As our second blót of the year, the Creed of Caledon has performed our first ‘Ostara blót’, and are looking towards the coming season with optimism and determination. ‘Ostara’ is the reconstructed form of the Germanic holiday known in Old English as Eostre and in Modern English as Easter. There is some variation as to when the festival is celebrated. Though it traditionally marks the Spring Equinox (which is when we have chosen to celebrate it), it may also be celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, as in Western Christendom. ‘Ostara’ is the personification of the dawn, and is an alter-ego of Freya (whose twin brother, Frey, is associated with sunset). Traditionally, our forebears would perform this blót at dawn to greet the goddess of Spring. However, because of personal obligations (this year, the Spring Equinox was on a Monday, which does not work well with a regular work schedule), we chose to celebrate it on the evening prior, which is just as sacred a time to perform a blót as at dawn.
Because of it’s association with Freya and the Vanir, Ostara is a fertility festival, marking the blossoming of the flowers and the reproductive activities of the animals. Hares and rabbits in particular are associated with Ostara, and the ‘Easter Bunny’ which lays eggs is a symbol of fertility. This represents the possibilities in our lives that need to incubate before they can hatch in the summer (although the association with pregnancy would mean that the cycle begun at the Spring Equinox will complete at the Winter Solstice). In this sense, now that Winter has truly ended, we can now focus on starting projects and making changes in our lives. It’s astonishing to see how so many people choose to move house at this time of year, and it is also now that ‘Spring cleaning’ is necessary to prepare for Summer. Since Ostara follows Lent (another Christian tradition with origins in paganism), it also means that we can once again look forward to growing crops after the ‘hungry gap’, the early part of Spring when very little grows and food is even more scarce than in Winter. Now is the time to think about sowing seeds for the coming season, as the earth has become fertile once again. The Spring Equinox is important because it marks the point where day and night are equal in length, and so from this point the days will become longer than the nights. The extra sunlight will encourage growth and will hopefully encourage us to spend more time outside.
Though known as Easter or some variant of Passover (as in Judaism) in Europe, the Spring Equinox is also an important part of other Aryan cultures. In India and Nepal, the festival is known as Holi, which is ‘the festival of colours’, and is marked by people smearing each other with coloured dye and throwing water balloons at each other. It is also customary to imbibe bhang (a traditional drink with cannabis as the primary ingredient) as a way of getting in touch with the feminine energy of Springtime and feeling joy at the prospect of growing days and a fruitful season. Among the Iranian peoples, the festival is celebrated as Nowruz, and is traditionally the New Year in Central Asia. This time of the year is marked in all Aryan cultures as a time of increased activity, and a good opportunity to make good on personal promises or ‘New Year’s resolutions’, which are much harder to fulfil while the days are still dark and the weather is still cold. Though it is still cold in Scotland at this time of year, it is starting to get warm enough that we don’t have to pile on as much clothes to keep warm, and we can look forward to spending more time outside, either in Nature or simply in our back gardens or local parks. I have always personally had a certain distaste for Spring, though understanding the importance of the yearly cycle and coming to appreciate the religious and spiritual significance of the Spring Equinox has made me more content with this time of year.