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Ostara: The Land Awakens

Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: March 18th. 2012
Times Viewed: 1,663

This essay is going to be hard for me. My internet has been down for weeks and will not be up until I have to submit this essay, so I cannot make up for anything my library lacks with web-searches. For that, I apologize. It will also be difficult because Ostara is not one of my favorite holidays, for many reasons, which I will get into as this essay progresses. I like the eight-holiday system and I am loath to remove any of the holidays from my calendar because of that. The eight-spoke wheel is stronger than a seven or six-spoke wheel would be and definitely stronger than just keeping the four Greater holidays. It seems without all eight spokes, the wheel could not hold up the chariot of the sun.

If you’ve noticed, in my previous essays, I have tried to steer clear of the Wiccan mythology as pertaining to the holidays as much as possible. There are reasons for this: A) I’m not Wiccan, B) I like learning and researching the origins of holidays, and C) there are so many Wiccan (or neo-Wiccan, if you prefer) resources for the holidays available that to write an essay focusing on the Wiccan lore behind it becomes redundant.

When it comes to this, I have hit a snag when trying to explain Ostara, as even my old Wicca books are very light on their own lore regarding this holiday. Most of the explanations for celebrating Ostara can be summed up thusly: “The God is growing, but he’s not grown up yet; and the earth is rejuvenating because the days are getting longer. Yay Spring!” Some might have the Oak and Holly King battle for dominance on the Equinoxes (I think this makes more sense as Their powers are equal rather than having the under-dog win at the Solstices, but to each their own) , but other traditions have this occur on the Solstices (and some books don’t mention this lore at all) .

All of the books I grabbed to aid my research of Ostara have a couple paragraphs (which I paraphrased above) and then a ritual outlined on how to celebrate it. But there isn’t much history, nothing that links with the past that makes me feel connected with my ancestors…unless you want more recent ancestors and you’re willing to talk about Easter.
Jasmine Gale Norn does mention Easter in Dancing with the Sun and mentions she is a Saxon goddess and that Ostara is named for her, but she doesn’t actually state why. Is Easter a goddess of spring? Is she associated with rabbits? She doesn’t give that information, which would be useful as my encyclopedia of gods and spirits doesn’t list her either (man, I miss my internet) .

So…where can I go to get my Eostre lore? Well… let’s look at American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The book basically states that humans break apart gods, change and lend strength to Them through sincere belief in Them. For this reason, Odin can be a wise wanderer, a cunning magician, and a blood-thirsty warrior, all depending on who is worshiping Him, when He is being worshiped, and even where. In the book, the gods then came to America (specifically the United States) with the folk memories of the immigrants and are now in trouble; sincere belief in Them is fading and these “American” aspects of the gods are on the verge of death. Only one goddess seems to be doing well. Her name is Easter.

Easter, the goddess, is described as very pale and not so different physically from Marilyn Monroe. When we first encounter Her in the story, She is having a picnic of rabbit meat and seems unlikely to help in the battle to retain existence since She doesn’t see a problem. One of the main characters takes Her to a coffee shop and decides to make his point (that Easter is getting false “energy” and real belief is not being fed to Her) and asks the barista what she knows about Easter. The barista stares at him blankly and states that she knows very little about Easter because she is Pagan.

I’m using Neil Gaiman as a resource here because I have no doubt that he did his research into every god and goddess he used in American Gods not to mention the plethora that are characters in his “Sandman” comics. If we get the word Ostara from Eostre, then it is just as likely that the Christian holiday took the name as well, considering the linguistic similarities. This is also why the décor for Ostara and Easter are just as interchangeable (and perhaps almost more so) as Yule and Christmas. Jesus happened to die and resurrect in the spring, which was a prodigious time for Northern Europeans, who were just glad at a chance to eat better and get out of the darkness. If there was a Saxon festival to Eostre in the spring (and it was geared to the new life springing forth from the earth) , then it is no wonder that it was so easy to connect the resurrection of Jesus to that imagery –and thus we have Christian Easter as we know it today.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough old Pagan lore left regarding this holiday, as the Christian one swallowed it even more completely than was Yule. I do, however, have more issues with it than just a lack of traceable history. One issue is the color palate: I hate pastels. I do not wear them, I do not use them to decorate my house and I worry about the day when I might be forced to dress a baby in “pretty pink” or “pastel blue” just based on their gender and what people tend to buy because of that. Unless it’s a living plant, I don’t want those colors around. (I think I was scarred as a child, being forced into yellow and pink bedrooms without being given the choice on how I would like my room painted.) Another issue is one of redundancy: the fertility aspects of Ostara are more coherently represented in the fire festival of Beltane. Why celebrate the fertility of the earth at Ostara when Beltane does it better, there’s more lore behind it and it feels less … well… Christian?

I have found a ray of hope, though. In Peter Paddon’s A Grimoire for Modern CunningFolk he describes Ostara as an important part of the heroic/sacred-king cycle. This is the part of the hero’s journey when he seeks his name, weapons and place in society. In Welsh mythology, this would be when Llew tricks his mother, Arianrhod, into giving him his name and weapons. In Irish lore, it would be when, in an attempt to prove himself, Cu Chulain slays Chulain’s hound and has to take its place. In the Arthurian legends, this would be when young Arthur draws the sword from the stone and learns his true lineage. If one uses this as the basis for the holiday, it no longer seems out of sync or redundant with Beltane, but part of the natural flow of time. It is the rite of passage from mere potential to fruition.

So that’s what I can tell you about Ostara; honestly, it wasn’t as difficult to write as I thought it would be, but I think we may have Neil Gaiman to thank for that. May your spring be filled with potential.





Footnotes:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Dance with the Sun by Yasmine Galenorn
A Grimoire for Modern CunningFolk by Peter Paddon
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham



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