If there is one thing that unites all living creatures, it’s the unrelenting cycles of light. If you weren’t paying attention, the Vernal Equinox occurred last night in the northern hemisphere at 11:30pm EST. The Spring Equinox is a day of “equal light”, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice (shortest day) and Summer Solstice (longest day). It’s an energetic pause at the balance of dark and light, and right on the tipping point of more light, it’s brimming with potential. The season may yet be tentative, the weather changeable, but there’s no doubt about the direction.
The festivals of spring – across many cultures and traditions – follow themes of fertility, rebirth and renewal. Symbols of new life, like eggs and blossoms, fill our tables. In Northern Europe, the imagery includes hares and rabbits. The sacredness of this animal may reach back into a prehistoric age, well before the European celebration of Easter as we know it today. Scholars connect the veneration of rabbits with the worship of the goddess Ēostre, or Ostara, a Germanic divinity who is the namesake of the festival of Easter. During Ēosturmōnaþ, pagan Anglo-Saxons held feasts in Eostre’s honor, but that tradition died out to be replaced by the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Worship of Ostara, the divinity of the radiant dawn, may have been so firmly rooted that Christian teachers tolerated it, and applied it to their own holy day.
Spring All Over
But European Anglo-Saxons aren’t the only ones celebrating. In Greek mythology, the goddess Persephone returns from the depths of the underworld to be with her mother Demeter during this time of year, and in doing to, she brings spring to the earth.
Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival which is celebrated all over India and now around the world. Known as the Festival of Colors, it is said to signify the victory of good over evil and the arrival of spring, and people playfully sprinkle colored powders, dry or mixed with water, on each other.
Purim this year begins on March 23rd, and is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar, commemorating a time when the Jewish people of Persia were saved from extermination by a beautiful young Jewish women named Esther who intervened with the King.
I was surprised to learn there is even a Jewish tradition of colored eggs around this time of year: Huevos Haminados are beautifully marbled rich maroon eggs that get their soft texture and rich color from a slow cooking in water and onion skins. They are traditionally served at the Passover Seders of Calcutta, Turkey, Greece, Morocco and Tunisia – the name reflects the eggs’ origin in Medieval Spain.
The Maiden Goddess
In the Wiccan tradition, Ostara is one of the eight Sabbats that make up the Wheel of the Year. Wicca recognizes a triple Goddess figure who is seen as going through the Maiden, Mother and Crone cycle each year. At this time of year, she is in her maiden form, reveling in the dawn and new beginnings.
Whatever today’s actual weather is actually doing, Ostara is a spiritually bright and vibrant day, a day to decorate with eggs and flowers, be they literal or figurative. I don’t yet have any flowers, but I’m burning incense of rose and jasmine, and my tiny Brooklyn apartment smells like a garden. I’m saving egg-coloring for Easter next week, but I’m making the coolest meal, which includes sourdough bread (fertile!) and Green Goddess dressing (had to!).
But fertility is not only physical, and cheerfulness is not a mandate. I’d rather think that this turn of the season encourages a fertile spirit and ignites creative possibility. So whatever your mood, free it! Compose a tune, paint a picture, write a joke, sing a song, invest in a relationship, play with a child, plant “seeds” with confidence that they’ll “grow.” If you’re in distress, or just not feeling it, remember that sometimes the movement is toward a light we can’t yet see. Sometimes, healing is happening. If you are feeling it, grow! Overflow! Ostara’s joy will meet you where you are.
If the best you can manage are small blessings, then hear this: It’s almost time for open-toe shoes! Oh, blessed be, witches, blessed be.