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Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ostara

Introduction
The holiday of Ostara falls on the vernal equinox, celebrated on March 20 as a holiday in Wicca and Neo-Paganism.  While most Wiccans and Neo-Pagans will still work or go to school, those asking to have time off for worship should be accommodated.    

The Vernal Equinox has religious significance for several religions. In Wicca, Neo-Druidism and Neo-Paganism, the holiday is called Ostara and is a major holiday. In some neo-Pagan traditions, the holiday is also known as Alban Eilir or as Lady Day.

In Baha’iism and Zoroastrianism, the vernal equinox marks the major holiday of Naw-Rúz. In Islam, in the Alawite Shiite tradition, Naw-Rúz is a minor holiday, as it is in the Sufi Islamic tradition of Betashism where it is called Sultan Nevruz  holiday.

Ostara begins on Friday, March 20 coinciding with the vernal equinox.  For the Baha’i and Zoroastrian (or Parsee) religions as well as Alawite, Alevi and Betashist Moslems, Naw-Rúz begins on  March 20 at sunset and runs through sunset on March 21.

This is the first of two posts. The second post deals with the related holiday of the vernal equinox of Naw-Rúz. You can read that post at

http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2012/03/naw-ruz.html
What Is Ostara?
The vernal equinox is the time of year when the day and night are equally balanced. For Wicca and Neo-Paganism, this makes Ostara one of the four Lesser Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year. Lesser Sabbats relate to cycle of the sun while Greater Sabbats deal with the cycle of the moon.
In Wicca and Neo-Paganism, both equinoxes are times of balance and peacefulness. In addition, the vernal equinox celebrates the coming of Spring and is viewed as a time of rebirth and renewal both of nature and of the spirit.

Goddess Ostara
by Johannes Gehrts
 What's In A Name?
Considerable debate exists among branches within Wicca and, especially, among Neo-Pagans for the name of the holiday. In all of these traditions, the term “Vernal Equinox” is acceptable.
For some Wiccans and neo-Pagans, the formal name for the holiday is Ostara (alternatively spelled Eostara).  The name derives from Eostre, the pre-Christian European goddess of the moon (in some traditions of the dawn) and the main goddess of feminine attributes. Oestre takes her name from the Greek οστρος (technically speaking meaning a biting fly but in referring to sexual desire). The ancient Germanic tribes adapted this into the name Ostara.
It should be noted that other neo-Pagans and some Wiccans disapprove of calling the holiday Ostara. As the Wicca 101 website explains:


The point here, though, is not that one or the other tradition is correct or incorrect but rather that differences of opinion among traditions exist.
some Pagan traditions began referring to the Vernal Equinox as Oestara. Historically, this is incorrect. Oestara is a lunar holiday, honoring a lunar Goddess, at the Vernal Full Moon. Hence, the name "Oestara" is best reserved to the nearest Esbat, rather than the Sabbat itself.

Ostara's Connection to Easter and May Day
Fraya amulet
6th Century CE, Sweden
Ostara long predates Easter. Indeed, in Biblical times, Easter was never celebrated as a holiday. The first known celebration of Easter did not take place until the middle of the 2nd Century when Melito, the Bishop of Sardis,  mentioned in a sermon that people in Sardis held a celebration of Christ's resurrection around the time of the Jewish Passover. What that celebration was remains unclear.
We do know that in what is now Germany and Britain, people observed with reverence the vernal equinox. Those observances, however, did not constitute a formal holiday with special rites. Instead, the vernal equinox represented the beginning of Spring, and it was the coming of the season that was actually celebrated through the worship in various forms of the fertility goddess Ostara. In Norse mythology, the coming of spring was associated with the fertility goddess Fraya in similar fashion. 
Much more formalized worship took place for the holiday of  Naw-Rúz  that falls on the first day of the vernal equinox. This was not a pagan holiday as Ostara was, but rather the worship of the Zoroastrians (Parsees) who lived in the areas that once had been the Persian Empire. People celebrated Naw-Rúz  from as far east Afghanistan to as far west as Greece, Asia Minor and the Mediterranean coast and islands, including the areas in which the apostles and other early Christian missionaries preached. As discussed in the blog on Naw-Rúz, the Church consciously repurposed many of the traditions of  Naw-Rúz to coincide with Easter (for example, the tradition of the Easter Egg in place of the Naw-Rúz  Egg, etc.).
In both Ostara and Naw-Rúz , considerable symbolism rests on the victory of light over darkness as the days grow longer and longer. The Church was easily able to repurpose to symbolize Jesus (as the Light) over death (darkness).
The Church in the Germanic lands and Britain simply repurposed Ostara worship at the vernal equinox into Easter traditions. For example, it is from both Ostara worship in Germany and Britain and in Fraya worship in Norse mythology,  that we get the Easter Bunny. Because of their extreme fertility, hares are associated with the Norse goddess Fraya and rabbits are seen as symbols of fecundity and, therefore,  the season of rebirth associated with Ostara.  In time, the Persian tradition of the Naw-Rúz egg became mixed with the rabbit tradition and the Easter Bunny brought eggs.

Erecting the May Pole
Furth-in-Wald, Germany
Other rites associated with these earlier traditions were repurposed by the Church not to Easter but to the folk customs of May Day. For example, in both Germanic Ostara rites and the rites associated with the Zoroastrian  Naw-Rúz, bonfires were lit (or in the case of the latter, still are lit).

In Norse mythology, tree worship surrounded rites of the season (each species of tree had its own diety associated with it). We see these still in northern European May Day bonfires. Similarly, the male principle associated with this comes in the raising of the May Pole (in German, Maibaum -- literally May Tree).
Etymological Ties of the Word Ostara
Etymologically, the name Ostara or Eostara can be seen in modern English in the word estrus (when female livestock were under the influence of Eostre and, therefore, in heat) and estrogen (in British English oestrogen, the primary female hormone).
It is also the source of the name of the holiday Easter in English and in German (Ostern). Indeed, in Old English, the name of the pagan goddess and the Christian holiday are identical:  Ēostre.
It may be worth noting that in Greek, the name for Easter – Πάσχα (Paskha) – derives not from the pagan goddess but from the Aramaic. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, Easter is פֶּסחא Pasa, which itself is derived from the Hebrew פֶּסַח Pesa -- the name Judaism still uses for the first two nights of Passover (as the Last Supper was Jesus’ Pesa meal). In Latin, all Latin-based languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, Catalan) and several other languages (Danish, Welsh, Gaelic, Russian, Khazakh, Finnish), the name for Easter is derived from the Greek. For more on the Christian holiday of Easter, please see my blog post at

http://davidvictorvector.blogspot.com/2012/04/easter-and-pascha.html

Alban Eilir
In the pre-Christian Celtic tradition, the vernal equinox was called Alban Eilir (Welsh for “Light of the Spring”). This is the name still used for the holiday in modern druidic traditions, primarily in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Lady Day
Some Wiccans and Neo-Pagans use the phrase “Lady Day” to refer to the holiday. This is meant to honor the feminine principle – the Goddess – inherent in the fertility of the spring season.  This is also arguably a repurposing of the Roman Catholic Feast Day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (also called “Our Lady’s Day”) which falls on March 25. It should be noted that some neo-Pagan traditions historically celebrated their own Lady Day on March 25 to avoid persecution or heresy charges by aligning with the surrounding Roman Catholic holiday. In some neo-Pagan, Lady Day is still observed on March 25 as a result. 
Ostara Observance
Wiccans and Neo-Pagans alike generally observe Ostara through worship of the Goddess or Feminine Force. In some traditions, this involves a formal ceremony, often in the woods. For many other traditions, this is done in a more informal manner through communing with nature, especially through walking through the woods and, in manner traditions, the ritual planting of an herb garden.
Ostara altar
Many Neo-Pagans have traditions involving the lingam (the egg) including decorating eggs and lingam hunts for children.
At home, Wiccans and many Neo-Pagans set up an Ostara Altar. This usually includes spring flowers. These often live flowers in pots that are later planted in gardens at the end of the holiday (although many people do use cut flowers as well).


 Ostara altar
Most altars include symbols of animals giving birth. To symbolize the birth of birds, people place a basket of eggs on the altar. To symbolize the birth of mammals,  a chalice of milk is set on the altar (since mammals who have just given birth began to lactate). Often the milk is mixed with honey since honey represents abundance. Some traditions include special crystals such as moonstone, associated with Oestre. On some altars, worshipers light a candle or set a brazier with an open flame, as fire represents the coming season of light. 
Because the vernal equinox is a time of complete balance, some Wiccans and Neo-Pagans use symmetrical decorations. These include things such as a black and a white candle or a black and white stone to represent the balance of light and dark. Ladybugs and other animals with symmetrical patterns are sometimes used as decorations, and so on.
Conclusion
As with all of my posts on religion, this piece is meant only as a general source of information. Since the traditions for Ostara are so varied, please be aware that many, many different rites and practices exist that I have not mentioned here.
Please also note that much more on Naw-Rúz  is explained on the Naw-Rúz  post that will go up later this week.  Finally, much more information on Easter will appear closer to Easter.

Blessed Ostara!

Want to Know More?
Kristina Benson (2008), Wiccan Holidays: A Celebration of the Wicca Year.
“Celebrating Ostara: The Spring Equinox,” The Wiccan Life, http://thewiccalife.blogspot.com/2011/01/celebrating-ostara-spring-equinox_23.html
Carole Cusack (2007), “The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Traditions,” Pomegranate, 9:1, pp. 22-40.


“Lady Day: The Vernal Equinox,” Wicca 101, http://www.unc.edu/~reddeer/holydays/00_ladyday.html
Edain McCoy (2002), Ostara: Customs, Spells & Rituals for the Rites of Spring.
Ashleen O’Gaeo (2004), Celebrating the Seasons of Life: Samhain to Ostara.
Rowan Pendragon, "Blessed Ostara!" One Witch's Way: http://onewitchsway.com/2010/03/blessed-ostara/

Leo Ruickbie, “Spring Equinox (Eostre/Ostara), Witchology: The History of Wicca and Witchcraft, http://www.witchology.com/contents/march/ostara.php


Clip Art Sources

Opening Blessed Ostara egg: http://spiritblogger.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/spirit-message-of-the-day-ostara-the-spring-equinox-2010/

Goddess Ostara illustraiton by Johannes Gehrts: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/66/Ostara_by_Johannes_Gehrts.jpg/220px-Ostara_by_Johannes_Gehrts.jpg

6th Century Fraya amulet: http://www.goddessgift.net/images/freya-norse-statue-SS-NFR.jpg

Ostara with rabbit by Helen Nelson Reed: http://evagordon.blogspot.com/2011/05/full-moon-interview-with-domesticated.html?zx=8321f03afb7aa742

May Pole erection in Germany: http://www.pastritztaler.de/maibaum.html

Ostara altar 1: http://onewitchsway.com/2010/03/blessed-ostara/

Ostara altar 2: http://0.tqn.com/d/paganwiccan/1/7/u/8/-/-/IsadoraOstaraAltar.jpg

Blessed Ostara closing image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_klMaqzXofyw/TSor0nY47jI/AAAAAAAAAQs/phAtiTGKmjU/s1600/ostara3.jpg

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