Ostara (March 21st ) *This day on the Witches calendar, is the Spring Equinox. The German goddess Oestra, goddess of Fertility is honored. When : March 20, 2012; March 20, 2013; March 20, 2014. The Spring (or Vernal) Equinox brings days and nights in equal proportions. It is simply the day when there is exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime.
But, did you know that this is only true on the Equator? For the rest of us, there is more or less depending upon where we live on the planet. The other thing to note is that the Spring Equinox is just a calendar date. From a standpoint of weather in your area, real spring arrives sooner or later depending upon where you live in the Northern Hemisphere.
The festival of Ostara originates from the Germanic countries. Early Western European people called the festival Eostre, the word “Easter” is derived from this term. Eostre was the Saxon version of the term for the Germanic goddess Ostara. Eostre’s feast day was the first full moon following the Spring Equinox, almost identical to the placing of Easter each year. Early Pagans celebrated the coming of the new planting season in the Germanic countries. Seed corn and barley would have been planted by hand, with special ears of corn saved to create the corn dolly or kern king, symbol of the sun god (straw man, or doll), who is sacrificed at the coming harvest.
Try this sometime with your children or a young niece, nephew or cousin: on the day of the Vernal or Autumnal Equinox, just a few moments before the exact moment of the equinox, go outside with a raw egg. Find a reasonably level place on the sidewalk or driveway. For a few moments just before and just after the equinox, you can balance the egg upright (wider end down) by simply setting it down on the ground. No kidding! It will stand up all by itself. Kids love this, and most adults are amazed and delighted, too. This little “trick” brings together two of the most potent aspects of this holiday: the balancing of the earth’s gravity midway between the extremes of light and dark at Winter and Summer Solstice; and the symbolism of the egg.
Eggs are clearly one of the most potent symbols of fertility, and spring is the season when animals begin to mate and flowers and trees pollinate and reproduce. In England and Northern Europe, eggs were often employed in folk magic when women wanted to be blessed with children.
There are some Witches who believe that fasting at the Equinox is very healthy and magical: it clears away all the toxins stored over winter, when we eat heavier foods to keep warm, and can create an altered state of consciousness for doing Equinox magic. By eliminating all the “poisons” from our diets for a few days (including sugar, caffeine, alcohol, red meats, dairy products, refined foods), and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, we not only can shed a few pounds and improve the appearance of our hair and skin, but also improve our health over the long term. The overall benefit to health from an occasional cleansing fast helps strengthen our immune system, making our bodies more resistant to illness, and help us feel more alert and energetic.
It is customary to leave food and drink out for the fairies on the nights of our festivals, and it is believed that if the fairies are not honored with gifts at these times, they will work mischief in our lives. Certain holidays call for particular “fairy favorites.” At Imbolc/Oimelc (February 2nd), for example, we leave gifts of dairy origin, like cheese, butter or fresh cream. At Lammas/Lughnasa (August 1st) we leave fresh grains or newly-baked bread. At Samhain, nuts and apples are traditional. And at Ostara, it is customary to leave something sweet (honey, or mead, or candy)
Since the Equinox is such a potent time magically, and often (as it does this year) falls in the period when Mercury is Retrograde, starting a new endeavor at this time can be problematic if we do not take care. One good way to avoid catastrophe is to engage in small, personally-oriented rites or activities: a new haircut, a new clothing style or make-up, a new exercise program, the grand old tradition of spring cleaning, a new course of study: all of these are relatively “safe” ways to begin anew without risking the weirdness and unpredictability of Mercury Retrograde.
This is a very powerful time to do magic, not only because of the balancing of the earth’s energies, but because of the way our own beings echo the earth’s changes. We are literally reborn as we emerge from our winter sleep, ready to partake of all the pleasures of the earth, and to meet the challenges we will face as the world changes around us daily. As we greet and celebrate with our pagans brothers and sisters of the Southern Hemisphere (for whom the Vernal Equinox more closely resembles the beginning of autumn, in physical terms!), we remember that Spring is not only a season; it is a state of mind.