How the Pagans celebrated the coming of Spring

As spring begins to stir, Kelly Bewers writes about the ancient Pagan tradition of Ostara

Credit: Maltiek via Canva

Spring Equinox falls on 20th March this year. It marks the halfway point between the Winter and Summer Solstices (the shortest and longest days of the year respectively), when the length of night and day are completely equal.

Ostara is one of eight Pagan festivals that mark the ‘Wheel of the Year’ (the seasonal calendar), and it celebrates the beginning of spring. In ancient times people worshipped the Germanic goddess Eostre during this festival; women wore white, fires were lit, eggs were decorated to honour fertility and offerings of sweet honey were made. Eostre represents rebirth, renewal and awakening.

Although the origins of the festival are debated, the English monk Bede wrote about it in the 6th century, but it is thought the tradition precedes this by many centuries. It is believed that the Christian festival of Easter, takes its name from the goddess Eostre, where we also find the root of the word oestrogen, the female fertility hormone.

There are plenty of folklore myths and stories about the goddess. Some say that she found a wounded bird on the ground late in winter. To save the bird, she turned it into a hare. However, the transformation was incomplete and the animal took on the appearance of a hare, but was still able to lay eggs. These symbols of spring – eggs, rabbits or hares – are still familiar today.

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The Germanic goddess Ostara, who was worshipped in ancient times during the festival of Ostara, Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whether you have a spiritual or religious tradition at this time of year, we can all celebrate the wonderful changes occurring around us in the natural world. Walking through the parks and woodlands of Waltham Forest these past few days it’s been joyful to see the bouncing heads of snowdrops (now in their final weeks), the sunny yellow of abundant daffodils, purple and white crocuses beginning to show their blooms, alongside primroses, pink and white hawthorn blossoms.

Occasionally I can even catch the scent of early wild garlic. As well as celebrating our beautiful plant life, the birds are more vocal in the mornings; for example, I heard a goldfinch from my bedroom window the other day.

I love learning about the ancient traditions of these lands and seeing how they weave into so many parts of modern culture. Emerging from the darkness of winter months feels welcome. Like the squirrels darting around Lloyd Park we can feel our bodies start to unfurl and stretch out. It might feel like the time to make some new plans and embrace the invitation for newness that Ostara brings.

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