Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ostara, Return of the Dawn!

I think most pagans tend to be very aware of how our ancient traditions have been ‘adopted’ by mainstream Christianity or even secularized as common traditions. Halloween and Christmas are both rife with pagan tradition and ritual as, I’m sure you are all aware, is Easter. Or as modern pagans call it, Ostara. And yet, as educated and knowledgeable as we are, I think it can be difficult for us, coming back to Pagan traditions as many of us are from our secular or Christianized upbringings, to identify with the heart of our traditions.

For example, I grew up with a mostly secularized Easter. My brother and I dyed and hunted for pastel colored eggs, overdosed on chocolate eggs and bunnies, and then feasted with our families without giving it a second thought. As an adult, I am much more concerned with understanding the reasons ‘why’ of these rituals. I've always had a hard time relating to Ostara; I found it difficult to identify what was really important, all those pink and blue eggs and chocolate bunnies kept getting in my way - what did they have to do with spring? And what's all the concern with the light of Spring anyway? Ostara seemed dated and unimportant to me, nothing more than a holiday for children, whatever the source.

However, in researching this article, I was reminded of some things that helped put my heart back on track.

The word Ostara actually only dates back to the early to mid 1800's, specifically to Jacob Grimm (you may know him as one of the Brothers Grimm, early folklorists who wrote down and published what the they thought were ancient traditional German fairy tales.) Ostara is Jacob Grimm’s Germanic reconstruction of a very early Saxon Goddess, Eostre or Eastre. According to Saint Bede, who was a well known scholar and historian of the seventh century, this Goddess was so important that the entire Anglo Saxon month of April was named after her: Eostur- monath. Because her month was so important to Anglo Saxon culture, it was deemed easier for the Church to absorb it and adopt it than root it out!

According to Bede, Eostre was the Goddess of the dawn, and her festival celebrated the rebirth of the Earth from the darkness of winter into the light of spring. The ancient Saxons and British believed that Hares brought her lights (the first rays of dawn) all over the Earth. Further, proof of the rebirth of the world was found in the new growth of spring, and the mating of all creatures. In this aspect, Eostre is a fertility Goddess, linked to pleasure, love, and fecundity. The Hare, as an especially fertile beast, is sacred to her.

Eggs have symbolized rebirth for many Western cultures for time out of mind. There is no direct anthropological evidence connecting Eostre to eggs, but it is easy to make an intuitive leap, based on the predominance of the egg as a Sun symbol, not just for Christians and in the Judaic Passover feast. The ancient Zoroastrians decorated eggs for their Spring Equinox rituals. In the Northern cultures of Saxons and Celts, where the darkness lasts for so long, the yolk of a fresh egg would become a bright image of the Sun, reborn. And the egg as a symbol of fertility is well known, a stronger link to Eostre, ancient Goddess of fertility.

We can only imagine what our long ago ancestors experienced, after months of terrible cold and darkness, and hunger never very far away, with out the scientific knowledge that the sun would absolutely rise again to warm and feed them. What a moment of intense joy and hope they must have felt, on the dawn of the Spring Equinox, to know that once more, thank Eostre, the light had won again and darkness had been vanquished for another year.

As thinking, educated, brilliant young Pagans, we know the Sun will rise, that Spring will come, that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and not the other way around. This is an age of Scientific fact. That moment of hope and joy that the Sun has not forsaken us is hard for us to come by - fact can trump faith in the rational mind. And yet there is an aspect of our world that does not belong to the realm of Science: the heart and soul. It is possible for our hearts to lie in a darkness, at winter or at any other time. At this Ostara festival, then, I will thank Eostre for the dawn of hope, for the ritual of spiritual rebirth that allows us to throw off a cloak of pessimism, of sadness, of loss or lack of love, on this Spring Equinox or any time. I will thank Her for the gifts of new shoots and baby animals, as well as for the thawing of my heart in the face of love.


Allan said...

Wow! Amazing. Just the act of reading this thawed my being a little. Thank you.

Sparrow said...

Beautifully written dear sister! I too had fallen into the habit of thinking that Easter (and Ostara by extension) was just a childrens holiday.

Catpriestess said...

Oh Lynelle, you write so beautifully : ) I too loved the sweet part of Easter but didn't know the special meaning of it until I was grown. Aren't we the blessed one's for celebrating Easter/Ostara in a sacred way.

Dessa said...

Brilliant. The long, dark months of winter may not be quite as perilous in modern days as they were in days of old, but we can still understand our ancestors joy in watching the sun return to the land.

JJ Beazley said...

I was a devout Christian during my childhood, and the notion of Easter being all about the crucifixion and resurection was drummed firmly into me. And yet the things I most remember about Easter as a child were the warming of the sun and the appearance of daffodils. My mother professed to be a nominal Christian, but was not a churchgoer. When I asked her why we had eggs at Easter, she told me they symbolised nature's rebirth in the spring. I think the common tradition has never lost sight of that.

I also have to say that, the older I get, the more I try to see winter as an essential part of the cycle, not a period of darkness to be vanquished. It's a resting, cleansing time, and I've also noticed that it's the time when the moon comes into her own. The moon is more constant than the sun. The power of the January full moon reminds me that the female is, generally, more faithful than the male. Winter is the time when I most feel the power of the feminine. I also suspect that ancient peoples were rather more clued up about the cyclical certainty of the seasons than we think they were.

Hope you don't mind me adding my two penn'orth.

Mother's Moon's Message said...

wonderful post. enjoyed reading it... I have always loved this time of year. The coming out of the coldness of winter into the warmth and rebirth of spring. It has always brought wonderful newness to me in so many ways...

Bridgett said...

Excellent, excellent post!! So beautifully written.

Happy Ostara!


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