Not deferential enough: Ostara

Posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: Ostara

by Gina Hamilton

The next day in the Wheel is the spring equinox, on or around the 20th of March. It is the first day of spring, and is associated with fecundity.  In the Celtic tradition, the holiday is associated with the goddess Oestre, or Ostara, named after the eastern star (actually the planet Venus). Oestre was a fairly minor deity.  She is mostly noted for the animals that fall under her protection - the very young domesticated animals, wild bunnies, and birds.  It is no accident that at this time of the year, celebrations of the waking earth are everywhere, from Easter baskets and bunnies, to new chicks, ducklings, lambs and kids.

The equinoces are special because day and night are of equal length, so from here until fall, there will be more light than dark. The equinoces are often celebrated with a bonfire that burns all night from sundown to sunrise, and dancing, music, and feasting.

But the vernal equinox, unlike the autumn equinox harvest festival, is less about a celebration and more about getting to work. The Brideog corn dolly, saved from Lammas the August before and made into a figure of the maiden goddess Brigid in February, is now sacrificed.  The first furrows are dug for the earliest planting - typically peas, barley, oats, and beans.  The Brideog is interred into the fields, and a quart of cider is poured over it. 

The cider is an interesting addition, because it will acidify the soil, making it hospitable for certain plants that cannot grow otherwise, and kill certain fungi that can cause significant problems later on.

The person who commits the doll to the soil is the woman closest to the age of fertility - usually the mother of the household, but in the absence of a mother, the eldest daughter or a young grandmother may perform the honors. 

As the men dig the cornrows, she will follow behind them and sprinkle seed in the first row, then give the task to the children to complete as the men tamp down the soil behind them.

Once the first rows are planted, the family ties on bells on their wrists, and joins hands in a circle, singing a song praising Eoestre or Brigid, still in her guise as the maiden who brings creation. 

Something sweet is usually prepared - cakes with dried plums or apricots or applesauce tarts - and a meal consisting of eggs is also prepared.  Celebrating the colors of the season by dyeing eggs is traditional, and may correspond with the first dyeing of sheep's fleece in the spring, which also, traditionally, occurs on the first day of spring.

In the Christian tradition, the first day of spring has an important role as well.  Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.  As a moveable feast, unlike Christmas or most of the saint days, Easter has to be calculated carefully by timing the lunar phases with the solar calendar.  This resulted in the commissioning of a new calendar in the sixteenth century, and led to a whole new universe - one in which the Earth revolved around the sun in a wheel, rather than the sun, planets and stars revolving around the Earth.

Almost exactly as the early Celtic pagans described it.

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