The Spring Equinox is a time of fertility and sowing of seeds, and so nature's fertility goes a bit crazy. In the medieval times in Europe, the March hare was a major fertility symbol. Hares were known for being very prolific and so is an appropriate symbol for this sabbat.
The Druids were thought to celebrate a holiday at about this time called Alban Eiler which meant "Light of the Earth" and was the time when crops were planted. In ancient Greece there was the celebration of Bacchanalia at this time. But this festival though celebrated in honor of the gods Bacchus and Dionysus, it was all about wine and physical pleasure. The parties were described as being very excessive and wild and violence and murder was not unheard of at them. Gardner's idea of what Ostara was was more about a peaceful celebration of rebirth, renewal and revitalization.
Thought as for the origin of the word Ostara, some say Eostre or Eastre was a Germanic goddess of spring. While others say She was a Saxon goddess.Though there is only weak evidence of this. The modern story about Eostre is that one day in winter She found a poor, helpless injured bird that was dying. In order to save the bird's life She turned it into a hare, but the change wasn't complete. While the bird looked like a hare, it still had the ability to lay eggs. The hare decorated the eggs and then gave them to Eostre as gifts for saving her life. It seems that this story is based on a Ukranian folk tale that explains their beautifully decorated eggs. Alternately another possible source of the story of the egg laying hare is the fact that hares when preparing for giving birth, create a form, a sort of nest. After the hare abandons it's nest, plovers would take them over and lay their eggs. Thus the locals would find eggs in the hare's nest.
There is the story of the Roman god, Mithras, who was born on winter solstice and then later died and then was resurrected in the spring. Mithras guided his followers into the realm of light after death. In one story, Mithras was ordered by the Sun to sacrifice a bull. He reluctantly did it. But just as His knife entered the body of the bull, a miracle took place. The bull turned into the Moon and Mithras' cloak turned into the night sky. The blood that touched the ground became flowers and grain sprouted from the bull's tail.
Again in ancient Rome, the goddess Cybele was believed to have a consort born of a virgin birth. His name was Attis and he died and was resurrected during the Vernal Equinox of the Julian Calendar (between March 22nd and 25th). Also the Germanic tribes worshiped a lunar goddess whom they called Ostara who mated with a fertility god at this time and gave birth nine months later at Yule.
Another Roman celebration is Matronalia that was held at the beginning of March. This is an annual festival of women. The goddess Juno Luciana watched over married women and those in childbirth, and was in charge of newborn infants. Gifts are exchanged and everyone treated the ladies very well on that day. Later Matronalia evolved into Mother's Day in Europe. In the Middle Ages it was moved to the 4th Sunday of Lent. The servants were given permission to pick flowers from their master's gardens and given the day off to go home to visit with their mothers. Thus the tradition of giving one's mother flowers on Mother's Day. However, in the United States, Mother's Day is held in May.
The Ashanti people of Ghana have the festival of Durbar in spring for the goddess Asase Yaa who is a fertility goddess, along with her husband, Nyame, who is the sky god and who brings rain to the fields. In some parts of Aftrica, She is honored annually, sometime bi-annually, with a festival called Awuru Odo. A great deal of food and feasting is involved.
The Green Man is considered a great representation of spring. Bringing each tree to bud and flower in the spring. He romps through the woods causing the flowers to bloom and break through the ground. He's alive in all the plant life and encourages them to grow and prosper.
The Welsh god Mabon, though celebrated at the Fall Equinox, can be welcomed now as He retreats during the winter months and comes back in the spring.
In ancient Greece, Dionysus and Persephone were both celebrated as deities of spring. Dionysus, god of plants and most especially of the wine grapes, was said to be in terrible pain all during the winter months until spring returned the land to it's flowering abundance. Persephone, daughter of Demeter who was the goddess of the crops and harvest, had been kidnapped by Hades of the underworld. During that time winter rained on the land. But at about the time of March, Persephone was returned to her mother and Demeter then brought spring and the warm weather back so that the land would bloom again.
Aphrodite, a Greek goddess of beauty, love, pleasure, and procreation, is thought to be a spring goddess. She is connected with spring because of her generative powers of nature. She is sometimes seen as a mother of all living things and each spring She births the world to life again. Venus, a Roman goddess and thought to be equivalent to Aphrodite, is the goddess of love and beauty and is associated to the cultivated fields and gardens. She brings about new beginnings.
The Norse goddess Freya is one of fertility, marriage and childbirth and was often called upon to assist with infertiltiy. She is similar to Frigg and some people confuse Them with each other. Freya is the wife of Oden. Though She abandons the earth during the winter months, She returns in the spring to bring back nature's beauty.
Up until 1752, when we switched from the Roman Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, March 25th was considered the start of the New Year. Because of the Spring Equinox was the new year, it is no wonder that Aries (March 21st - April 19th) is the first sign of the zodiac year. This also helps to explain the names of some of the months, ie : September, (septem meaning "seven") and if you start your counting of the months from March then September would be the 7th month.
This is a time to treat yourself to a new Besom (woman) or a Staff (man). Both must be ritually consecrated. The Besom is used to "sweep" a magick circle clean (symbolically), it is also a protection symbol and is given a name as you would name a familiar. A naming ceremony can be included. The same for the Staff.
A traditional pastime is to collect wildflowers (remember to thank the plants before cutting) or buy some. Divine their magickal meanings by the use of books, your own intuition, a pendulum or other means. The flowers you've chosen reveals your inner thoughts and emotions.
It is important at this time of renewed life to plan a walk (or a ride) through gardens, a park, woodlands, forests and other green places. Make your walk celebratory, a ritual of nature itself. You should be on no other mission while doing this. Ostara is a great time to renew one's internal self. Our own mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical well being should be renewed at this time. Also it's a good time to start new projects. Remember this is a time of hope, growth, and anticipation. Even the custom of buying a spiffy new spring outfit for the occasion is Pagan. If you didn't start your spring cleaning at Imbolc, then now is the time to do it or to finish it. Doing a spiritual cleansing of yourself could be in order. Don't forget an egg hunt for not only the children but adults too. For adults you might use plastic eggs and put things like a piece of paper or parchment with a blessing on it or a springtime spell in them. And bowls of honey or maple syrup can be left out in the garden as an offering to the fey.
Here are some suggestions for your Ostara altar. You can start with your altar cloth which could be pale green with some light purples and blues. Add some yellow and pink candles if you like or switch these colors around as you like. Pastel colors are considered spring colors so use them as you wish. Don't forget this is a time of balance between the light and dark, so black and white candles or symbols or Sun and Moon symbols are also good. Potted spring flowers are also appropriate. Figures of eggs, rabbits, chicks, lambs and such are also good. A chalice of milk or honey also works. Milk because of the newly lactating animals and honey because it is a symbol of abundance. Statues of nature Deities are also appropriate. Some crystals and stones you might have on your altar are rose quartz, aquamarine and moonstone. And you can light a ritual fire within your cauldron or brazer. Just remember fire safety.
A few hints for your Ostara ritual are : do the ritual in the early morning, preferably at sunrise; have both milk and honey on your altar and after mixing together gently, pour it on the ground as your offering to the Earth; a fire can be lit in the circle with appropriate words said during the ritual - not before; meditate on the wonders of the new beginnings around you; you might try an Ostara Rebirthing ritual; also blessing seeds that you plan to plant is appropriate; don't forget that on the Spring Equinox there is a balance of the light and dark and that from this point forward till Litha, or Summer Solstice, there will be more light than dark; and of course include your children in any ritual. If you wish, you might try out "The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Chocolate Rabbit" that I found on About.com. It's a great ritual that the children will enjoy.
A few crafts one might try out for Ostara are : making a miniature greenhouse; making a spring snake wreath; making a spring weather station; of course coloring eggs, there are a number of ways to do this; send packets of seeds to your loved ones and friends within their greeting cards; and make an Ostara tree for your altar. I'm sure you can think of many more things that are appropriate for spring.
Spells for new beginnings are the focus for many as well as spells for balance and harmony. A fertility spell one can do is to place either a rabbit's pelt or a symbol of a rabbit under your bed. As rabbits are known to be very prolific, this should bring the wanted results. Of course everyone has heard of carrying a rabbit's foot for luck. Though one wonders about the luck of that said rabbit. Rabbits are known for being very energetic, so carry an object with a rabbit carved or drawn on it to increase your energy levels. Rabbits are known to be the symbols of many spring deities. So, leave some rabbit friendly vegetables out for the wild rabbits and hares. Rabbits are also very good at going to ground when in danger. So, carry a few hairs of a rabbit on you for protection.
Eggs are an important part of many Pagan cultures across the world. Egg magic is quite popular. An English superstition for a girl who wishes to know whom they will marry, is to take an egg and place it before the hearth on a stormy night. If a young man comes through the door and picks up the egg then she will marry him. Many will color the eggs and place them on the altar as magickal talismans. Another British superstition that concerns sailors is that they believed that they needed to crush the shells of their boiled eggs after eating them. The belief is that if they don't then evil spirits or...gasp...witches, will float on the egg cups in the seas and will sink their ships with their magics.
Americans also have superstitions concerning the egg. One is that if you wish your eggs to hatch you need to put them under a broody hen during the full moon. Another is that if a woman carries eggs under her bonnet, she will have the best pullets. And still another is that if a man places eggs in his hat for safe keeping they will hatch only roosters. An Ozark version for the girls wishing to know whom they will marry is for her to boil the egg and then remove the yoke and fill that space with salt. Then she goes to bed and eats the egg and she will dream of a man bringing her a pail of water to quench her thirst. This will be the man she marries.
Eggs of certain birds can be special. Owl eggs are said to be a cure for alcoholism if it is scrambled up and feed to the afflicted person. And dirt found under a mockingbird is said to alleviate a sore throat.
This is a good time of the year to start your seedlings. It is also a good time to prepare your garden soil for your herb garden that you will plant in late spring as well as a good time to celebrate the balance of the light and dark, and the return of the new growth that is to come. In some areas traditional activities include planting seeds, working on magickal gardens and practicing all forms of herb work (magickal, medicinal, cosmetic, culinary and artistic). Many modern Pagans celebrate Ostara as a time of renewal and rebirth. Take the time to celebrate the new life that surrounds you in nature. Observe all the new things that are beginning. Meditate upon the ever-moving "Wheel of the Year", and celebrate the change of season.
The colors for this sabbat are : light green, lemon yellow, pale pink, white, well just about any pastel color works great.
Linking your meals with the seasons is a fine method of attuning with so foods that go with this sabbat include those made of seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, as well as pine nuts. Sprouts are equally appropriate, as are leafy green vegetables. Twisted breads and sweet cakes are traditional also. Of course egg dishes are quite appropriate as well as roasted lamb. Flower dishes such as stuffed nasturtiums or carnation cupcakes also find their places here. (Find a book on flower cooking or simply make spice cupcakes, ice with pink frosting and place a fresh carnation petal on each one. Stuff the nasturtium blossoms with a mixture of cream cheese, chopped nuts, chives and watercress. They are hot!). All of these foods are great for your offering to the Deities too.
Incense for Ostara
2 parts Frankincense
1 part Benzoin
1 part Dragon's Blood
1/2 part Violet Flower or a few drops of the essential oil
1/2 part Rose Petals or a few drops of the essential oil
Use for Ostara Rituals, or to welcome the spring and to refresh your life.