As winter slowly, seemingly unwillingly, begins to release its hold on our world, many of us turn our minds to preparations for the upcoming holy tide of Ostara or Eostre. It's a welcome celebration after the grim cold and snow (and oh, have we had more than our fair share of snow the past few months!) of winter, a time to rejoice in the blessings and renewal of spring. We don't know much about how our ancestors celebrated their holy days, but we do know that they honored this one. I suspect, given the harshness of the Northern winters, that spring equinox was a particularly welcome holiday. When we consciously honor this day, celebrate and hail our Gods, we are walking in the footsteps of our ancestors and that is a good and blessed thing.
We really don't have many references to Ostara/Eostre in the lore. The Anglo Saxon scholar Bede mentions it briefly in de Temporibus Ratione, and it's mentioned again in the Heimskringla. Here we learn that the people were very persistent in celebrating this Pagan holiday and that sacrifices were customarily made to welcome spring and summer. Actually, we should realize that this was a relatively important holiday anyway because so many of its symbols and customs were co-opted by Christianity. Religions, after all, don't evolve in a vacuum and they habitually cannibalize each other; rabbits and eggs have nothing to do with Jesus. Still, with its emphasis on rebirth and renewal, Eostre was a good time to place the celebration of Jesus' resurrection, as these things go.
Christians renamed this celebration 'Easter,' but the original name of this holiday comes from the name of a Goddess: Ostara or Eostre (the difference is a regional one, with Eostre being the Anglo-Saxon version of the Norse name). The month in which this holiday falls was even known as "Eostre-monath" or "Eostre-month." We know even less about this Goddess than we know about traditional customs of the holiday. For some, She is the embodiment of spring, for others, a Goddess of sunrise and the dawn. I have even known of some to ascribe to Her the aurora borealis (though I personally see this far more linked with the Goddess Gerda). I suppose in the end, it does not matter, so long as She is honored. This particular month and time of year is also associated with another little known Goddess Hreðe, and tangentially with Erda, the earth Mother.
This Ostara, in honor of this holiday, I am going to be writing about two of these very special Goddesses, both of Whom are rarely well-honored today. As we move forward in the renewal and restoration of our traditions, this is an opportunity to also restore and renew the cultus of little-known Deities. We've lost so much. Make this your Ostara offering: choose a Deity of Whom almost nothing is known and honor Them. Seek Them out. Meditate on Their mysteries. Set up an altar to Them. Pray for inspiration. This is the way we will restore Their worship. This is the only way that we will fill in those gaps of knowledge because our ancestors did not rely on the written word for the transmission of their lore and precious little has come down to us first hand.
How else should one prepare for Ostara? Well, my mother would have to clean one's house. There's a reason that we often refer to "spring cleaning." This is a time to make space, to remove clutter, to welcome in the free flow of energy, the emergence of the new after the inertia of winter. This is a time to pour out offerings into the land that it may be fruitful, to plant a garden, to greet the sun with joy. I know of one Heathen group that traditionally plants trees in March, usually on the actual Spring Equinox, as an offering to Ostara, and I think that is a lovely custom. In fact, it's an excellent time to make special offerings to the land vaettir, offerings of gratitude, respect, and acknowledgement.
In my neighborhood, many people create "egg trees." They hang plastic Easter eggs on any small trees in their yards. They do this for Easter, but it's a fitting custom for Ostara too and best of all, like having an Easter egg hunt on Ostara proper, it's something that can be enjoyed by children as well as adults. In fact, this is one of our holidays that is particularly enjoyable for kids. The egg and rabbit are traditional symbols of Ostara/Eostre because they are symbols of rebirth, renewal, and, most of all, fertility. I see nothing wrong with giving a bit of sweetness in the form of an Easter basket to Heathen and Pagan children. These symbols charm them and make the holiday fun and I think it's important that children find enjoyment in the celebration of our holy tides.
As Charming of the Plough honors the tools that work the land, Ostara honors the fecundity of the land itself. Here we taste the beginning of that vibrant sexual energy that reaches its apex at Walpurgis or Beltane. I suspect that ritual methods of drawing on and channeling this energy was one of the mysteries of Eostre that we have lost. This is a time to honor the hunger of flesh for flesh, the urge to procreate, the draw of one body to another. This is part of Her mysteries, and as the holiday of Ostara is about the reawakening of the land, so too it is about the reawakening of the body's hungers: a celebration of carefully channeled spring fever!