Saturday, 30 January 2010

Happy Eostre!

The spring equinox, Ostara, also known as Eostre, occuring between March 19th and March 23rd.
This is a solar festival marking one of the points in the year when hours of light and darkness are of equal balance. At this vernal equinox, the sun rises exactly in the east, travels through the sky for 12 hours and then sets exactly in the west. So all over the world, at this moment, day and night are of equal length hence the word Equinox which means 'equal night'.

Hot cross buns, pagan long before they became a symbol of Christian Easter, represent the "sun wheel" and its perfect balance at this equinox.
For the northern hemisphere it is this equinox that brings us out of winter.
For the southern hemisphere, this time is the autumnal equinox bringing winter weather, hence the view of the Equinoxes as the 'edges' of winter.

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The Second of the fertility festivals when the hidden stirrings of life reverenced during Imbolc are awakened, the light becomes triumphant over darkness & the Earth begins to warm under the returning Sun, the seeds now quicken with new life. It is a time that daffodils and primroses bloom, that tender new leaves appear on the trees, it is time to sow seeds in the newly fertile Earth.

The Virginal (unmarried) Goddess of Imbolc, who welcomed the young Sun God's attentions at Imbolc will now conceive the child to be born at the next winter solstice. Eostre was this maiden goddess whose aspects of renewal and rebirth brought about the reappearance of spring flowers, of new chicks and baby rabbits from their winter dens and signaled the resurgence of the plow in the field. It is said that in some European traditions flowers grew from Eostre's footprints.
This is why she is symbolized by eggs (new life) and rabbits/hares (fertility).

This is also the time of the return of the vegetation god who gave his life in the autumnal harvest in order to preserve our lives during the long, dark times of winter. New grains rise from the fields where winter wheat was sown, wild animals emerge from their winter dens, farm animals begin their lambing, calving and egg-laying seasons. This is why the lamb was another symbol of the Ostara, and was sacred to all the virgin goddesses in ancient Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (which also carried over into the Jewish celebration of Passover and the later Christian Easter).
Further in this celebration of coming life, sexual relations were shared on Ostara eve, as also a communal meal featuring foods associated with fertility, i.e. cake, honey and eggs.

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Regarding Easter eggs;
Since ancient times the egg has symbolized new life and been held in reverence as a sacred object.
The intrinsic symbolism of such ritualised Eggs represented the Sun God (the golden yolk) and Fertility (the white shell symbolizing the White Goddess)...
These eggs were carried as fertility amulets, placed on spring altars and given as cherished gifts.
Many would also celebrate Ostara by burying their painted eggs in the ground, thus insuring that the crops and gardens would be inbued with renewed life.

Decoding the Eostre Egg; What do the Colours mean?

RED: Representing the power of New life, Vitality & Libido.
ORANGE: Evoking the Sun god, the warmth of Summer.
YELLOW: Summoning Creativity and the Wisdom of the Mind.
GREEN: Celebrating the Earth Mother clothed in verdant natural fertility.
BLUE: Representing the cool calming powers of Healing.
VIOLET: Tranquility, the end of disputes
WHITE: As in all traditions, standing for Purification & Protection from negativity.
BLACK: For the Mystery of the Crone Goddess.
SILVER: The Colour of the Triple Goddess, of her symbol The Moon, and of Spirituality.
GOLD: Representing The Sun God, the Light that brings Life.

Of The Easter Rabbit & The mad march hare;
Long known as a symbol of fertility, the rabbit is known for its reproductive predeliction, we still may hear of couples who have many children as 'multiplying like rabbits'. The 'lucky rabbit's foot' goes back to this ancient tradition, as it represents a "phallic symbol with supposed magical powers related to reproduction."
(The Origin and History of the Easter Bunny by Allen Butler)
However, The Easter bunny is not actually a rabbit at all, but is actually a hare. The hare was the sacred animal of the spring goddess Eostre. At this time of the Vernal Equinox, hares are famed for going ‘mad’ and it was traditionally believed that one of Eostre’s hares had madly laid an egg. This Egg became known as Eostres egg of new life - the Easter egg.

The weaving of Easter baskets also evokes the weaving of birds' nests, as necessity prior to egg laying and the continuation of the life cycle.

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On 'Spring Cleaning';
As the Vernal Equinox heralds the arrival of spring, it is also a time of renewal in the home, and so time for another spring-clean. This is more than just a physical activity, it helps to remove any old or negative energies accumulated over the winter and helps to clear the way for the growing energies of spring and summer.
A common belief is that all cleaning/scrubbing should be done in a clockwise motion to fill the home with positive energy for growth.

The tradition of wearing new spring clothes on Easter is also an ancient pagan tradition.
It was considered extremely bad luck to wear new clothes before the Ostara, but Good Luck to wear them on this day. The Teutons would work in secret throughout the winter so that on Ostara they could celebrate in their new finery. The Easter Parade grew out of these beliefs about wearing new clothing. This social event provided a chance to be seen wearing the latest styles.

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As with all the other key Nature-Al festivals of the year, there are many aspects of the Christian celebration of Easter overlayed upon this ancient festival of New Life. In Christian mythology this is the time of year Mary is informed by an angel that she has been impregnated by deity. Christians have designated the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal equinox as Easter Sunday, the date identified as the resurrection of Christ.

Another ritualistic icon that was appropriated by the Christian tradition (in this case and conversely as a symbol of death), was the lily. The Lilly origionally signified life to the pagan peoples and was used to adorn altars and temples to Ostara. Young men would symbolically present a lily to the woman they were courting, and this lilly was considered almost as significant as a diamond ring is today.

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Long before the birth of Christ,
this was also a festival of great importance to the Greeks, Romans, Nordic & Germanic peoples as well as those in the Celtic lands. For example, the Ancient Eygyptians celebrated with the return of Osiris from the Underworld, and the earlier still Sumerians celebrated this time as the return of Tammuz, their grain God, from the land of the dead.

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More important than the name or location of the Deity, would be the meaning that this time conveyed in relation to the Cycles of The Seasons and Ancient peoples sanctification of their Nature based year.
We might learn from this respect for the Seasonal Goddess.
In psychological terms, the unconscious has treasures for us if we can be receptive to its still ancient but ever bright voice.
Listening to the wisdom of the moon can open us to personal ways of imbuing our lives on this bejewelled planet with deeper and lasting meaning.

Ideas & plans (even clothes) made at Imbolc can now begin (or be worn) with confidence....
Now is the time to think of what you'd like to plant and see grow, figuratively or literally, in your life.

Blessed Ostara, Happy Eostre & Welcome to Spring!

Imbolc Blessings to You **~

The celebration of Imbolc (Feb 1st) is a time of new beginnings, of welcoming the first light of spring and of honouring the Celtic goddess Brighid. It also marks the center point of the dark half of the year. Interestingly, the name ‘Britain’ is thought by some to be a derivation of Brighid’s name. Britain was named for an ancient Celtic tribe, the Brigantes, who worshipped Brighid or Brigit and were the largest Celtic tribe to occupy the British Isles in pre-Roman times.

The name Brighid itself means ‘High One’ in the ancient Celtic language, referring to her aspect as a solar deity. She is the patron Goddess of poets, healers and blacksmiths, and patron of the traditionally womanly arts of midwifery, dyeing, weaving and brewing, the guardian of children and farm animals, particularly cows. She is also said to be patroness to the Druids in her aspects of poetry, healing and prophecy.

Peoples affection for this Goddess was so powerful that when the Christian faith arrived in Celtic lands the Christian church had to adopt her as a Saint...

 St Bride - by John Duncan 

Imbolc in the Celtic seasonal calendar marked the beginning of the lambing season and signaled the beginning of Spring and the stirrings of new life. It is 'Feile Brighde' the 'quickening of the year'. The original word Imbolg means 'in the belly', and therein you have the underlying energy. All is pregnant and expectant - and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a 'just-showing' pregnancy.
Imbolc was also called Oimealg by the Druids, from the Gaelic word "oimelc" which means 'ewes milk'. As the Maiden Goddess of this time &  because of these reasons of fertility, Brighid was symbolised by White flowers, the Stars and the Milky Way.

Brighid holds the power that brings the dark season of winter through to the light of spring; from conception to birth.  Brighid is a solar and lunar Goddess; Her Solar celebration is the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox ie at Imbolc. During this time her moon could be in any of its phases: maiden-like/slender, or full and round like a pregnant belly.
Most importantly at Imbolc, as Brighid's Earth womb becomes ripe with fertility, she symbolizes the great potential of everything yet to come. Yet much of her power also resides in the uncertainties of this fecundity. It is therefore considered taboo to cut plants during this time, as this would destroy the blessing of new life given by the Goddess to the Earth.

Imbolc is the festival of this Maiden Goddess then & from this day to March 21st is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. 

 The Coming of Bride by John Duncan

Imbolc is a particularly important date in this natural calendar for pagans and farmers alike, as it marks the beginning of the agricultural year. Preparations for spring sowing begins now and includes the blessing o seeds and consecrating the agricultural tools, particularly the plough...
In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation for planting of crops, the plough itself in earlier times decorated to celebrate its importance. Pieces of cheese and bread were sometimes left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows, as offerings to the nature spirits who may have  sheltered with us in our yule trees over winters darkest times and are now returned to roam their lands wild and free....

At Imbolc we hear the mysterious tale of the Brigadoon Piper, as nature wakes herself from winters slumber, so to do the mysterious creatures of her realms....

Spring Cleaning,
Prior to the eve of Imbolc the home would be given a thorough cleaning in preparation for a visit from the Goddess. The fireplace especially should be cleaned very well and a birch branch should be used to symbolically sweep the floors. Birch has strong associations with Brighid, and has long been used for rites of purification and new beginnings.

A small dish of butter, referencing the fertility of the ewes &; The Goddess, should be placed on a windowsill and a fresh fire kindled, evoking the return of the Sun, in the hearth, to honor the Goddess and the new life that she brings.

The lighting of candles honoring the re-birth of the sun but dedicated to Brighid & floated on the waters of lake, river and ocean, emphasized the balance between male fire and female water energies, an essential harmony if the forces of nature would sucessfully conjoin and beget fruitfullness. Thus the candles also symbolised the reunion of the Goddess and the God.

St Brighid Doll by St Blaze

Brideog or Corn Dolls,
Ideally made by the man of the household (again balancing the procreative energies of nature)before the traditional family or communal feast. Long pieces of straw or rushes would be woven into the shape of a doll and wrapped with white cloth to represent a dress. She would then be decorated with greenery, flowers, and shells or stones and consecrated with a sprinkle of sacred water whilst invoking Brighid's blessings. These dolls were then placed in baskets with white flower bedding, and set before the hearth..

Brighid's Crosses,
This is the most widely practiced custom associated with Imbolc. These are woven, solar (as opposed to later Christian) crosses of straw.
Old crosses from previous years should be removed to the rafters and the new crosses hung near or over doorways. These are thought especially effective in protecting the household from fire and lightning, as well as blessing all who pass under thhem.

The eve of Imbolc is traditionally the best time of the year to perform divinations enquiring after the future of your family & the best choices to be made.This is because Imbolc as the hearld of the coming Spring is one of the sacred times when the Otherworlds are more easily communicated with. This channel of communication is more open at such special times (including dawn and dusk, but also at some special locations..) due to the seasons changes in the cosmological wheel of nature, impacting the balance light & darkness, and of the spirit worlds beyond....

As ever on this path of learning about the ancient ways, I am reminded that these rituals and practises celebrating the sacred times and tides in our lives and the nature which clothes, sustains and surrounds us, these are bright-shinning ways to honour and celebrate the life we are given, to cherish and nurture the nature around us and the communities we share. These Pagan traditions are simply a down to Earth spirituality, a practice of heartfelt good husbandry/wifery for harmonoius holistic living with our selves and our sacred Earth, both our Mother and our only home.

Blessed Imbolc to you ~