Ostara: Vernal Equinox
An Excerpt from my free PDF book, "A Guide to the Wheel of the Year."
Spring is showing herself in earnest now. Whether you’re surrounded by fragrant blossoms, or the first green shoots are barely peeking from beneath melting snow, change is in the air.
The weather is variable. If you close your eyes and tap into the prevailing winds, it might feel like you’re being taken for a ride in a spinning teacup. The whirl of it all is intoxicating. It’s hard to see clearly where you’re going, as soon as one path gets defined, it’s blown aside in favor of another. You might find that your well-laid plans from Imbolc are being re-made and revised. Though there are surprises at every turn, there’s nothing to do but surrender to the momentum. Trust the direction you’re being pulled in, trust that the tea leaves will settle where they will.
You may have guessed that this ancient holiday is the precursor to modern-day Easter. Perhaps you've asked yourself before, What do bunnies and eggs have to do with the resurrection of Christ? Nothing, is the answer. They have everything to do with the coming of spring, fertility, fecundity, births and new beginnings. It made sense for Christians to repurpose this festival of rebirth, to celebrate Jesus’s rise from the dead.
What a relief this time of year must have been to our ancestors, who were stepping into warmer days, and the promise that things were getting easier. Baby animals are being born, toddling cutely through the landscape. The first green leaves are offering themselves as food and sources of much-needed vitamins and minerals. The stagnancy of winter is lifting, the mood is lightening, the Sun is infusing everything with energy.
Let’s take a moment to consider the myth of Persephone, a story that crosses cultures, and is perhaps older than the patriarchy that flavors its telling today (the nastiest parts of which I’ve omitted in my short summary here).
Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, is lusted after and coveted by Hades, King of the Underworld. Through nefarious means, Hades manages to snatch Persephone against her will and drag her down to his home to be his bride. Once there, Persephone is revered by Hades, the Dead, and all the inhabitants of the Underworld. Crowned their Queen, she has supreme power and is both backed up by and deferred to by her husband. As far as divine Greek marriages go, theirs actually seems to be among the healthier examples.
Meanwhile on Earth, Persephone’s mother Demeter isn’t having any of this. She longs for her daughter, fights for her return. Demeter withdraws her nurturing powers from the land, disguising herself as an old woman and living anonymously as the servant of a mortal family. Because of Demeter’s neglect, the crops do not grow, the land is cold and dark.
Eventually a deal is struck, in which Persephone resides on Earth with Demeter for half the year, and returns to rule the Underworld for the other half. While she is gone, Demeter withholds her powers of fertility and abundance, and when she returns, green growth and productivity are restored.
Ostara is a time to celebrate the return of the Goddess of Spring, to give thanks for the power that animates all things and causes them to grow.
Rituals For Celebrating
Wild weeds tend to be among the first green things to appear after winter, and many of them are edible. They’re not just edible, they’re far richer in vitamins and minerals than the average vegetable. Edible weeds include but are not limited to: Dandelion Taraxacum officinale (all plant parts), Mallow Malva neglecta (all plant parts), Wild Lettuce Lactuca serriola (leaves), Red Clover Trifolium pratense (flowers) , Plantain Plantago spp. (leaf), Lamb’s Quarters Amaranthus retroflexus (leaf), Purslane Portulaca oleracea (above-ground parts) and many others. Of course, consult someone experienced and be absolutely sure of your plant identification before consuming anything.
Now is a beautiful time to put some seeds in some soil. Whether it’s for a pot in your window or a row for your garden, this is a lovely way to honor the Goddess of Spring.
Take a Sun Bath
I don’t know about you but by this time I’m feeling pretty starved for sunlight, eager to rip off my clothes at the slightest suggestion. Even if the weather’s still a little cold for that, exposing as much skin as is practical, intentionally turning your face to the Sun, and basking here a moment is incredibly medicinal.
Plan to watch a sunrise, a sunset, or both on this Equinox. An Equinox is when the days and nights are more or less 12 hours long all over the world. Take a moment to imagine the Earth, tilted 23 degrees from vertical, spinning while circling the Sun. For half the year the Southern Hemisphere is closer to the Sun, absorbing the majority of its light. For the other half, the Northern Hemisphere is in the spotlight. Equinoxes are the moments that the change from one to the other takes place. Briefly, just for an instant, the balance is achieved between the two sides.
Walk a Labyrinth
A labyrinth is a maze-like structure with only one winding path from point A (the start) to point B (the center). Labyrinths have captivated humans since ancient times, and some dating back to the Neolithic period have been found in modern-day Ireland, Greece, India, and Turkey.
When one travels a labyrinth, it can be disorienting. The feeling of walking in circles or retracing steps is dominant. One goes back and forth so many times between opposites, it is said that one can enter a kind of between-world, a bending of space and time. The destination becomes less relevant. One might even need to let go of their goal entirely, and only when they do so will they find themselves “arrived,” wherever that might be. Labyrinths have long been associated with Vernal Equinox, as they are an exercise in balance and inbetween-ness.
They’re surprisingly common in contemporary times, there are multiple in my small town. Do some research and see if you can find one near you. If you can’t find a physical labyrinth to walk, learn to draw one.
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