Ostara falls on Saturday 20th March in 2021 and brings to the forefront of our minds the coming of the sun. Ostara is one of the most beloved festivals for many Pagans, symbolising the return of the Goddess in her flourishing maiden form. Leaves are back on the trees, the vibrancy of Flora is once again all around us, summer birds and wildlife start to travel back into the open, and you might just be lucky enough to feel the warm rays of the Sun God caress your months long cold skin.
It is most definitely at this time of year that I have had my fill of winter, of being cold, and of being bundled up under various layers of waterproof and woolly clothing. I want to feel heat on my skin, breathe in the floral scent of the glorious spring air and remember what it feels like to look up at a clear blue sky and see the sun shining down upon the earth. I start to “nest” in the garden; I begin planning ventures of potting, planting, gazebos, upgrading birdfeeders, preparing for the return of Harry, our Hedgehog etc… I think about when I will light the first fires in our garden fire pits and the summer constellations that start to move around into our part of the night sky. This year we are dispensing with movable gazebos and building our own structure near the corner of our garden that has been dubbed “witches corner”.
Moving on from my back garden though…..
How did Ostara appear on the Wheel of the Year?
So what do we know about Ostara and why do we celebrate it? I guess we need to take a little look into the history of Paganism to know this. Many Neo-Pagans consider the wheel of the year to be solely a Wiccan observance. The truth, however, is much more ancient and interesting. As ancient as the truth is, let us start a little closer to home, in the 1930’s in fact. At this time two men met at a naturist retreat in St Albans and whilst talking for many hours, they found they had many similar views about the occult, folk-law, and religion, amongst many other things. Their friendship held strong throughout their lives, and their enthusiasm for these subjects, along a fascination with ancient mythology and a reverence for the freedom of naturism and female divinity being equally as important as male divinity, did not lessen. They both wanted to find a way to pursue these passions.
Then, in the UK, in 1951, The Witchcraft Act was repealed in the UK and both men were free to discuss building something solid from their soul deep beliefs.
As one of the most notorious figures in Neo-Paganism, we know that Gerald Gardner fathered Wicca, however, what is often overlooked is that his friend Ross Nichols walked this path with him and agreed with almost all aspects of their self-designed new religion, only splitting off to form his own movement, modern Druidism, when it came to matters of magic, spell work and spirituality; hence the two differing but similar paths; Wicca and Druidry.
There was no bad feeling between the men when their paths branched off in different directions, and when studied closely their two paths are so intertwined in their core and founding principles that they walk almost hand in hand. In fact, Gerald Gardner was a member of the Ancient Druid Order from around 1946, eight years before Ross Nichols joined and fathered modern Druidism.
It could be said, therefore, that Wicca was in fact born from Druidism.
Now onto why we celebrate Ostara and why the coming together of these two pioneers of Neo-Paganism is important.
When considered carefully there is no evidence that ancient Pagans, from the Celts, Norse and Anglo-Saxons to the first civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, celebrated all the points we now celebrate on the wheel of the year. When we look back, we see that civilisations such as the Celts celebrated four of the cross spokes on the wheel of the year – those being what we now refer to as Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas as these days signified important agricultural times and separated the year in to the light and dark halves. These civilisations did not have calendars as we do, nor did they have clocks; their following of the seasons and observance of the waxing and waning of the moon, and the coming and going of life in nature was therefore vital to gauging the correct timing for the harvesting of the crops, care of their animals, and in turn their survival. For this reason, Gerald Gardner only initially incorporated these four dates into the Pagan wheel of the year that is so commonly used in today’s Pagan practices.
It was the Druids who honoured the equinoxes and solstices at this time, and it was Ross Nichols who then went onto include the Solstices and Equinoxes into the wheel of the year, when creating with his friend what would become the two highly influential Neo-Pagan movements with Gerald Gardner. The solstices and equinoxes would have been more likely observed and celebrated by those in the far North, our Norse Pagan Ancestors, as they would have seen, and of course still do, see more dramatic changes in weather and climate. Their winters are longer and colder, leading them past Imbolc where frosts still posed a hazard to bulbs, seeds, crops, and new-born animals; it was therefore at the Spring equinox, when the sun and the moon were seen to share the sky as equals and thereafter the sun would begin to prevail and wake up the earth, that these Pagan ancestors would see fit to celebrate.
And that is where there the term Equinox comes from; the sun and the moon sharing the sky for the same amount of time.
It is important at this point to highlight that not all practicing Pagans today follow either Wicca or Druidry; there are many, many paths following a vast kaleidoscope of Pagan based beliefs, all of which are as valid and as equally important to both the individual and to the modern-day Pagan movement. I myself do not follow Wicca at all as it simply does not resonate with me, whereas my personal path of Witchcraft incorporates many aspects of Druidism.
Why is Ostara Celebrated?
It is clear to see when we consider our Norse brethren why the Spring equinox was celebrated with such fervour and excitement. The Earth again begins to bloom, the first seeds and bulbs begin to break through the ground, new-born animals are brought into the world or those already born are let out to feel the sun on their faces; tangible and visible signs of our Mother Earth rising from her long slumber, a maiden once again in full bountiful glory.
The year begins to turn into the light; days are longer, more productive and travel to neighbouring communities is possible again. Stores of food, wood and other necessities can be replenished. The worry of cold and long dark nights causing, and worsening illnesses can come to an end. And in much more basic thinking, the warmth of the sun touching the skin is a happy feeling; spirits are lifted when the sun shines.
This blooming and awakening and coming to life of the Earth is the very core of why we celebrate Ostara.
How do we Celebrate Ostara?
One of the wonderfully enchanting things about following a Pagan path is that the choices are yours. There are of course many recognised ways Pagans across the world Celebrate the eight Sabbats, however there is nothing that MUST be done, other than making sure your Celebrations, however minimal or extravagant, feel right to you and express your own feelings and what the particular Sabbat means to you. Some general suggestions of things to incorporate into your Celebrations follow:
Create or refresh your altar: Whether you have your altar already in place, or whether you are creating it from scratch, there are a few things you can add to really make your altar a beautiful and grounding place where you can breathe in the calm and replenishing symbolism of this festival. One of the most common mistakes I hear of from fellow Pagans is the misimpression that an altar must be a large area in your home; that it must be an entire table or cabinet top, or a room must be dedicated to Pagan pursuits. Whilst there is nothing wrong with your altar being any of these things, it is, in my own opinion, wrong to believe that your altar is not good enough if it has to be smaller or discrete, or you don’t have enough money to buy extravagant items to keep on it. What your altar should be is personal to you, an authentic representation of your own celebration of your Pagan journey. A place that you find comfort, inspiration, and peace. A simple candle is enough to call your altar if that is all you have or all you would like.
My altar has some items that I have saved for or been gifted, such as my cauldron, goblet, and Oracle Cards, and then items I have collected along my journey, such as driftwood from our stunning Northumberland coastline, Northumberland Heather from Kielder, pinecones collected from long winter walks in our Northern Woodlands and feathers that have found their way to me on random gusts of snowy air. My point, which I will finally get to, is that your altar is yours, do not let anyone or any literature tell you how your own altar space should be.
Flowers: At this time year we have seen the first of our Maidens flowers break through the icy and cold ground. Snowdrops, Daffodils and Tulips are the main suspects, and these are wonderful flowers to add to your living space or altar. In particular Daffodils bring a sense of sunshine and brightness into any space, their sunny appearance telling of the warmth and sunny days to come, a wonderful representation of how resilient and creative our Mother Earth is.
Crystals: Many Pagans utilise the power of healing and energetic crystals and stones at all times of the year. Some stones resonate more with the work we do on and around the eight spokes on the wheel of the year; here are a few recommendations for Ostara:
- Tigers Eye: this stone is wonderful for regeneration and replenishing energy, which makes it in perfect harmony with the regeneration of the Earth at this time of year, when she is starting to rise from her long slumber and bless us with life again.
- Serpentine: This is a stone I wear every day on a string of stones I created to hang one of my most precious talismans from. Serpentine assists with transition, of shedding our old, worn skin and emerging reborn with freshness and new eyes to look upon the world with. Let this stone lead you forward, alive in your new skin, with confidence and total faith in yourself.
- Carnelian: brings fire back into the spark of your life and gives you the push you need to remember the zest you have in your spirit and the fire you cradle in your belly for your passions and dreams. Ostara is the time to start looking to new ventures, rejuvenating old projects and dusting off those dreams we forgot to nurture through the long dark days of winter.
- Moonstone: One of the most feminine stones, moonstone nurtures everything about the feminine; as the tides are pulled and pushed by the moon in perfect regularity, so does Moonstone bring the glowing soothing energy of the Goddess as the Maiden to take our hand and guide us in perfect synchronicity to set our intentions for the rest of the year. Trust in moonstone to bathe you in the light of the Goddess and fill you with love; to be your muse and to soothe your emotions during the transition into the light half of the year.
Symbolism: The most iconic symbols of Ostara are the Hare and the Egg.
- The egg of course is the ultimate symbol of new life and virility. Many Pagans decorate or paint eggs to add to their altar at this time of year, and others chose to add healing crystals in the shape of eggs. If you have a creative side, which I tend to find a great deal of Pagans do, a drawing or painting of an egg is a wonderful addition to any space. Be as true to an egg or as outrageously creative as you like with your artwork; it is a reflection of yourself, tune into your muse and let the designs flow from you.
- The Hare is also symbolic of Ostara, telling us the age-old tale of animals returning to the wild and their young taking their first steps into the earth, looking into the sunlit skies for the first time. There is a wonderful Ostara tale about the Hare which I very much hope there is space at the end of this article to tell you about.
- You would be forgiven for thinking that this sounds very much like Easter Egg hunting, rolling decorated eggs down hills and the Easter Bunny; and these ancient Pagan symbols are exactly the ones that the Christian Church incorporated into Christianity, in their attempts to convert those still practicing the old ways into their indoctrinated patriarchy.
Deities: Many of us have Deities that we work with long term rather than choosing a seasonal Deity, however to pay tribute or leave an offering for another Deity that we may feel an affinity with at one of the Sabbats is both completely acceptable and, I have found, pretty common.
Ostara is a time when the Maiden form of the Triple Goddess is revered, our mother Goddesses (and some of our father Gods) – Gaia, Astarte, Dianna, Demeter, Eostre, The Green Man, The Oak King, Osiris and Zeus are all held in high honour with blessings and prayers spoken, written, danced and drawn in their honour and added to altars.
I could joyfully write all night on this topic and recount tales of these wonderful Deities, however I would urge you to not only read about them from mythological and historical sources (and to really feel the stories speak to you as you do) but to meditate on which, if any of these Goddesses or Gods, speak to you. Perhaps I will focus on Deities in a separate post, however there is not the space herein to do so.
Colours: It is important to some Pagans to incorporate colours into their practice, their rituals, their altars and their spell work. Others don’t put any relevance on colours at all. Neither approach is right or wrong, as like always, your work must always feel right to you. If you do work with colours in your spell work or on your altar, colours I incorporate into my Ostara rituals and on my Ostara altar are white, all variations of greens, pastel colours such as pink, blue and purple, and yellows and golds to represent the sun rising again higher in the sky.
Set intentions: this is the perfect time of year to set your intentions for the year ahead.
The dark days left you with time to think, mull, and ponder what you have achieved during the last cycle of the Earth, what you would like to bring forward with you and what new endeavours you would like to begin in this new turn into the light. Don’t rush into setting your intentions for the year though, if you aren’t ready on the exact date of Ostara that is fine. It is better to take a little extra time to get things right than to rush and make mistakes or be disappointed later, wishing you had set your intentions differently. Think about what you would really like to bring into your life and work on manifestation of this during the Ostara period. The new moon is also a perfect monthly time for this kind of magical work, so if you want to supercharge your manifestation try working your magic, sitting for meditations or writing in your Book of Shadows or journal during the new moon closest to the period of 20th – 22nd March (in the Northern Hemisphere – September in the Southern Hemisphere).
My own manifestation spell work during this time is where I not only think about what I would like to bring into my life, but how I would like it to come into my life, as this can be just as important as the end result. Maybe you would like to manifest more money into your life, however wouldn’t you rather receive a promotion or win a lottery than inherit money from a loved one who passes away? This is one of the joys of magical manifestation; it brings a sense of mindfulness into our lives and forces us to think kindly and fully about what we would like, and the overall consequences for more than just ourselves of our actions and desires.
Kindness is something I believe should be an overall factor in MOST magic and spell work. Of course, however, there must be balance and work in the dark and in the shadow is necessary to maintain this balance both in the world and within ourselves. In our Ostara rituals however I feel we benefit more from working with the light.
So how do we set these intentions? What must we do? That same old line again – you must do what feels right for you? Sometimes I write my intentions for the year into a poem, a wonderful weaving of words, other times I write in my Book of Shadows and let the words come freely, a little like automatic writing. Other times I draw. Sometimes I speak the words into the night around a roaring Ostara fire, telling my hopes for the year to come to the stars above, asking the Goddess to hear me and bring life to and to manifest my hopes just as she does the Earth beneath her feet. Sometimes I do a combination. Sometimes I keep what I have written in my Book of Shadows, and other times I let my Ostara fire burn them and send their words up to the stars with the sparks and ash, taking them into the ether to be read by the universe.
What I do want to stress to you, however, when you work with intention setting and manifestation, is that you must be patient. Just because you ask for something this Ostara does not mean it will come to you within this turn of the wheel; this may not be the right time for what you have asked for to come to you. Perhaps, as a fanciful example, you wish for a Rugged Viking to sweep you off to sea on his ship, however that very Viking, the one who is perfect for you, may not yet be back from his latest sea-bound adventure so he cannot yet steal you away. Or perhaps you dream of meeting a wondrously wise crone to teach and guide you, and to cackle into the night at your jokes; but maybe your perfect teacher is still too young to be the wise Crone you need.
And I think it is here that I will end my ramblings tonight as I have bent your ear for far too long and it is well past my reasonable bed time, my cheese is gone and my wine glass is empty.
Blessed Be & Stay Wild