(Ostara, Spring Equinox, Easter)
by Rowan of Oakmist
Spring is the season of renewal in Nature!
The sun is shining, trees are budding, flowers blooming,
birds singing, and baby animals are playing in the fields.
Offerings are made at this time of year to the goddess of Spring.
The Scandinavians call her Frigga.
The Saxons, Eastre or Ostara.
From the Saxon name for this goddess
comes the English name, Easter.
Etymology: Old English Ēostre continues into modern English as Easter and derives from Proto-Germanic Austrō, itself a descendant of the Proto-Indo-European root *h₂ews-, meaning 'to shine' (modern English east also derives from this root) See this link for more information on this word: Etymology
From the beginning of recorded history,
humans have been keenly aware of and profoundly
affected by the rhythm of Nature.
The rotation of day and night,
the waxing and waning of the moon,
the ebb and flow of the tides,
and the miracle of the reawakening of nature in Spring
have brought intrigue and wonder to our lives.
This ancient pattern reassures us
of the unreality of death and the reality of resurrection,
satisfying an enduring need of the human spirit.
The Sacrificial King Theme
The people of Egypt and Western Asia personified the yearly decay and revival of life (especially of vegetable life) as a god who annually died and rose from the dead. In name and detail the rites varied from place to place. In substance, they were the same. Some names you may recognize include Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis.
From Babylon, Tammuz appears to have been one of the oldest of these dying, resurrected gods. His name means “true son of the deep water,” and there survive numerous hymns written in his honor. Tammuz was the lover of Ishtar, the great Mother Goddess. Tammuz died, and his mistress journeyed in quest of him “to the land from which there is no returning, to the house of darkness, where dust lies on door and bolt.” During her absence, all life on earth was threatened with extinction. The great god Ea was dispatched to rescue the goddess, and Eresh-Kigal, stern queen of the underworld, reluctantly allowed Ishtar to be sprinkled with the Water of Life, and to return with Tammuz to the upperworld, that it may be revived.
Tammuz / Dumuzi
Adonis was worshipped by the Semitie people of Babylon and Syria, and also by the Greeks. His name simply means “lord,” a title of honor. As an infant, Adonis was hidden by the goddess in a chest, which was given to Persephone, queen of the underworld, to care for. When Persephone opened the chest and beheld the beauty of the child, she refused to return him to Aphrodite. The dispute was settled by Zeus, who decreed that Adonis should sojourn with Persephone in the underworld for one part of the year, and with Aphrodite in the upperworld for another part. Adonis was eventually killed by a boar, and was bitterly mourned by Aphrodite. The death of Adonis was mourned in a Phoenician festival at the Spring Equinox. The date of the festival was determined by the discoloration of the river Adonis, which ran red with clay washed down from the mountains by spring rains. The crimson stain was believed to be the blood of Adonis.
The death and resurrection of Attis , considered to be a tree spirit, was also mourned and celebrated in spring rites held in Western Asia. Attis was beloved by Cybele, the Mother Goddess of Phyrgia. His birth is said to have been miraculous. His mother, Nana, was a virgin who conceived by putting a ripe pomegranate in her bosom. There are two stories related to the death of Attis. In one, he was killed by a boar, as was Adonis. In the other version, he castrated himself and bled to death under a pine tree. The story of the self-mutilation of Attis may have been an attempt to account for the self-mutilation of his priests, who regularly castrated themselves upon entering the service of the goddess. The story of his death by the boar may have been an attempt to explain why his followers abstained from eating pork.
The Spring festival of Cybele and Attis was celebrated at Rome. On the 22nd day of March, a pine tree was cut and brought to the sanctuary of Cybele. It was swathed like a corpse and decked with wreaths of violets. An effigy of a man was tied to the middle of the tree.
On the third day of the festival, the priest drew blood from his arms and presented it as an offering, as did many of the clergy. The image was laid in a sepulcher. When evening came, the tomb was opened and the people rejoiced as they were told that the god had risen from the dead. On the fourth day, his resurrection was celebrated with a carnival. People partied the streets, wearing disguises. On the fifth day, people rested, and on the sixth day, a procession closed the festivities.
Other dying and reviving gods such as Osiris, Hyacinth, Excursus, and Dionysus, have fascinating and familiar stories. I would suggest anyone interested in comparing these gods begin by reading Frazer’s The New Golden Bough, abridged edition as well as The Laughing Jesus by Freke.
Other Spring Rites
Offerings are made to gods and goddesses of nature in Spring. Until recently, In the Isles of Scotland, people made an offering of mead, ale or gruel to the sea. They depended upon the seaweed as manure for their crops. The offerings were made in the belief that by sending the fruit of the land to the sea, the fruit of the sea - seaweed - would come in plenty to the land. This rite was performed on a Thursday, and was called Diardaoin a Brochain (Gruel Thursday). Alexander Carmichael, poet, records the poem recited in the Hebrides:
‘As the day merged from Wednesday to Thursday, a man walked to the waist into the sea and poured out whatever offering had been prepared, chanting:
God of the Sea,
Put weed in the drawing wave
To enrich the ground
To shower on us food!
‘Those behind the offerer took up the chant and wafted it along the sea-shore, on the midnight air, the darkness of night and the rolling of the waves making the scene weird and impressive. …"
In Lewis, the custom was continued till the nineteenth century.’
“There was a winter,” it is recorded, “during which little seaweed came ashore, and full time for spring work had come without relief. A large dish of porridge, made with butter and other good ingredients, was poured into the sea on every headland where wrack used to come. Next day the harbours were full.”
Eggs have historically been associated with the Spring Equinox. The custom of coloring eggs was known to the early Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Gauls. The symbol of the egg is quite powerful in the human psyche. It contains the idea of rebirth, re-creation, and immortality. The egg appears to lie dormant for a time, after which life hatches from it’s shell. The earth, after the long dead months of winter, also bursts into new life in the Spring. This analogy was easily attached to the miracle of the resurrection preached by the church.
In Britain, Mummers used to appear at the Equinox
with a Pace-Egg play.
They would go from house to house with blackened faces,
giving a short performance at each,
receiving a gift of decorated eggs or money in return.
Traditionally, the eggs collected by the PaceEggers
are wrapped in various roots, leaves, flowers, or bark
which are firmly tied on before the eggs are hard-boiled.
The dyes released by boiling imprints colorful patterns on the shells. They were also colored, many times red,
the color of blood, of life.
Games were played with these pace-eggs. The simplest was to throw an egg up and catch it, a forfeit being paid for every egg that fell to the ground. In another game, called egg shackling, two players would each hold an egg and take turns striking their opponent’s egg. The egg which broke first was kept by the winner. Sometimes, unboiled, marked eggs were shaken in a sieve, the last egg remaining uncracked belonging to the winner. Pancakes were made with the cracked eggs.
Eggs were often rolled down hills, in imitation of the movement of the sun. This was called trundling. St. John Ervine wrote in 1919, “…My uncle, who was a learned man, said that this custom of trundling eggs was a survival of an old Druidical rite…” The eggs were rolled until they cracked, and then they were eaten. This tradition is maintained in Lancashire, Scarborough, and Humberside.
The tradition also survives in the USA
as part of the Easter festivities on the White House lawn!
The custom of baking cakes in honor of the gods and goddesses was widespread among the pagan people. The Aztecs did it. The Egyptians made a cake marked with a cross, honoring the Moon. In Greece and Rome, similarly marked bread was used in the worship of Diana.
In Portugal and Spain, Easter sweetbread is still baked in round golden loaves with a whole boiled egg in the center, representing the sun (or the “son” if you are Christian). Cheeses were also ceremonially rolled down the slopes, and still are at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire.
|Hot Cross Buns|
Some customs such as Shrove Thursday, are older than Christianity.
In my Portuguese family,
my great grandmother always made malasadas on that day.
Shaped like little balls of light, and rolls in sparkling sugar,
they heralded Spring and the SUN for our family.
Here is a short article worth reading,
from Wikipedia, on Shrove Thursday:
Shrove Thursday Article
A springtime ceremony containing echoes of pre-Christian sun veneration was known in Shropshire as “Seeking the Golden Arrow. Large numbers of people would gather on the hilltop in the early morning to search for a mythical golden arrow. The arrow was perhaps the first haft of light seen from the rising sun. From A-Z of Curious Shropshire by John Shipley:
Fires were also important in pagan spring rites. In Rome, the sacred fire in the temple of Vesta was rekindled every year on the first of March, which used to be the beginning of the Roman year.
In China, at the beginning of April, people were commanded to put out every fire. For three days all household fires remained out as a preparation for the renewal of the fire which took place on the fifth or sixth day of April.
Corn-showing was another custom which died out at the end of the last century. People would bury a small piece of cake, pour a little cider on it, and wish the master a good crop. Sometimes, they would join hands and walk across the field saying, “A bit for God, a bit for man, and a bit for the fowls of the air,” as they buried a piece of cake, ate a little, and threw some into the air. This custom took place at Herferdshire on Easter Sunday.
Rituals incorporating imitation and energy production were often performed in the spring. One of these is skipping or skipping rope, and is said to be an ancient magical game associated with the sowing and upspringing of the seed in the Springtime. This is still practiced at Scarborough in North Yorkshire where men, women, and children gather by the shore in the afternoon to skip rope together. Many other skipping customs described by Christina Hole in her British Folk Customs, have now died out.
What is the further meaning of some of the symbols
we see at Easter or Earrach?
Bunnies are prolific breeders and represent fertility.
Eggs. The Sun God (yolk) is enfolded in the arms of the White Goddess (egg white), and is released from her snowy, cold plane when the eggs are broken open.
Lambs - The "Lamb of God" represents the Old God's son/sun and predates Christianity. Lambs are also sacred to Brigit, a sun-goddess.
Colored eggs represent all the bright colors of spring flowers.
Golden Pancakes represent the sun.
Baby Chicks again represent fertility
and their yellow color represents the newborn sun.
As you can see, many of the customs
which continue through the Christian holiday called Easter
have pagan roots. T
his makes them all the more fun to celebrate!
If you are a pagan soul,
rather than separate ourselves from the Easter festivities,
here are some suggestions for an authentic pagan Earrach or Ostara. Awaken early and take a thermos of coffee or tea to a nearby hill.
Sit quietly facing East, and watch the sun come up.
If you feel like it, sing a hymn of praise to the God and the Goddess, thanking them for the returning light.
Let the kids roll a few colored eggs down the hill,
then go home and eat a big pancake breakfast.
If you are up for it, attend a church of your choice.
Some churches have a sunrise service held outdoors.
Go ahead and attend! Lightning won't strike you! :)
It doesn’t matter if it’s Christian.
In your open pagan mind,
substitute all references to the “Son” with the “Sun.”
Try to see the story of all of the dying, resurrected gods
in the Christ story.
Skip home, like you did when you were a child.
Or buy a jumprope, and skip rope with your friends and family,
showing the plants and flowers how high you’d like them to grow.
Have an Easter Bonnet contest!
Near noon, when the sun is high,
make an offering to the earth or the sea,
in thanks for the bounty you would like to receive this year.
In the evening,
light a white or yellow candle and contemplate the resurrection story.
It is a story which is at our very roots.
It is certainly older than Christ.
And the story holds deep meaning for each pagan soul.
May you have a blessed
and fruitful Earrach!
 F. Marion McNeill, The Silver Bough
 Janet & Colin Bord, Earth Rites
 Sir James Frazier, the Golden Bough