At Spring Equinox the yearly dance of Earth and Sun reaches a point of balance, equal day and equal night. Nature is poised to "spring forward," with each successive day gaining a few minutes more of sunlight until reaching full culmination of the longest day of the year, Summer Solstice. Spring Equinox also marks the return of the Sun to zero degrees Aries, the beginning degree of the zodiac.
Ostara has become a favorite name for Spring Equinox in Wiccan lore. Variations include Eostre, Oestre, Eos -- all derived from very similar core ideas. If you think that Eostre, especially, sounds a lot like Easter, you are right. Most sources say the Christian choice of Easter to represent the resurrection derives from Eostre, Anglo-Saxon Goddess of spring, rebirth, the east and dawn. The Greek version for Goddess of spring, east, dawn and sunrise is Eos. Dawn is exactly in the east at Spring Equinox, representing not only the beginning of the new day, but also the yearly reawakening of Mother Earth after her winter's rest.
Another ancient mythology celebrating the springtime reawakening and resurrection theme is that of Persephone, whose mother Demeter brought winter to Earth in mourning for her daughter who had been abducted by Hades. Through the intercession of Zeus, a compromise was reached so that Persephone could return to Demeter, who then joyfully allowed the Earth to become green again. Thereafter, Persephone descends to the underworld to reign as Queen each year during the winter and returns to Earth in spring.
By whatever name she is called, the Goddess of spring represents the Maiden aspect of the threefold Goddess.
Although the dates may not be the same, the basic theme of all religious and secular celebrations of the onset of spring follow the cue of Nature -- resurrection and renewal. In Southern California, Starcrafts' home, the signs are subtler, though recognizable when one has lived there through a few seasons. Here in New England, each day brings new changes as green shoots come through the brown earth, the grass turns from brown to green again, the trees bud and leaf, and the early flowers begin to bloom. It is a thoroughly magical season!
Easter, the Christian celebration of resurrection, keys on Spring Equinox and the Jewish Passover. Passover is traditionally at the New Moon following Spring Equinox, and Easter is the first Sunday after Passover, or the first Sunday after the first Full Moon following Spring Equinox.
The secular customs of the season derive from ancient Pagan themes. Hot cross buns are an ancient custom. Round sun-like rolls of northern Europe were decorated with an equal-armed cross that was associated with Woden. The equal-armed crosses were also inscribed on Greek cakes celebrating Eos. The equal-armed cross within a circle is the astrological glyph for planet Earth. A recipe for Hot Cross Buns (on this site) appears in Joanne Asala's Celtic Folklore Cooking, Llewellyn 1999, and this book also includes a wealth of lore on all the Sabbats.
The popular Easter or Ostara Bunny (as you choose!) derives from the moon hare or March hare, a lunar animal, sacred to the Goddess, and symbolic of fertility and rejuvenation. It is said that the Goddess Ostara sometimes took on the form of a white hare, and colored eggs were presented to her as offerings.
Decorating Eggs Within Ritual
The eggs of spring, in this season of the mating of animals and the blooming of new growth in Nature, become a powerful symbol of renewal and fertility. In ancient times eggs were decorated and given as gifts of renewal and to bring good fortune. Many cultures have traditions of egg decorating, some to the point of intricate, fine art now shown in museums. In modern times, of course, egg coloring is a most popular activity to share with children, as are the ever-popular egg hunts. Somehow, along the way, the offering of eggs became a custom for children, rather than a gift for the Goddess. The littlest ones believe that the bunny brings the eggs and candy, and the rest of us happily play along. Decorating Eggs within Ritual Wiccan rituals of this season see the increasing light of the Bright Lord as a growing child and often celebrate the child within. Last year Circle of the Cosmic Muse enjoyed coloring eggs within our ritual. A table at each of the four quarters held cups of egg dye in the color of the element: yellow for East/Air, red for South/Fire, blue for West/Water and green for North/Earth. The Guardians explained the attributes of their elements and then invited everyone to decorate a hard-cooked egg in the color and with symbols that most represented what he or she wanted to create or increase within. Prior to dunking the eggs in dye, crayons were provided to draw symbols on the eggs, which would show through the color as wax resist. The decorated eggs were charged with energy, to be later full assimilated when the eggs are eaten.
In the photograph, you see me with Baum, Red Priest of Circle of the Cosmic Muse and Brighid, our circle Maiden, who for this rite was garbed as Ostara the white bunny. She led the ritual working and then after the egg coloring was completed, invited everyone to hunt for plastic eggs she'd hidden. Each contained little candies and a special fairy oracle. Baum passed out seed packets of bright yellow flowers in honor of the waxing Sun.
Breaking the Bonds of Winter
In other years, our rituals have sometimes carried out a more astrological theme of the season by symbolically breaking the bonds of winter. Spring Equinox corresponds to the First Quarter phase of an eight-fold cycle. Poised at the point of equilibrium between dark and light, past and future, winter and spring, a crisis of action is reached. It is decision time-time to charge forward! No longer can the past be allowed to hold us back. The time of winter and dark is over. In ritual binding and release, Dark Lord and Crone first bind the wrists of the four elemental Guardians, asking each of them, What binds you?
Air responds: My mind binds me. I am scattered. I can't make up my mind. I can't seem to make myself understood.
Fire responds: I am bound by passion and ego. Lost in desire, I am impulsive, blind to reality and to anyone's concerns but my own.
Water responds: My emotions bind me. I am drowning in fear, anxiety. I feel so confused.
Earth responds: My reality binds me. I feel stuck. Nothing is ever good enough. I'm deprived of dreams, of passion.
All participants are then told to go the Guardian whose bindings most closely speak to their individual concerns and there be bound, the better to reflect on what must be released and left behind with the winter.
When all are bound, the High Priestess calls to each of Guardians: What do you need to be free?
Air - clarity, balance, direction...I must focus on change!
Fire - energy, selflessness, conviction...I must have the courage to change!
Water - compassion, understanding, love that casts out fear...I must love to change!
Earth - strength, persistence, purpose...I will change!
All will change, all will change
All She touches grows with change…
Energy builds until at its peak: Release your bonds!
And, led by the Guardians, all break the bonds and dance in freedom.
The bonds of winter are broken! New life of spring be with you. Blessed Be!
Copyright © 2003 Maria Kay Simms