The High Days: Ostara

Ostara is the name bestowed by Aidan Kelly, as the Neo-Pagan concept of the eightfold ‘Wheel of the Year’ was taking shape, on the Vernal Equinox. It derives from the name Jacob Grimm postulated as a possible lost Germanic cognate to Ēostre, an Anglo-Saxon Goddess described by the Venerable Bede in the 8th century work The Reckoning of Time, whose name in all probability means ‘east’ and likely relates to the dawn. Bede alleged that pagans held festivals in honor of Ēostre during Ēosturmōnaþ, roughly the equivalent of the month of April. (The authenticity of his assertion is sometimes disputed, but it seems unlikely that he should have any motivation for inventing a goddess out of whole cloth, since it is far more typical in conversion tactics to pick a deity already commonly worshipped and depict it as diabolical or assert the superiority of one’s own deity than it is to simply talk about a deity that nobody’s heard of and assert some trivial folklore about them.)

The majority of modern Pagans in celebrating of Ostara commonly subsume the ‘dawn’ and ‘fertility’ implications of Bede-by-way-of-Grimm’s extremely brief gloss into the ‘Equinox’ dimension of the holiday, concentrating on the balance between light and dark and the rapid returning of warmer weather. It is treated as a time of rebirth and potential, and connections are frequently drawn between it and the more secular and naturalistic springtime associations of the Christian Easter (which of course draws its own name from the Anglo-Saxon label for that time of year), with many covens, Groves, and other groups even go so far as to dye their own eggs and incorporate them in various ways into their rituals. In this way, a Goddess about whom we know virtually nothing from antiquity has begun to amass a new body of inherited folklore from much more contemporary traditions.

Ritual Attendance:
2 April 2016, Raven’s Hollow Protogrove, ADF

Raven’s Hollow’s Ostara was the ritual that did—not—want—to—happen. From an initial lack of inspiration and difficulties in planning the rite, to multiple delays and reschedulings, to the fact that more than half of our small-but-regular membership was even still unable to attend, it simply refused to cohere. That is, until two things happened: First, it was proposed that we center it around the myth of the nativity of Dionysos, since the story of his birth-through-his-own-violent-death reflected well our previous omen of ‘growth with strength through hardship’, as well as providing an excellent bridge into our Beltaine rite, which was already being planned to be dedicated to Hermes, who plays a small but crucial role in Dionysos’s myth. Second, we fulfilled the other edicts set out in Imbolc’s omen in a) flexibility (we held the ritual in an unlikely spot behind our new apartment building, which actually turned out to work beautifully), and b) bridge building: We reached out to the High Priest of a local Wiccan church, Tony Brown, a dedicant of Dionysos, to help out with lore and to read our omen for us. He brought with him a person against whom my own family has had some measure of grievance stretching back the past several years, but who’d reached out to us last September to attempt to make amends. In sharing hospitality with him in our home and in ritual, old wounds healed further.

Ritual itself went shockingly smoothly, for all its false starts. Inspiration and bright beauty filled every moment, and we were surrounded by natural omens: bees and birds, and a hawk that soared overhead and cried out the moment the gates were opened. To read the omen, Tony used a system of his own devising, which involves the interpretation of Hebrew letters. Responding to the question ‘How can we bring a harvest of opportunity and creativity out of adversity?’, Tony read Quoph, which means ‘the eye of the needle’ Ostara Omen 2016and corresponds to the Moon card in Tarot, and Mem, meaning ‘water’, corresponding to the Death card, with associations with the number 40 and the Hebraic Flood. Together, these were interpreted as “Change is coming through a narrow constraint. It can best be navigated through the gifts of the Moon.”