It’s been some time since Imbolc and finally the world awakens. Warm sunshine has begun to beam down more and more each day, brave flowers poke their colorful shoots above the greening grass, and birds sing loudly in the still bare trees. It is a beautiful time of year. A time of growth, abundance, fertility, and new life. It is the Spring Equinox, when days and nights are the same length and the world is well on its way to warmer days full of sun, color, and an abundance of baby animals appearing in nature.
I’m not going to lie to you, this sabbat is a bit of a doozy. Its origins are vague and most of our modern associations, such as hares, the Goddess Ostara herself, and eggs have been studied by scholars and written about since the mid 1800s. I’m going to attempt to unpack as much of this as I can for you in this post. That being said, Ostara, at its heart, is a beautiful celebration of this time of year, when winter is behind us, there are more warm days than cold, seeds are beginning to sprout, and the animals are coming to life. It is a time of abundance and happiness, of new life and fecundity (new words are fun!). Gone are the drab browns and blinding whites of winter; now is the time for color and light. So strap on your seatbelts and join me on the rollercoaster that is Ostara.
Origins of Ostara
The word “Ostara” is thought to be an ancient Germanic spring goddess. I say thought, because until the 1950s, many scholars questioned whether or not the figure of Ostara had been created in the 8th Century by Bede (famed English monk and historian). There were apparently no other attestations of the goddess in literature, so some thought that Bede had made her up. However, in 1958 the matronae Austriahenae was found, which has mostly proven that the spring goddess figure has indeed existed for ages, and that the name Ostara is a version of the original pro-Indo-European version “heusos” which means ‘goddess of dawn’. The Germanic word became “Eostre” in Old English and is pronounced almost like the modern “Easter”, connecting the rituals of Ostara to the modern holiday in Catholic/Christian countries.
What does this have to do with our Ostara sabbat? Well, that’s where it gets even more complicated. We know that Ostara was a spring goddess figure and that the months of March/April were named in her honor. Easturmonath, as described by Bede “was once called after a goddess of theirs [the pagans’] named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month”. It seems then, that there were activities and feasts that celebrated the spring goddess and all that she brought with her this time of year, such as the rebirth of the land. This is an intuitive way to celebrate the Spring Equinox to anyone who pays attention to the seasons of the Earth; however, what is up with the rest of Ostara? How did Easter/Ostara get tied in with the Christian belief of Jesus’s resurrection and how why do both of them involve bunnies and colorful eggs? Let’s look at some of these questions.
The truth is that none is certain about the origins of the bunnies/rabbits/hares and Ostara. Hares are no doubt the original type of animal to be associated with Ostara, but why? It wasn’t until the 1800s that a German scholar tried to make the connection by saying that the hare was most likely “the sacred animal of Ostara”. Another author wrote about several Northern European folklore customs that seemed to indicate the hare as a sacred animal around the months of March and April, possibly before the worship of Ostara the goddess. Adolf Holtzmann, the previously mentioned German scholar surmised that “the hare must once have been a bird, because it lays eggs”, which began a waterfall of stories that tried to explain this connection. There is a very intensely researched piece about this topic here, if you’d like to, uh-hem, go down the rabbit hole. I’ll quote one part of the article here:
“Sometimes the story grew even more in the telling. The detail that the goddess changed the bird into a hare specifically to help it endure the cold appears in a version printed in Ohio’s Fulton County Tribune for April 13, 1922:
WAS MESSENGER OF GODDESS
Pretty Legend Which Connects the Hare With the Symbol of the Awakening of Life.
It appears from a very ancient, but little known tradition, that the rabbit, or rather the hare; sacred to Ostara, was originally a bird, very possibly the swallow. The goddess finding her winged messenger was not fitted to endure all toils and climates, transformed her into a brisk, quick-footed little quadruped with long ears, a warm furry coat, and no tail to speak of, ready and able to summon belated spring from wherever she might be lingering, and to guide her safely, even among the icebergs of the frozen north. Thenceforward the hare, the emblem of fertility, was known as the friend and messenger of the spring goddess; and in memory of her former existence as a bird, the hare once a year, at Easter, lays the gaily colored eggs that are the symbol of the awakening of earth and the renewal of life. This is the mythological explanation of the connection of Easter eggs and bunnies, but there are many other stories telling why the sportive hare is responsible for the bright-hued eggs at this spring festival.“
There is no doubt that hares began breeding this time of year, and that part of the sabbat Ostara has to do with fertility, abundance, and new life, as do eggs as we’ll read in the next section, however it looks as though the connection between the hares/rabbits/Easter Bunny and the eggs is not based in an ancient custom.
I won’t spend too much time on the eggs, since we’ve looked at them in regards to the hare, but there are a few interesting ways that Ostara and eggs are connected. The first is that eggs are a symbol of fertility and bringers of new life. The other is a theory that says eggs became connected to Easter (of course Ostara) in the Middle Ages. Apparently eggs were restricted during Lent and children went door to door asking for eggs before Lent began. People would prepare them and hand them out especially at this time. It’s possible that they were already connected to Ostara, or maybe they became enmeshed during this time.
Ostara and Easter
The name Ostara, and it’s PIE roots have to do with “the bringer of the light”. As we’ve looked at, Ostara is a time of new life. The Earth itself is resurrected from its slumber and a bright, warm, new world of color and beauty comes to life. It is no surprise that the figure of Jesus, who is resurrected from death into new life would be tied into this thematic celebration. We know that as Europe was Christianized, many liturgical holy days were placed on the pre-existing pagan festivals, and Easter is no different. In fact, some ancient Romans celebrated Cybele, a goddess whose companion was born of a virgin birth and resurrected near the end of March. There’s also the figure of Mithras, another Jesus-like Roman god.
It’s worth noting that many more cultures celebrate Spring with similar thematic approaches. Some Persian countries celebrate Nowruz, which means “new day”. And the most fascinating in my opinion is the Mayan Spring Equinox celebration called The Return of the Sun Serpent. A description from History.com reads, ” crowds now gather on the spring (and fall) equinox to watch as the afternoon sun creates shadows that resemble a snake moving along the stairs of the 79-foot-tall Pyramid … On the spring equinox, the snake descends the pyramid until it merges with a large, serpent head sculpture at the base of the structure.”
Themes of Ostara
As with all of the sabbats on the Wheel of the Year, the themes can be found by meditating on the energies of that time of year. As we’ve already seen, Ostara is associated with the following themes:
- New Life
Symbols of Ostara
Symbols associated with Ostara are:
- Baby animals (especially chicks)
- Birds, especially robins
Correspondences of Ostara
Some of the correspondences for are:
Stones: Moonstone, rose quartz, clear quartz, amethyst
Colors: pastels, white, light gold
Herbs: clover, honeysuckle, peony, violets, tulips, angelica, blackberry, strawberry, ginger, jasmine
Foods & Drinks: Eggs, sprouts, spring greens, cheese, custards, cream/milk, sweet treats, seeds, fruits and veggies
Magick: Growth, resurrections (in a symbolic sense), balance, new life, open/making room, fertility, love, spells that you want to grow for a time
Ways to Celebrate Ostara
As modern witches and pagans, we have to find new ways to celebrate the Sabbats. Surprisingly, it is really fun and easy to come up with ways to celebrate that honor Imbolc and also fit into our busy lives. As with all magickal practices it is the intention that counts. If you are able to center in on the energies of Ostara by meditating on its themes, colors, stones, and other correspondences, you don’t need a flashy ritual (although there’s nothing wrong with it if you want to do one!) to celebrate.
Here are some celebration ideas. I’ve made them as simple as possible, so you can add on your own touches as your practice allows.
- Get ready to start your garden
- Nature time (really study and appreciate the new plants and animals you notice)
- Hello Spring cleaning! Make way for the new, open those windows, let the fresh air come in.
- Create a list of personal things you’d like to resurrect about yourself or give new life to
- Dye some hard-boiled eggs. Why? It’s tradition! Or you could just cook them and eat them, meditating on how eggs protect and bring new life into the world.
- Try something new
- Make a basket from natural materials
- Go four-leaf clover hunting
- Decorate your home with Ostara symbols
- Raise a new pet (only if you are able to take it on forever)
- Drink some Ostara Tea
Going traditional here. Since I live in the US, Easter is the predominant holiday around this time. I have always associated Easter with rabbits, and rabbits supposedly love carrots, and I love carrot cake so…I present to you a from scratch carrot cake recipe. It’s yummy, sweet, incorporates carrots, cream cheese, and nuts into a delicious Springy dessert for your Ostara celebrations.