Ostara, New Beginnings, New Connections
Ostara, the vernal equinox, the beginning of Spring, will soon be upon us, and the earth shall burst forth in bloom. Upon the Wheel of the Year, Ostara is a day of balance. It is a day of renewal and new beginnings. Celestially speaking, we are halfway between the solstices. The Spring Equinox has long heralded a shift of light over dark. It is after we reach the vernal passing on our solar year that the daylight hours become greater than night time hours. This shift results in a warming of the earth and thus the time to plant new crops for the year. This in turn is transferred into a celebration on the Wheel of the Year which focuses on planting a new idea, heralding a new beginning, a blooming of possibilities. But why do we use the name Ostara for this celestial point of time within our year? Where does it come from and how does it influence what we do ritualistically within our spiritual selves? Upon the Wheel of the Year, the Sabbats are celebrated with traditions from several cultures. Pagan communities who choose to follow and celebrate the wheel of the year have their own traditions and work with pantheons of goddesses and gods as they choose them, and Spiral Grove is no different. Many of the symbols we work with at Ostara are Germanic in origin, so using a Germanic name for our Sabbat makes for a stronger connection within ritual work. Words and symbols, ritual and art all work together on multiple levels creating connections and inspiration waiting to be tapped into. Ostara itself as a popular name for the Spring Equinox, has its roots in proto-Germanic languages, leading eventually to Anglo-Saxon and then English use. The end result has become the present day use of the English word, Easter. The history of Ostara points to a Germanic Goddess of Spring, of which the most accepted earliest written reference to her, comes from 8th century historian, Bede. There is comparative evidence cited by Jacob Grimm in his treatise Deutsche Mythologie. Published in 1835, Grimm traces the mythology and beliefs of ancient Germanic tribes. Culling from the earliest accounts and surviving traditions and folktales to his present day, he shows how there may have been a Goddess cult among the Germanic tribes. Grimm says, “The two goddesses, whom Beda (Bede) cites very briefly, without any description, merely to explain the months named after them, are Hrede and Edstre, March taking its Saxon name from the first, and April from the second… It would be uncritical to saddle this father of the church, who everywhere keeps heathenism at a distance, and tells us less of it than he knows, with the invention of these goddesses. There is nothing improbable in them, nay the first of them is justified by clear traces in the vocabularies of other German tribes. March is in OHG (Old High German), lenzinmanot, named after the season lenzo, lengizo [lengthening of days]… “We Germans to this day call April ostermonat… The
great christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of OHG (Old High German) remains (of) the name ostard … This Ostard, like the AS (Anglo Saxon), Edstre, must in the 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… “The High German and Saxon tribes seem on the contrary (to the Norse) to have formed only an Ostard, Edstre (feminine.), not Ostaro, Eiistra (masculine) (term)… Ostara, Eddre (Edstre) 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 to the resurrection-day of the christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter…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.” There are old customs of Germanic influence that we follow today as part of our Ostara, or Spirng Equinox celebrations. This is not only for us as modern pagans in America, but for many a Christian congregation which celebrates Easter at this time as well. It is no surprise to find many of their customs as influenced by old pagan or heathen ways. There can be a clear tracing back in American and European history of German American immigrants bringing their traditions to the “New World”, which had been placed upon a “New Religion” before that; and thus retained either thinly veiled or heavily disguised from their true origins, old Germanic traditions. These traditions predated any Christian practice. These traditions were eventually placed upon a “New Order” within the church and then much of the world at large. This occurred in essence due to the Church wanting to increase their flock. Wisely, or unwisely, depending on how you look at it, the acceptance of old traditions from other cultures to gain more church members brought a twofold result. The present day traditions of Easter celebrations in America show the success of the assimilation of the Goddess into another religion, whether recognized or not. The church succeeded in gaining its numbers, but the Goddess also succeeded in managing to find a way to live on in the hearts of her children. Those who are called to Her see these traditions and know. This Sabbat for us is the one which is most influenced by Germanic traditions. In utilizing a name for a Sabbat with clear connections to Germanic terms which denote Spring, and a probable Goddess of Spring, we are able to connect our own selves closer to our ancestors, old traditions, and the Earth herself as she blooms forth for us in her vibrant beauty. In my next installment I will share my thoughts and interpretations on some of these Germanic Traditions and what they symbolically represent for Spiral Grove.
Merry Meet! I am first and foremost a writer. When I am writing I am in my element! Much of what I write about, and do in my life is centered around a pagan spiritual base. I have been studying various paths and topics, working with energies, deities, and the elements for 15 years plus. I am the High Priestess of Spiral Grove an eclectic study coven. I say I was given this coven as a gift because that is what it truly is. Spiral Grove would not be what it is without the members who make it whole.