A few weeks ago, when I began to study the history of the Spring Equinox celebrations, I wad thrilled by the thought of a second “new year”. For me, Ostara came to symbolize the idea of a bonus start, a second chance to get the routines in order, start working on all the new projects and take on more challenges. Then came the Corona Virus and within a few weeks our everyday life was completely transformed. Fear and worry for ourselves and our loved ones greatly affect the level of energy and excitement that we can muster. The global quarantine makes it difficult to relate to a celebration of the coming of warmer, lighter days and new beginnings. We can’t pretend that the pandemic isn’t threatening both our health and the global economy, but we don’t know how this is going to end, perhaps it will all be over in a few months with less damage done than anyone dared to hope.
We can’t pretend, but we can’t let fear block out the joy and possibilities that are still there. It is important to keep a positive mindset in the midst of chaos. Just as we take all necessary precautions to get through this physically, our brains needs to practice healthy thinking to allow for healing. In the beginning of 2020, I set out to celebrate the wheel of the year as a manifestation of my faith in a spiritual universe where darkness is always balanced by light. Spring is coming even if we are stuck in our homes, suffering from illness, insecurity and worry. The light will return.
In this post I want to introduce you to the ancient practice of celebrating the Spring Equinox and share some simple and creative healing activities that can help us to move from the darkness into the light.
History and Lore
Celebrating the journey of the sun is a truly ancient practice. All over the world, from the UK to New England, megalithic monuments, which dates back thousands of years, stand proud and positioned to be illuminated in specials ways at the time of the equinoxes. Astrology, the predecessor to modern Astronomy, is one of the oldest sciences in history. The royal scientists of Babylonia developed advanced calculations for the movements of the celestial bodies which were later adapted by the Greek and incorporated into the cosmos of the Classical age.
From time immemorial, it has been a matter of great importance to observe the signs in the sky, and interpret their effect on our lives and the life of our planet. In the Julian calendar, (the first solar calendar in the Roman Empire), the beginning of the year began in March as this was the time for the Spring Equinox and the return of the light.
In Wicca, the Spring Equinox is celebrated as a second spring festival: Ostara. The two spring festivals shows the cultural diversity of the wheel of the year since Imbolc and Ostara are linked to “new year” celebrations in different cultures, climates and historical epochs.
The earliest scholarly mention of a Spring Equinox festival relating to the word Ostara is found in the works of Bede the Venerable (ca. 673-735), an English monk of the Benedictine order. Bede was an immensely important scholar of the early medieval period, who spent a lot of effort trying to calculate calendar days. In De temporum ratione (Eng. The Reckoning of Time, 725 CE), Bede mentions the celebration of a Germanic Spring Goddess , Eostre, and he saw the old pagan celebrations around the time of the Spring Equinox as the predecessor to the Christian Easter.
The etymology of the word Eostre is deeply alluring and has intrigued German philologists for hundreds of years. The hypothesis is that Eostre derives from the Proto-Germanic, and earlier Proto-Indo-European, word for “dawn” and the verb “to shine”. Another linguistic relative of the mysterious Germanic goddess is the the word “east” which describes the direction of the rising sun.
My Ostara celebrations
The wheel of the year is a way of organizing one’s life in harmony with the seasons and in the spiritual traditions of our ancestors. As the wheel turns from Imbolc to Ostara, we progress from a time of preparation to a time of manifestation. Being stuck at home might feel like a big restraint when it comes to taking action but you can accomplish a lot of things without ever leaving your home. Perhaps you have a lot of emails that needs answering, a list of books waiting to be read, a hobby or project that you couldn’t find the time for such as painting, knitting, programming or yoga. You need no equipment to create a simple exercise routine for yourself at home, and nothing more than willpower to break an old habit. The tragic pandemic has created a unique opportunity for all of us to focus on growing our mental, spiritual and physical strength, so that we can rejuvenate and balance ourselves and each other. Here are some ideas for healing and uplifting at home-activities to celebrate the return of the light:
- Make a miniature broom from dried twigs, symbolizing purification on the energetic level. If you have an altar, the broom can be used to clean it. The spiritual lore of trees is a fascinating world. If possible, use the branches and twigs from trees that symbolize something that you want to bring into your life. (Books about the lore of trees is listed in the inspirational reading/sources section of this post)
- Mix different essential oils to create a fresh, healing spring blend. My Ostara blend consists of peppermint and rose oil, which both have strong healing properties. A well-known remedy in folk medicine, peppermint oil is used to ease digestive issues and symptoms of the common cold. It has a cooling, revitalizing effect on the mind that can heal mental exhaustion and fatigue. Rose oil is a wonderful addition in beauty- and skincare. It has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties which help to rejuvenate dry, sensitive and aging skin. The fresh, wonderful smell of roses is warms the heart and is soothing for the nerves. Together, these oils create a crisp, clean, and flowery smell that capture the essence of spring.
- Plant or re-plant herbs and other plants. At Imbolc, I sowed a variety of herbal seeds in small pellets, and now, one month later, they were ready to be replanted 🙂
- Decorate with Eggs. For millennia, eggs have been a powerful symbol of life, fertility and spring in cultures across the world. The Chinese gave painted eggs as a gift at the beginning of spring some 5000 years ago, as did the Greeks and the Romans. The ancient Egyptians believed that the universe emerged from an egg, the so called cosmic egg, a symbol which appears in the mythology of many cultures, from the Rig Veda of Ancient India to the Orphic mystery cults in Greece and Finnish folklore. For Christians, eggs became a symbol of fertility, the resurrection and eternal life. In my home country, Sweden, colorful paper eggs filled with candy is given to children as a treat at Easter so decorative eggs are an integral part of my spring celebrations. This year I incorporated decorative eggs in my dinner table centerpiece, my wall decor and on my altar:
- Make a Spring log. I transformed my hanging Yule log into a “Spring log” by wrapping a garland of green leaves and roses around a Birch branch. Instead of the Christmas tree decor, I used painted eggs in different colors and sizes to hang from the log.
- Add dried or fresh flowers to your decor. Flowers are symbols of spring and the romantic love associated with this season. The pastel colors of many roses and of dried lavender match the season perfectly. You can use flowers that you have picked from your own garden or bought from a florist or a craft store. I dried a beautiful bouquet of roses that was a Valentine’s gift from my boyfriend, and put it in a vase as a reminder to appreciate, and celebrate, the love that I am blessed to have in my life.
- Make a Spring altar:
I hope this post was interesting and useful to you. Happy Ostara!
The Spring Equinox: Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series, Ostara: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for the Spring Equinox, Scott Cunningham, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practioner
Essential oils: Julia Lawless, Home Aromatherapy. A Step by Step Guide on Using Essential Oils at Home
Tree lore: Alferian Gwydion MacLir, Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool
Healing herbs and flowers: Scott Cunningham, Cunningham’s Enyclopedia of Magical Herbs, National Geographic, Nature’s Best Remedies: Top Medicinal Herbs, Spices, and Foods for Health and Wellbeing