Monday, 4 March 2013

Oestara, the spring equinox, history and celebrations

Oestara or the spring equinox is one of the four great Pagan solar festivals of the year. It occurs on March 21–23. Day and night at the equinox are equal and balanced, but about to tip over on the side of light.  We see signs of spring everywhere as we welcome the coming of the light.  The festival is also spelt Eostre or Oestare.
Oestara is a time of fertility and new life and one of great celebrations. Oestara was seen as a wonderful time to celebrate this fertility of our mother earth, Gaia.  Our ancestors seemed much more in touch with the earth energies that meander unseen beneath the ground that we walk on than we ourselves are today. From Spring Equinox to St George’s Day many dragon rituals and processions took place celebrating the dragon energy beneath our earth. The fertile earth energy is activated and runs strongly at this time of year so spring was seen as a good time to celebrate this.

We can take time to celebrate this wonderful heralding of the spring by going somewhere where the earth’s energy runs strong, on a ley line or dragon path.  It is easy to find out where these are by researching on the internet. There are many that criss cross the globe so hopefully you will find one near you.

At the Pagan feast of Oestara, the seed that stirred at Imbolc sprouts and pokes its head above ground. Now you really start to feel spring in the air.  The crocuses and daffodils are out and  the cherries blossom. Nature seems to be blooming at this wonderful time, many animals such as sheep and cows give birth to their offspring at this time of year.

The name for the Pagan festival Oestara comes from that of the Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre. This is the root of the words oestrus, and oestrogen . Eostre’s chief symbols were the rabbit for fertility and because those who worshipped her often saw the image of a rabbit in the full moon; and the egg, again a symbol of fertility and of new life. One tale around this goddess is that the rabbit so loved his Goddess Eostre that he laid sacred eggs in her honor, then brightly coloured them and gave them to her as gifts. Eostre was so delighted that she wanted this joy to be shared by all, so the tradition continued. There is a second legend that tells how Eostre found a wounded bird in the snow. To help the little bird survive the winter, she transformed it into a rabbit, however the transformation was incomplete and the rabbit retained the ability to lay eggs. In thanks for it’s life being saved, the rabbit took the eggs and decorated them and left them as gifts for Eostre. Again, she was delighted and wanted all to share her joy. Both of these are beautiful stories to illustrate the wonder of this time of year.

Oestara  has been celebrated all around the world in many different religions and cultures.  On this sacred day in the past, people lit new fires at sunrise, rejoiced, rang bells and decorated hard boiled eggs. The celebratory day was probably brought to prominence in the Celtic world by the Saxons. Eostare’s symbolism is similar to Aphrodite's, whose associations include Near-Eastern Astarte and Indian Mother Kali and whose consort is the lusty Moon-Hare. On the day before the equinox, or Oestara,  the Greeks and Romans honored wisdom goddess Athena and her counterpart Minerva. Rhea, mother of Greek Sky-Father Zeus and an aspect of the Great Mother, has her feast day March 15.

Other gods and goddesses concerned with Spring Equinox or Oestara include the Greek wine-god Dionysos and his Roman counterpart Bacchus. The Greeks held the feast of Dionysia at the Spring Equinox, when the new wine made the previous harvest was first drunk. The Norse people celebrated the feast of the goddess Iduna, bearer of the magick apples, symbols of the light half of the year.

Oestara and the beginning of spring also represents the re-union of Persephone and Demeter. Persephone is allowed to return to her mother Demeter in the spring and hence the earth is fertile and full of growth for those six months until Persephone has to return to Hades and the underwold.

To the Anglo-Saxon’s the Earth-Mother Hertha is usually  seen as an older maiden or young mother figure, clothed all in white. For countries whose spring season began later, she was sometimes celebrated on the first full or new moon after the spring equinox.

In the Pagan Wheel of the Year, this is the time when the great Mother Goddess welcomes the young Sun God unto her and conceives a child of this divine union. The child will be born nine months later, at Yule, the Winter Solstice.

 For Christians, the celebration is the Easter death and rebirth of Christ. Easter is always the first Sunday, after the first Full Moon, after the Vernal or Spring Equinox. Ancient pagans also worshipped Cybele and held a ritual for Attis, her consort of virgin birth believed to die and be reborn at this time during the spring. These rites were brought to Rome about 204 BCE, predating Christian worship by about 250 years.

Celebrations around the world often concentrated on the coming of the sun and were thus represented by fire.  Bonfires were a frequent marker of the spring equinox. Jumping the fire sometimes occurred although more often this was seen during Beltane. An old German custom was to light a sun-wheel. A wooden wheel was rolled to the top of a high hill, lit on fire and then rolled down into the village and to the fields. This symbolized bringing the warmth and energy of the Sun to the fields for first spring plowing and planting.

As previously mentioned, one of the common symbols of Oestara is the egg, symbolising the re-birth of nature and the fertility of the earthIt is also said that the egg yolk represents the sun, and the white represents the White Goddess.  Eggs and the equinoxes are linked via the folk legend that says that since the hours of light and dark are equal, it is possible to balance an egg on end during these magickal times. Try it and see if you can get it to balance! A popular Oestara activity is decorating and coloring or dying hard-boiled eggs, or other eggs such as those made of wooden or papier-mâché. You can then use gold and silver paint pens, or some lovely spring greens and yellows, to draw pagan designs and magickal symbols all over your eggs. You could use the symbol of the Triple Goddess, pentagrams and other God and Goddess symbols. You could also try decorating the eggs using wax and natural dyes. Eggs are used as a symbol  for this time of year all around the world. In the Ukraine,  Ukrainian pysanky are blown eggs with patterns drawn in wax and dyed, these are considered to be pagan amulets for fertility, prosperity and protection

Kate West has more information on Oestara in her book:

Symbolic associations other than the rabbit and the egg for Oestara include the element air, the direction east, the morning star and the time of dawn. At Oestara this is an excellent time to begin anything new or to completely revitalize something. Oestara is also an excellent month for prosperity rituals or rituals that have anything to do with growth. You could plant some plants or seeds in your garden, or embark upon a brand new project. Kate West suggests that a good activity would be to start a Herb Garden which would provide the basis of further ritual for the months to come. Taking time to meditate with trees can be a very special feeling to share with mother nature, especially Alder, Ash or Birch if you know of any that grow nearby. Mediating with flowers is another beautiful exercise to perform. You could use crocuses, daffodils and early tulips, or any flowers that are growing near you or in your garden. Sitting in front of the flowers, you may consider what is growing in your life, envisage it growing further and blooming like the beauty of the blooming flower.
I will be publishing another post shortly detailing other ways you can celebrate Oestara. It is a wonderful time of growth so why not think of your own unique way for welcoming the return of the light.


  1. ...well presented and enlightening post! ~ thankyoU! ~ for your careful research and thoughtful studies! ~ blessed be! ~ kindred sister of the north!...(o:

  2. thank-you my sister of the south! strange to think that you are in autumn now just as the earth is beginning to wake up here. blessings to you, Alison xx

  3. i see spring everywhere... and can not wait for it to actually begin... The newness of life springing up everywhere is always a joy to see after the brownness of winter... blessings

    1. absolutely, I am with you there. It has been so warm today, really feels like spring is in the air, it's a beautiful time of year, blessings to you, Alison xx