Sunday, March 18, 2012


     This year winter seems to be lasting forever. Probably because I'm getting older and am therefore less tolerant of the cold, the dreariness, and life in general. But the Vernal Equinox is upon us, can true spring be far behind?

     Now from the cold darkness of earth and stone a gentle warmth is brewing and from the roots of trees, sap begins to rise; the breeze begins to warm and soothe us; Honor the birds who fill the skies: the robins fat and happy, the meadowlarks soon to follow, blessing us with their cheerful songs.

And watch for those bunnies cavorting about. 

     The expression "Mad as a March Hare" may be foreign to many, except for those who spent a lot of time hobnobbing during the 1500s when the saying first came into fashion. Back then, "mad" meant crazy or wild, and this could certainly be used to describe the behavior that was commonly exhibited by the normally shy and quiet hare during the spring mating season (which in Europe primarily meant the month of March). Their odd conduct included boxing with potential paramours but contrary to early belief, it was the female throwing the one-two punch

      Erasmus used the words mad as a marsh hare because he felt the hares living in the marshes were wilder due to their lack of hedges and cover. But Chaucer used the expression mad as a hare before him and Lewis Carroll gave the usage new life with the creation of his character the March Hare in Alice and wonderland.  

     Mad as a March Hare: from Patti Wigington 
     Spring equinox is a time for fertility and sowing seeds and so nature's fertility goes a little crazy. In medieval societies in Europe, the March hare was viewed as a major fertility symbol -- this is a species of rabbit that is nocturnal most of the year, but in March when mating season begins there are bunnies everywhere all day long. Apparently the males tend to get frustrated when rebuffed by their mates and like most men, they bounce around erratically when discouraged.

     It should be noted that the wish for fertility can encompass fertility of mind, heart, soul, creativity, and the land, not just the obvious.

     The Equinox, known to the Pagans as Ostera, is a day of balance, the midpoint between Imbolc (Candlemas) and Beltane (the feast of the green man). Twelve hours of darkness and twelve hours of light. It is the time when light overtakes darkness and even though the days have been growing longer since the Winter Solstice, they are now greater than the night. On the equinox the sun rises due east and sets due west.

      It is a time when we should consciously make an effort to balance our life and offset any sadness with joy, anger with forgiveness. Like being on a tightrope, sometimes balance is not easily achieved either physically or mentally, but use this day to try to align yourself for the days ahead which will be filled with activity. Ask for energy even as you are grateful for the energy returning to the earth.  
     Easter also falls in the spring. The word Easter comes to us from the Norsemen's Eostur, Eastar, Ostara, and Ostar, and the pagan goddess Eostre, all of which involve the season of the growing sun and new birth.

      The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus all believed the world began with an enormous egg, thus the egg as a symbol of new life has been around for eons. The particulars may vary, but most cultures around the world use the egg as a symbol of new life and rebirth.

         A notation in the household accounts of Edward I of England showed an expenditure of eighteen pence for 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts. The first book to mention Easter eggs by name was written five hundred years ago. Yet, a North African tribe that had become Christian much earlier in time had a custom of coloring eggs at Easter.

 Long hard winters often meant little food, and a fresh egg for Easter was quite a prize. Later, Christians abstained from eating meat during the Lenten season prior to Easter. Easter was the first chance to enjoy eggs and meat after the long abstinence.

       Some European children go from house to house begging for Easter eggs, much like Halloween trick-or-treaters. Called pace-egging, it comes from the old word for Easter, Pasch. Many old cultures also attributed the egg with great healing powers. It is interesting to note that eggs play almost no part in the Easter celebrations of Mexico, South America, and Native American Indian cultures. Some believe the egg-rolling contests are a symbolic re-enactment of the rolling away of the stone from Christ's tomb.

The decoration of small leaf-barren branches as Easter egg trees has become a popular custom in the United States since the 1990s.

      This is the time of the year when you can put into action all those plans you made during the dark time ... the gestation period is over and everything is bursting with new life. Ostara is a very joyful Sabbath, lots of merry making and flirting, as it should be, the sexual tension between the God and the Goddess has begun, and the dance of life has begun yet again.

      Regardless of religious perspective it seems to be a time of rebirth and rejoicing, so get out there and honor the Creator however you may conceive of such an entity, plant some seeds in the earth and in your mind and pray for growth and the rebirth of goodness and peace.

               Ostara or Eostre from Yvonne at Earth Witchery
                The Maiden aspect of the Three-fold Goddess.

     To the ancient Saxons, Ostara was an important Goddess of spring, but we know little else about her. Some have suggested that Ostara is merely an alternate name for Frigg or Freya, but neither of these Goddesses seem to have quite the same fertility function as Ostara. Frigg, goddess of the home, wouldn't seem to be associated with such an earthy festival and Freya's form of fertility is more based on eroticism than reproduction.

     However, Ostara is associated, almost interchangeably, with many different goddesses. She is essentially similar to Freya, for she is the goddess of the fertile spring, the resurrection of life after winter. She was equated with the goddess Idunna, who bore the Apples of Eternal Youth to the Aesir, and many believe that Ostara and Idunna are the same, or represent the same principle. She is almost certainly the same as the Greek Goddess Eos, Goddess of the Dawn.

      Again, following the threefold theme -- Eos (is Dawn), Hemera (is Day) and Nyx ( is Night.) As Ostara is Goddess of the Dawn, we can understand why sunrise services have always been an important aspect of the spring resurrection/rebirth observances of other cultures.

     Pagan Anglo-Saxons made offerings of colored eggs to her at the Vernal Equinox. They placed them at graves, probably as a charm of rebirth. (Egyptians and Greeks were also known to place eggs at gravesites). The Goddess of Fertility was also the Goddess of Grain, so offerings of bread and cakes were made to her. Rabbits are sacred to Ostara, especially white rabbits and she is said to be able to take the form of a rabbit.

     One myth says Ostara found a bird dying from the cold. She changed it to a rabbit so it could keep warm. Maybe this is why the Easter Bunny brings eggs to children on Easter.

Here is another legends regarding the Goddess Eostre/Ostara, Easter bunnies, and Easter eggs.

            (The Legend of Eostre) From Lady Day

      The Goddess Eostre had a special fondness for children.  They followed her wherever she went as she loved to sing and entertain them with magic. One day, while sitting in a garden with her young entourage, a lovely songbird fluttered down to sit on her hand.  She whispered a few  words, and the bird was transformed into her favorite animal, the rabbit. 
      This delighted the children, until they noticed that the rabbit was trembling with fear and anguish. That's when everyone realized how unhappy the rabbit was at this transformation as it could no longer sing nor soar into the sky. Instead, it had been changed into a mute, defenseless, unhappy creature, unable to defend itself against predators, be they animal or human. 

      The children begged Eostre to reverse the spell, but having broken the "as ye harm none, do as ye will" rule, she found her power diminished to a point where she was no longer able to do so.  The former bird must remain a rabbit for the most part of the year except at the onset of spring, when Eostre's power is at its height. Then the rabbit can return to its bird-form for a short while and lay its eggs. In celebration of its brief freedom and to reward the children who asked the Goddess to undo the spell, Eostre's rabbit carries its eggs to children throughout the world.

        To remind the world of her folly, Eostre herself etched the outline of a rabbit into the full moon, where you can see it facing left with its ears going back to the right.  Thus it soars safely against the sky, far removed from the perils that threaten it down here on Earth.

We welcome you Ostara,
goddesses of spring,
in the trees,
in the soil,
in the flowers,
in the rains,
and we are grateful
for your presence.

                                Patti Wigington