.
Ostara's origin is somewhat hazy, there is on-going debate whether Ostara is an ancient or neo-pagan creation. That is not to diminish its importance, but to acknowledge the complexity and individual differences in the belief systems. There is only one scholarly reference of her from early medieval times in the works of The Venerable Bede, a Christian monk who wrote De Temporum Ratione (The Reckoning of Time). In this treatise, Bede made reference to many ancient calendars and used the tracking of the Sun and Moon to determine the date of Easter - the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Bede states the Anglo-Saxon month of Eostremonath/Ēosturmōnaþ, today's April, marked with feasts honouring Ēostre, the Goddess of Spring. Some people have thought Ēostre since changed to Easter and similarly to Yule/Christmas, a Pagan celebration was transposed into a Christian one.
The legend of Ostara has many variations but the main themes hold many similarities to the iconography of modern day Easter. It is said one year the Goddess of Spring was late, causing a bird to nearly die, however Ostara transformed the bird into a hare to save its life. In recognition of its former form, Ostara granted the hare the ability to lay eggs once a year which were given to those who participated in Spring festivals. The Hare in many folktales is connected to the moon and lunar energy, feeding into this tale of balance between day and night.
Her origins aside I still believe Ostara to be an incredibly hopeful figure. Whether you believe Ostara herself causes the change from Winter into Spring, or consider her to be the personification of Spring itself: a warm breeze, tree blossoms or a new born animal, Ostara's often vibrant surroundings are near Utopian.
I myself am not Wiccan, Pagan or a Witch. I admire the practice and knowledge which goes into such beliefs which I do not put in, but I have always had a fascination with Witchcraft from a young age.
My family used to visit Cornwall in the south of England most summers. As a big family it was normally quite difficult journeying the 500 odd miles by car, often camping or cramming ourselves into a caravan. Nevertheless, my siblings and I have some of the best memories from these trips. On one of the last family holidays I went on, we visited The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle which revolutionised the way I understood these belief systems. I began to see how connected to the Earth Pagans and Witches were, and how many ancient beliefs had a more symbiotic relationship with the environment. I saw people who were probably central to their community with in depth understandings of their surroundings.
Additionally, with most of the Witches referenced as women, I felt a connection and understanding when reading about the trials and executions many of them faced. It felt quite familiar to me, at the time I was 15, and like many young people that age I was grappling with depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and coming to terms with my sexuality. All of these things felt like the end of the world, and if anyone was to find out it would be like burning at the stake.
I have a vivid memory of the implements of torture and execution; staring at the weights and hefty iron chains. I began to wonder what would have happened to me had I existed during these times. I felt a connection between the needing to keep part of yourself a secret in fear of the reaction. Obviously, I didn't expect to be dooked, but I did grow up expecting rejection and hostility as a lesbian.
When leaving the museum, of course we stopped in the gift shop. My younger siblings probably buying pencils and sticks of rock. I however was stuck staring at a cabinet filled with Tarot cards, spellbooks and wands. Some of which were tattered and previously loved; some were highly decorative additions to already established collections; others were the mainstream decks and books I've seen since in other Witchcraft shops. Perfect for beginners. I just stared, toying with the idea that it would be wonderful to have such skills and practice something so entrenched in history and culture. The stories in the museum felt so real and relevant. Especially with the massacre of womxn and allies still a hotly debate topic. I imagined them to be the kind of people I would have looked up to at the time: intelligent, talented and revolutionary.
It definitely stayed with me throughout the week. I remember my mum turning round in the car and asking if I enjoyed it. I probably just grunted. Like most teenagers, I was a bit of a dick. I realised they took me there on purpose, or thought "What's something our emo child will like? Witches probably." And I didn't appreciate that until a few weeks later when my mum and dad gave me my first Tarot set for my birthday. They had bought it while I was obliviously wrapped up in my own self-indulgence thinking teenage depression was as bad as being a Witch in the Middle Ages.
It was powerful and very meaningful. I didn't even notice people noticing me. I thought I was alone and dealing with my issues independently, when really I had one of the most supportive families I could ask for.
I still use my deck, not as often as I would like, and I'm not as good at reading Tarot as I would like to be. But it helps me collect my thoughts, or see things from a perspective outwith my own rigid view.
And, weirdly enough, when Becca and me became friends, I realised she had a family connection to Witchcraft, and she became one of the first people I knew who genuinely appreciated the powers of these beliefs. We've sat and read each others cards and spookily have had some situations manifest themselves.
So, back to Ostara. This Goddess who brings renewal, rebirth and fertility. Whether you believe in her presence or not, or if you believe in the symbolism behind Gods and Goddesses like her, there's something quite magical and rejuvenating about seeing the first patches of snowdrops, or the first few blossoms and leaves turning green. It feels like a turning point, when you know there's some longer days and warmer nights ahead.
Of course, any change in seasons can trigger some kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It's quite common for you body to respond negatively even if it feels like positive changes are happening. And if you feel like that may be happening to you, I would try embracing some of the seasonal traditions, such as planting herbs, drying or pressing some of the seasonal flowers just before their peak bloom, paint paper-mache eggs (or real ones if you're not vegan) or baking some Ostara Bread. And also, tell your pal, or a relative, or even just a diary if that's all you can trust right now, just get it out there.
The energy of Ostara is traditionally connected to productivity and new hope. I understand if that's hard for you to feel right now. Sometimes it is too hard. But if you can find one activity, it could be brushing your hair or clearing out a single drawer, you're already moving in the right direction.