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The spring equinox, also called the vernal equinox, happens around March 20 each year in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of spring and a shift out of the dark half of the year, promising sunshine and flowers to come. While the celebration of this day itself is likely ancient, Wiccans and pagans in the modern age named it Ostara.
Ostara is an Old High German word referencing Eostre, a goddess who was revered in ancient Germanic societies. Both names connect with the Greek dawn goddess Eos. The word also provides the root of our modern word “east,” from which the sun rises.
You might also notice the word Easter reflected in this goddess’s name. While the Christian Easter celebration officially recognizes Jesus’ resurrection, we tend to celebrate this holiday with symbols of colored eggs and chocolate bunnies. Eggs are a classical symbol of fertility associated with Eostre, as are hares, who tend to run freely around this time of year, busy making more hare babies. While Easter tends to fall closer to April, it is timed in accordance with the spring equinox: It always lands on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon after the equinox.
It’s likely that Ostara was celebrated on the vernal equinox in pagan societies before Christianity became dominant. These traditions tended to be preserved orally, so there is no written record of what these celebrations must have been like. But it was common for Christianity to absorb local pagan rituals and celebrations so that the people of that area could convert without having to leave all their traditions behind. So that’s likely why modern Christians celebrate Jesus’ death and rebirth with symbols of fertility and hope related to a goddess of the dawn.
Eostre herself is a bit of a mystery. There isn’t much written down about her, but the clues scholars have found indicate that she is a young and fertile woman, the maiden archetype, in a pure white dress, her essence held in the first drops of morning dew. Young women used to collect the morning dew and wash their faces with it, hoping to maintain their youth and beauty. Eostre comes with the abundance of eggs, a welcome food source that tends to be plentiful in the early spring season, and those frisky hares.
The spring equinox represents a welcome dawn, when the sun claims precedence. At this time of year, the amount of daylight and nighttime is roughly equal, which brings about a sense of balance and ease. This is a good time to plant seeds and pray for a good harvest. It’s also a wonderfully fertile time of year; fertility can be understood literally and also in terms of brightening your work and gaining energy to move forward in your goals.
The dark half of the year (fall and winter) are all about introversion, rest, reflection, and working within the spirit realm. The bright half of the year, which begins on Ostara, is an invitation to return to the physical world, including the physical body, literal or metaphorical fertility, and the pleasures of food, flowers, and friends.
Regardless of your religion, the spiritual meaning of Ostara is the return of the sun and the welcoming of a new dawn. Symbolically, it’s a new day—a chance to plant seeds, to build new things, to find out what’s been growing, and to break through the shell of those pink and blue eggs.
Try these Ostara ritual to welcome in springtime.
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