Ostara (sometimes spelled Eostara or Eostre) is named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring. Her sacred symbols are eggs and hares. Not surprisingly, She’s a Maiden Goddess rather than a Mother or a Crone. In some Pagan myths, the idea is that the Goddess has been taken, or takes Herself and Her buds and flowers and fruits, into the Earth, to the Underworld for the Winter, and is rescued or returns of her own accord in the Spring, which explains why everything sprouts and buds again.
Wiccans tend to acknowledge the role of the Sun (God) in all of this: as the days get warmer from Yule, the Earth thaws, and there’s enough light and warmth and water for things to grow again. Wicca respects the myths that come from other cultures, but we know that ancient Paganisms were often state religions, with a strong and elite priesthood, and we also know that our religion grew from Anglo-Celtic culture, and so we look first to Anglo-Celtic myths and pantheons. We also tend to see various goddesses as aspects of the Great Goddess, so we’re more likely to speak of the Goddess resuming Her Maiden aspect than of, to borrow a Greek example, Demeter recovering her daughter Persephone from Hades’ arms
Many of us are reasonably familiar with an assortment of Celtic stories; fewer of us are familiar with the Teutonic side of our Wiccan heritage. Indeed, many of us think that the Asatru, followers of “the Northern way” are sole proprietors of Norse and Teutonic legends. But in England, in the Danelaw (the northern and eastern parts of the country that was overwhelmed by invading Vikings when they raided in the Middle Ages), Northern Paganism had a strong influence. Odin became Wotan, and there were some other changes, but our English forebears were familiar with Teutonic stories, and so should we be. Ostara being a time of balance, it’s appropriate to balance our Celtic bent with some of the richness of our “Anglo” heritage now.
Sadly, not much is known about Ostara, save that She was a goddess of Spring. The runes Berkana and Dagaz are associated with her Sabbat (called a Blot in Asatru; “blot” rhymes with “boat” and means “blessing”).
Berkana (in Anglo-Saxon, Beorc, pronounced “birch,” like the tree similar to the poplar the Anglo-Saxons associated with this rune) is a rune of the Earth, associated with several Norse Goddesses and Their qualities. Dagaz (in Anglo Saxon, Daeg) means “day,” in the sense of the 24-hour period, not just the daylight hours. It’s easier to understand the ways in which these runes might relate to Ostara as a Goddess of Spring if we take a look at them. Berkana, fairly obviously, can look like a woman’s breasts seen from the top, or if she’s in profile, her breasts and pregnant belly. According to Freya Aswynn (Leaves of Yggdrasil), Berkana symbolizes “the emergence of an agricultural society, based on settled villages, which replaced the hunting and gathering society.” Kveldulf Gundarsson, an Asatru law speaker and rune teacher, is the author of several articles on the runes and other Teutonic subjects. In Teutonic Magic he notes that the Earth “receives the sacrifice/seed and holds it within herself, guarding and nourishing it until the time has come for it to return to the worlds outside again.” He calls Berkana a rune of “bringing-into-being,” which relates it well to Spring.
Berkana and Dagaz (Beorc and Daeg in Anglo-Saxon) are two runes that are significant at Ostara. [Shown at right]
Dagaz represents a staff, and a staff helps us keep our balance. Clearly, this Rune is balanced symmetrically, too: it’s neither invertible nor reversible—it looks the same whether you flip it horizontally or vertically. Either way (and whether the outer lines are extended or not) one side can represent dark, and one side light, the 24-hour day, and the Winter and Summer halves of the year. It can also represent dawn, a symbolism that also fits its association with Ostara.
We’re focusing on the Anglo-Saxon elements and the heritage Wicca shares with Asatru in our discussion of Ostara not to leave the Druids out, but because, as liturgist Kirk Thomas says, “Spring Equinox—you call it Ostara—has no historical basis in Celtic mythology.” The Sonoran Sunrise Grove here in Tucson does hold an open Ostara ritual, for the ADF works to restore a custom of open Pagan worship to our modern lives. But how they celebrate Ostara varies from year to year, because there is no “traditional” Druidic Ostara rite.
So, how do the Asatru celebrate? It’s important to understand that, although there are a couple of different branches of Asatru, there are certainly general guidelines for celebrating each holy day. Though the Wheel of the Year is distinctly Wiccan, and the Asatru observe well more than eight holy days through the year, several of them historical anniversaries, many Asatruar do celebrate the Sabbats that Wiccans recognize.
For the Asatru, Ostara usually falls in the month following the actual Equinox—Gundarsson thinks that traditionally, it may have fallen on the full Moon of that month. Freya Aswynn tells us (in Leaves of Yggdrasil) that in Asatru’s homelands, Norway and Iceland, there were three main festivals in the year: “Thorriblot at Yuletide, Siggiblot in Spring, before they went ‘a-viking,’ and a harvest festival....” But in Germanic and English cultures, she says, the festivals corresponded with the celebration of Solstices and Equinoxes.
An aside to answer a question that may go unasked: In Old Norse, “vyk” means “stream” or “river,” and “viking” is actually a verb, meaning to go up a stream or river. Literally translated, “vikings” would be the journeys up the inlets and fjords that landscape the North. In English, though, the word refers to the people who took the journeys—the sailors and soldiers who went out exploring, raiding, and claiming new land for their people
We know that, as in most Pagan religions, Asatru Priests led processions through the fields, to bless the newly sown crops. Gundarsson says that “the giving of colored eggs was also a part of this ritual, and still is.” Aswynn recognizes Ostara as a “festival of birth,” focusing on physical fertility, leaving, as Wiccans do, the more metaphysical aspects of union and creativity for Beltane.
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Unique among books about the Wiccan Sabbats, Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara takes a different approach to explaining the holidays by taking an in-depth look at half of the Wheel of the Year. Rather than dissecting each holiday, Ashleen's goal is to take a broader look at them, explaining how and why we celebrate each, along with how the celebration of one leads to the next. The first of two new titles from Ashleen offers a vision of the holidays we celebrate from October to March. This book covers each holiday by first giving us its history and original customs, then explaining its place in modern life. Stories are shared for each Sabbat to reconnect us with our lore and bring new meaning to current practice. Ashleen includes ideas for rituals that are ideal for practicing solitaries, covens, or Wiccan families, with special sections on what children of various ages are ready to learn about these holidays.