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The Maiden's Breath: The Vernal Equinox
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Ostara - Overview by Christina|
Author: Christina Aubin [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: March 17th. 2002
Times Viewed: 19,937
In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth. - John Milton (1608--1674)
The Vernal Equinox is one of two times in the calendar year when the apparent path of the sun crosses the Celestial Equator. The Celestial Equator is the line which divides the celestial sphere into a northern and southern celestial hemispheres, much like the earth's equator dividing the earth into the northern and southern hemispheres. During the Vernal Equinox the sun moves northward and reaches a point known as the First Point of Aries (zero point of longitude) which was originally in the constellation of Aries, but is now in the constellation of Pisces due to precession. The other point of the year which the sun crosses the celestial equator is Autumnal Equinox, which occurs in September (northern hemisphere).
The Vernal Equinox is the festival of Eostre, Ostara. E‡stre, Ostara is the Teutonic and Eostre and E‡stre are the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring, the Radiant Dawn and Up-springing Light (Grimm Teutonic Mythology). Eostre, E‡stre and Ostara are entomologically related to the Anglo-Saxon word for dawn and to Ostar, the Old High German adverb which expresses movement toward the rising sun --which would be East. Through time Eostre became Easter -- and its meaning changed to the time the rising "son" as opposed to the rising "sun".
Eostre is noted in De Temporum Rationale by The Venerable Bede (673 - 735), as a Goddess whose festival was celebrated in the fourth month of the year. The month was called Eosturmona, in Anglo Saxon and Ostarmanoth or Ostermonat in Old High German. According to E. Cobham Brewer in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, April was called Ostermonath because it was the month of the Ost-end wind (wind from the east). Ostarmanoth would have begun closer to the equinox in our current month of March, since in times past months would have been kept to the 28 day lunar cycle as opposed to our current modern calendar.
Eostre/Ostara is the second in the trilogy of fertility festivals. It heralds the quickening of the Spring season. In the weeks subsequent to Imbolc, the earth slowly begins to emerge from Her winter's sleep. As the Vernal Equinox approaches, life hastens its reawakening and the annual process of renewal has begun -- the process of life reaffirming life in the dance of being.
In the US Northeast, the salamander migrations begin, pussy willows become fuzzy, skunk cabbages come out in moist areas, birds begin to return from their winter vacation. Just at the Equinox the chipmunks begin to emerge from their winter homes, sparrows begin to sing, the wood frogs begin to call, and the maple sap begins to run. Similar indicators of spring begin to emerge all over the hemisphere.
It is at this moment that the Sun King begins his semiannual journey across the sky, His warmth and light begin to over take the darkness of Winter. His strength and power will continue to grow until His peak at Summer Solstice in June. Days become longer as we begin our course into the warm summer days and fruitful harvests.
Ostara (Eostre), the Goddess of Spring and the Morning Redness, presides over the Vernal Equinox is commonly depicted standing among Spring's flowers and vines, holding an egg in Her hand. Around Her feet the hares play joyfully in the Spring grass and birds fly above Her. Her head is crowned with Spring's flowers.
Some descriptions say she herself is hare-headed, and yet according to other stories, Eostre changed a bird into a hare. This hare, in keeping with her old habits, built nests and filled them with colored eggs. In Teutonic tradition the Oschter haas, Oschier haws, or Osterhase would lay colored eggs for the children in the nests they built. It is believed that this tradition made its way into US culture with the immigration of the Germans in the early 1700's -- taking the form of the Osterhase lovable Easter Bunny and her nests through time became baskets.
The hare is an obvious fertility symbol who is undeniably tied to the Vernal Equinox. March being the rutting time of hares further explains this association. Not only are hares and rabbits fecund -- the rutting time of the hares is quite the spectacle on the countryside. It is said that the typically shy, quiet hares become quite fanatical and fervent. They run for miles and can even become aggressive and can appear quite mad. Hence the English and French expressions - "As mad as a March Hare" "Il est fou comme un liŹvre du Mars". There is no denying that spring has sprung on the European countryside when the hare rutting has begun.
The hare is also associated with the moon in many cultures, due in part to its nighttime eating habits and in part due to being able to see the Bunny/Rabbit/Hare in the moon. Whether Eostre herself is hare-headed or her attendants are hares, she is strongly associated with the hare -- and later its cousin the rabbit for obvious reasons.
Ostara and the egg She carries are symbols of fertility, new and continuing life. The symbolism of the egg reaches through time and across cultures, it speaks of the mystery of life, fertility, birth, and of the universe. From the primordial creatrix, the Bird Goddess, extending through the Bronze Age cultures into the Cosmic Egg mythologies, the symbolism of the egg flows from life, through life and into life, throughout time. The egg and spring time rites go hand in hand across cultural and religious boundaries and speak to the innate mysteries of life itself.
In many cultures red was the predominate color used to dye eggs, as it symbolizes the morning redness, dawn, the sunrise, the birth of the new day' s sun, the beginning from which all life springs forth. The red egg cracks open and releases the life within symbolized by the yolk and white, perfect and complete life. Just as the red sky in morning gives birth to the life-giving sun, there is the redness from which new babies emerge from the womb. The coloring of eggs crosses may cultures as does the weight of its magic - folklore is full of egg customs and magic. Which is why we place baskets of eggs in beautiful colors and hues around the house and altar. Eggs are charged as talismans for fruitfulness and success for the upcoming season.
Like most holidays, fire and water are two important elements of this season. Water, Osterwasser, is collected on the morning of the Vernal Equinox, traditionally by young girls in silence, and enough is kept in the home as not to run out before the next Ostara. Water has many healing properties. If one bathes in a flowing brook on Ostara morning, they will always remain young and beautiful. Cattle were driven through the brooks on Ostara morning to bless them and protect them from disease and ill. A custom that still holds over in many communities today is the sprinkling with water with birch branches of young ladies by young men -- the single young men would go door to door through the village sprinkling the single young ladies until noon. The young girls would hide and the young men would seek them out (the hunt). In many villages, even today, the village well is decorated in garland and flowers to celebrate the life giving and rejuvenating gift that water bestows.
The fire, Osterfeuer, symbolizes the sun and its life giving, life affirming warmth, for without the gift of the sun there would be no life. Wood and brush were collected along the country side to fuel the Osterfeuer. From the Osterfeuer everyone would take the spring sun to their home fires to bless their home and fields.
Another popular tradition is the hot cross buns, which seem to have Pagan roots. There are mixed reports on the symbolism of the cross on the hot cross buns. Some suggest that the equilateral cross symbolizes the four quarters of the moon, other suggest that is expressing the uniformity of the seasonal year, and still others suggest that it is expressing the equilibrium of the equinox day -- equal day and equal night. One thing is for certain - the equilateral cross reaches back through time to the many ages before Christianity.
The Vernal Equinox is the season of new and renewed life, of new fire and new spark. The gentle, slow awakening of the Earth that began at Imbolc accelerates with almost lightning speed. There is an intensity, a fervor to the energies of this time; it is as if all existence suddenly is whirling its way in a pinnacle climax from which all life bursts onward in its own determination to keep the circle of life spinning.
It is as if the winter ice dams of the great river give way and waters begin to flow at once; you can almost feel this shift on Equinox day. If one is not careful they can easily be swept down river. As this is a time of heightened energy, storms can come in ferociously only to pass in time, but preparation and care need to be taken so that the damage is not extensive. The storms pass in both the literal and the figurative.
With such whirlwind fervor one can understand the necessity of spring cleaning, the channeling of such immense energies into productive, worthwhile tasks on all levels of our lives. It is a time of clearing away that which is static to prepare for the dynamic force of the new and renewed substance of life. Clearing the fields, if you will, to make possible the seeding.
Depending on the region, it may be the seedling time, time to Bless and plant the seeds. In other areas, the seeds are Blessed for future planting. Seeds, like the eggs, are an important part of this festival because of the promise they each hold of new life springing forth.
Seeding, of course, has a multi-level meaning, for the seeds we plant can be on the soil of our Being as well as the soil of the earth. It is the time after the final harvest of fields and of self during Samhain, the contemplation during the fallow periods of winter, to plant the new seeds given from our experience, pondered and understood. A time to begin to create new life, from the seeds of experience past. A life rich in the wisdom of experience past, brimming with the promise of times future.
Spring Equinox is also celebration as well as a practice of balance. For it is not quite Spring and yet not quite winter, it is the time when we are perched magically between the two seasons. The trees and plants are stirring with renewed life, and yet we still receive the March wintry storms. It is a time to remember our balance in the greater scheme of things, we are an important part of all that happens around us, our actions and inactions, our deeds and not, all have effect on the Earth, Her people, and the Universe. So it is the time of the year when we understand our need to walk in balance with the Universe much more clearly.
The Vernal Equinox also reminds us that there will be times in which achieving balance is easier than at other times in our lives. As the seasons of nature are cyclical so are our lives; we individually mirror the movement of the whole. The Vernal Equinox also serves to remind us that there are times when we must individually "clean house" in order to maintain fertile ground, clear out our outdated conceptions and misconceptions, our grievances and hurts, our self-perceived many times self-inflicted wounds, regrets of our past actions and inactions, our grudges and resentments, our inability to forgive others and ourselves. By clearing house we create the room for new experiences, new understandings, new hope and new joy that would elude us had we not cleared the way and made room for them to occur.
Spring speaks to our soul in messages of hope, of growth or new possibilities realized.
A Most Blessed Ostara to you and yours. May you realize all your most gifted potential.
For Enlightening Ostara Links by Christina... (Click HERE)
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