Spirituality * Culture * Self-Expression

Category: Holidays

Ostara – the Spring Equinox

Goddess of Spring

Goddess of Spring

There are 8 basic mystical festivals that have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. The names and specific dates may be modified in different cultures, and some of the rituals associated with them may differ – but the underlying theme stays the same.

They are:

The Spring Equinox or Ostara in March – symbolizing re-birth and renewal

Beltane or May Day, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing spiritual union and fertility

The Summer Solstice or Lithia in June – symbolizing the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening

Lammas or Lughnasadh, which occurs 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing the harvest and first fruits

The Autumn Equinox or Mabon in September – symbolizing balance and transformation

Samhain or Halloween, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing the final harvest and remembrance of things past

The Winter Solstice or Yule in December – symbolizing the triumph of the light and the birth of the divine

And Imbolc or Candlemas, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing change and setting new goals

Mystical Festivals

Mystical Festivals

This year Ostara, the Spring Equinox is on March 20th.

This has been a tough winter. Although we saw the first promise of spring at Imbolc in the swelling buds, there were still nights of frost and darkness ahead. But now, finally, spring has arrived and hopefully the dark cold days of winter are past.

Observing holidays is a tradition intertwined with spirituality. The depths of humanity’s need for holy days and the biological connection to the earth’s yearly cycles are subjects worthy of more study.

The spring equinox also known as Ostara, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day, occurs in the middle of March in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the beginning of Spring and the time when days and nights are of equal length.

Equinox

Equinox

It is important to remember that the dawning of spring has been observed for a long time in many cultures around the world. Traditions vary widely from one country to the next. Megalithic people on Europe’s Atlantic fringe calculated the date of the Spring Equinox using circular monuments constructed of huge stones. Germanic tribes associated it with the fertility goddess Ostara. The Mayans of Central America still gather at the pyramid at Chichen Itza which was designed to produce a “serpent” shadow on the Spring Equinox.

Serpent Shadow revealed at the Spring Equinox

Serpent Shadow revealed at the Spring Equinox

The Ancient Saxons held a feast day for their version of the fertility goddess, Eostre, on the full moon following the Equinox. Eostre is associated with the symbols of decorated eggs and hares.

Happy Ostara

Happy Ostara

The month of March contains holidays dedicated to all the great mother goddesses: Astarte, Isis, Aphrodite, Cybele and the Virgin Mary. The goddess shows herself in the blossoms, the leaves on the trees, the sprouting of the crops, the mating of birds, the birth of young animals. In the agricultural cycle, it is time for planting. We are assured that life will continue. March is also the start of the New Year in many traditions. It is also connected with the rebirth or resurrection of many divine sons and lovers of ancient gods and goddesses: Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus — who, like Christ, each die and are reborn. These gods and heroes are typically seen as saviors of their people in some way, sometimes through sacrifice. They are often gods of vegetation, dying each year (at harvest) to be reborn in the spring.

Here are some Spring traditions from around the world:

Egypt:

The Festival of Isis was held in ancient Egypt as a celebration of spring and rebirth. Isis features prominently in the story of the resurrection of her lover, Osiris. Although Isis’ major festival was held in the fall, folklorist Sir James Frazer says in The Golden Bough that “We are told that the Egyptians held a festival of Isis at the time when the Nile began to rise [in the spring]… the goddess was then mourning for the lost Osiris, and the tears which dropped from her eyes swelled the impetuous tide of the river.”

Isis resurrecting Osiris

Isis resurrecting Osiris

Iran:

In Iran, the festival of No Ruz or Nowruz, the Persian New Year, begins shortly before the vernal equinox. The phrase “No Ruz” actually means “new day,” and this is a time of hope and rebirth. Typically, a lot of cleaning is done, old broken items are repaired, homes are repainted, and fresh flowers are gathered and displayed indoors along with fresh fruit and colored eggs. The Iranian New Year begins on the day of the equinox, and typically people celebrate by getting outside for a picnic or other activity with their loved ones. Nowruz is deeply rooted in the beliefs of Zoroastrianism, which was the predominant religion in ancient Persia before Islam came along.

nowruz

Ireland:

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17. St. Patrick is known as a symbol of Ireland. One of the reasons he’s so famous is because he drove the snakes out of Ireland. What many people don’t realize is that the snake was actually a metaphor for the early Pagan faiths of Ireland. St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle, and did such a thorough job of it that he practically eliminated Paganism from the country.

St. Patrick casting out the "snakes"

St. Patrick casting out the “snakes”

Italy:

For the ancient Romans, the Feast of Cybele was an important spring ritual. Cybele was a mother goddess who was at the center of a Phrygian fertility cult, and eunuch priests performed mysterious rites in her honor. Her lover was Attis (who some say was born of a virgin on December 25th), and her jealousy caused him to castrate and kill himself. His blood was the source of the first violets, and divine intervention allowed Attis to be resurrected by Cybele, with some help from Zeus. In some areas, there is still an annual celebration of Attis’ rebirth and Cybele’s power observed from March 15 to March 25. A pine tree, which represented Attis, was chopped down, wrapped in a linen shroud, decorated with violets and placed in a tomb in the temple. On the Day of Blood or Black Friday, the priests of the cult gashed themselves with knives as they danced ecstatically, sympathizing with Cybele in her grief and helping to restore Attis to life. Two days later, on Sunday, a priest opened the sepulchre at dawn, revealing that it was empty and announcing that the god was saved. This day was known as Hilaria or the Day of Joy, a time of feasting and merriment. Attis, by his self-mutilation, death, and resurrection represents the fruits of the earth, which die in winter only to rise again in the spring.

Judaism:

One of Judaism’s biggest festivals is Passover, which takes place in the middle of the Hebrew month of Nisan. It was a pilgrimage festival, and commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after centuries of slavery. A special meal is held, called the Seder, and it is concluded with the story of the Jews leaving Egypt, and readings from a special book of prayers. Part of the eight-day Passover traditions include a thorough spring cleaning, going through the house from top to bottom.

Greece:

Anyone who has been in Greece at Easter time, especially among the more remote peasants, must have been struck by the emotion of suspense and excitement, with which they wait for the announcement, “Christos aneste,” “Christ is risen!” and the response “Alethos aneste,” “He has really risen!” Some of the older peasants still believe that “If Christ does not rise tomorrow we shall have no harvest this year.” Not quite the Ecclesiastical concern for the resurrection, but one that indicates the origins of the festival in antiquity and the general need for a vegetation savior god.

Resurrection from the Dead

The resurrection theme connected to spring and Easter is shared and possibly inspired by older non-Christian traditions. The name Easter comes from the Saxon dawn-goddess Eostre, whose festival was celebrated on spring equinox. The date of Easter is still determined by the old moon cycle. It is always the first Sunday on or after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Compare the ancient Roman story of Attis described above with the Easter story: On Good Friday, Christ is crucified, a willing sacrifice. He is wrapped in a shroud and placed in a tomb. Altars are stripped, candles extinguished to represent the darkness of the grave. But on Easter Sunday, light springs from darkness, Christ rises from the tomb. If you’ve never attended an Easter vigil, I highly recommend it. (I usually go to a Greek Orthodox Church, so I don’t know what the ceremony is like in other Christian churches.) Shortly before midnight all the lights are extinguished and the thronged church is dark and silent. Everyone is holding an unlit candle. The priest lights the Paschal candle, which has been ritually blessed and inscribed with the year. He then lights the candles of those nearby, who light the candles of their neighbors, until the church is ablaze with light and filled with song.

Candles representing the Light coming forth

Candles representing the Light coming forth

The spring equinox is a time of re-birth and renewal. It is the time when the Light has won out over the Darkness and begins to grow in strength and power. It is a time when the World begins to wake up after the long, cold night of winter. Many of us feel, not only the physical impulses connected with spring but also, the spiritual rumblings deep within us as our souls seek to reach out and embrace the resurrected Light. This spring I encourage you to allow yourself to become conscious of the great mystery of Light that starts as an inner glow but soon expands to illuminate the universe.

 

Let your inner self bring Light to the world!

Let your inner self bring Light to the world!

 

ostara blessings

Imbolc – A Festival of Light

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There are 8 basic mystical festivals that have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. The names and specific dates may be modified in different cultures, and some of the rituals associated with them may differ – but the underlying theme stays the same.

They are:

The Spring Equinox or Ostara in March – symbolizing re-birth and renewal

Beltaine or May Day, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing spiritual union and fertility

The Summer Solstice or Lithia in June – symbolizing the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening

Lammas or Lughnasadh, which occurs 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing the harvest and first fruits

The Autumn Equinox or Mabon in September – symbolizing balance and transformation

Samhain or Halloween, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing the final harvest and remembrance of things past

The Winter Solstice or Yule in December – symbolizing the triumph of the light and the birth of the divine

And Imbolc or Candlemas, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing change and setting new goals

This year Imbolc (usually pronounced EE-Molc) is on Monday February 2nd.

imbolccandles

 

By February, most of us are tired of the cold, snowy season. Imbolc reminds us that spring is coming soon, and that we only have a few more weeks of winter to go. (It’s also Ground Hog Day) The sun gets a little brighter, the earth gets a little warmer, and we know that life is quickening within the soil.

This is the seasonal change where the first signs of spring and the return of the sun are noted. It is the day that we celebrate the passing of winter and make way for spring.

This is a time of purification after the shut-in life of winter, through the renewing power of the Sun. It is also a festival of light and of fertility, once marked in Europe with huge blazes, torches and fire in every form. Fire here represents our own illumination and inspiration as much as light and warmth. Imbolc is also known as Feast of Torches, Oimelc, Lupercalia, Feast of Pan, Snowdrop Festival, Feast of the Waxing Light, Brighid’s Day, and probably by many other names.

The ancient Egyptians celebrated this time of year as the Feast of Nut, whose birthday falls on February 2 (Gregorian calendar). According to the Book of the Dead, Nut was seen as a mother-figure to the sun god Ra, who at sunrise was known as Khepera and took the form of a scarab beetle.

To the Romans, this time of year halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox was the season of the Lupercalia. For them, it was a purification ritual held on February 15, in which a goat was sacrificed and a scourge made of its hide. Thong-clad men ran through the city, whacking people with bits of goat hide. Those who were struck considered themselves quite fortunate. This is one of the few Roman celebrations not associated with a particular temple or deity. Instead, it focuses on the founding of the city of Rome, by twins Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a she-wolf — in a cave known as the “Lupercale”.

When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed them to worship the goddess Brighid (usually pronounced BREED) as a saint — thus the creation of St. Brigid’s Day. Today, there are many churches around the world which bear her name. The Irish goddess Brighid is the keeper of the sacred flame, the guardian of home and hearth. To honor her, purification and cleaning are a wonderful way to get ready for the coming of spring. In addition to fire, she is a goddess connected to inspiration and creativity. In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, Brighid was viewed as a woman with mystical powers who was older than the land itself. The Christian St. Brigid was the daughter of a Pictish slave who was baptized by St. Patrick, and founded a community of nuns at Kildare, Ireland. Some traditions suggest that Brighid walks the earth on the eve of her day visiting households and blessing the virtuous. Families would have a supper on this night to mark the end of winter. Often, some of the food and drink would be set aside for Brighid. Before going to bed, items of clothing or strips of cloth would be left outside for Brighid to bless. Ashes from the fire would be raked smooth and, in the morning, they would look for some kind of mark on the ashes as a sign that Brighid had visited. The clothes or strips of cloth would be brought inside, and were now believed to have powers of healing and protection thanks to Brighid.

 

Brighidcross

Brighid’s crosses were made at Imbolc. A Brighid’s cross consists of rushes woven into a shape of a cross, with a square in the middle and four arms protruding from each corner. They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brighid and protect the buildings from fire and lightning. The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc. In western Connacht, people would make a Crios Bríde (Bríd’s girdle); a great ring of rushes with a cross woven in the middle. Young boys would carry it around the village, inviting people to step through it and so be blessed.

For Christians, February 2nd continues to be celebrated as Candelmas, the feast of purification of the Virgin. By Jewish law, it took forty days for a woman to be cleansed following the birth of a son. Forty days after Christmas – the birth of Jesus – is February 2nd. Imbolc (February 2) marks the recovery of the Goddess after giving birth to the God. Her Candles were blessed, there was much feasting to be had, and the drab days of February suddenly seemed a little brighter

Imbolc also tends to be a time when people turn their thoughts to love. February is known as a month when love begins anew, in part due to the widespread celebration of Valentine’s Day. In some parts of Europe, there was a belief that February 14th was the day that birds and animals began their annual hunt for a mate. Valentine’s Day is named for the Christian priest who defied Emperor Claudius II’s edict banning young soldiers from marrying. In secret, Valentine “tied the knot” for many young couples. Eventually, he was captured and executed on Feb. 14, 269 C.E. Before his death, he smuggled a message to a girl he had befriended while imprisoned — the first Valentine’s Day card.

At this time of year, it is appropriate to light multiple candles to remind us of the passing of winter and the entrance into spring, the time of the Sun. It is traditional upon Imbolc to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments. Or, light candles in each room in honour of the Sun’s rebirth. Alternately, light a kerosene lamp with a red chimney and place this in a prominent part of the home or in a window.

 

imbolc2

If snow lies on the ground outside, walk in it for a moment, recalling the warmth of summer. With your hand, trace an image of the Sun on the snow.

Foods appropriate to eat on this day include those from the dairy, since Imbolc marks the festival of calving. Sour cream dishes are fine. Spicy and full-bodied foods in honor of the Sun are equally attuned. Curries and all dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic or chives are appropriate. Spiced wines and dishes containing raisins – all foods symbolic of the Sun – are also traditional.

I’ll leave you with an Imbolc blessing.

Carry this light in your heart.
Know that you are loved.
And Know that you are worthy of that love.

imbolc3

Summer Solstice

summer-solstice-logo

 

There are 8 basic mystical festivals that have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. The names and specific dates may be modified in different cultures, and some of the rituals associated with them may differ – but the underlying theme stays the same.

They are:

The Spring Equinox or Ostara in March – symbolizing re-birth and renewal

Beltaine or May Day, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing spiritual union and fertility

The Summer Solstice or Lithia in June – symbolizing the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening

Lammas or Lughnasadh, which occurs 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing the harvest and first fruits

The Autumn Equinox or Mabon in September – symbolizing balance and transformation

Samhain or Halloween, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Equinox – symbolizing the final harvest and remembrance of things past

The Winter Solstice or Yule in December – symbolizing the triumph of the light and the birth of the divine

And Imbolc or Candlemas, which occurs about 6 weeks after the Solstice – symbolizing change and setting new goals

This year Litha , the Summer Solsticeis on June 21st.

Blessed_Litha_To_Everyone

 

Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way, shape or form. On this date the sun reaches its zenith in the sky. It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems to just hang there without moving – in fact, the word “solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which literally translates to “sun stands still.”

There are numerous deities from around the world connected with the sun and therefore honored on this day. Some of them associated with this day include:

  • Amaterasu (Shinto): A solar goddess – sister of the moon and the storm god of Japan. She is known as the goddess “from which all light comes” and is much loved by her worshippers.

    Amaterasu

  • Aten (Egypt): This god was at one point an aspect of Ra, but rather than being depicted as an anthropomorphic being (like most of the other ancient Egyptian gods), Aten was represented by the disc of the sun, with rays of light emanating outward.

    aten

  • Horus (Egyptian): Another Egyptian solar deity, he was the child of Isis and Osiris and is often conceived of as a savior god who brings light to the soul.

    Horus-1-

  • Apollo (Greek): The son of Zeus, King of the gods, by Leto, a mortal woman, Apollo was a multi-faceted god. In addition to being the god of the sun, he also presided over music, medicine and healing. He replaced the older god Helios, the titan that drove the sun chariot across the sky. As worship of him spread throughout the Roman Empire into the British Isles, he took on many of the aspects of the Celtic deities, and was seen as a god of the sun and of healing.

    apollo

  •  Huitzilopochtli (Aztec): This warrior god of the ancient Aztecs was a sun god and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He battled with Nanahuatzin, an earlier solar god. Huitzilopochtli fought against darkness, and required his worshipers to make regular sacrifices to ensure the sun’s survival over the next fifty-two years, which is a significant number in Mesoamerican myths.

    Huitzilopochtli

  • Sulis Minerva (Celtic, Roman): When the Romans occupied the British Isles, they took the aspects of the Celtic sun goddess, Sulis, and blended her with their own goddess of wisdom, Minerva. The resulting combination was Sulis Minerva, who watched over the hot springs and sacred waters in the town of Bath.

    sulis_1a

  • Sunna or Sol (Germanic): Little is known about this Norse goddess of the sun, but she appears in the poetic eddas as the sister of the moon god.

    Sunna

Notice that in Greco-Roman and Egyptian myths the sun is male and the moon is female, but in many other cultures the sun is a feminine power.

 

Depending on your individual spiritual path, there are many different ways you can celebrate Litha, but the focus is nearly always on celebrating the power of the sun– the symbol of the light of consciousness and spiritual awakening. Consider the sun at the height of its power, with all the Light and Energy of the cosmos flowing through it onto the people of Earth and use that power to help you achieve your destiny.

  • Joyously take stock of your life and seek fulfillment – realigning with your goals and purpose.
  • Consider getting a new job if you aren’t satisfied with your current one, or taking some training courses to help you overcome any obstacles that keep you from doing what you truly want to do.
  • Upgrade your wardrobe, hairstyle or general appearance, and review your overall levels of fitness and health. You could also consider ways by which you can make others healthy – Perhaps get involved with the healing arts, or even with the ecology movement to help heal the world.
  • Consider spending summer solstice away from home. Visit Britain’s Stonehenge, the Egyptian and Mexican pyramids or even the growing New Age community in Sedona, Arizona. These places, along with many others, have wonderful Summer Solstice festivals to take part in.

    stonehenge solstice

  • Throw a party with a bonfire. A bonfire is part of the tradition of the summer solstice. Fire has always been a source of protection for human beings, scaring off the creatures of the night, both ordinary and magical. Nowadays you can reinvent the bonfire as a great reason to hold a summer solstice party with friends. In England, rural villagers built a big bonfire on Midsummer’s Eve. This was called “setting the watch,” and it was known that the fire would keep evil spirits out of the town. Some farmers would light a fire on their land, and people would wander about, holding torches and lanterns, from one bonfire to another. If you jumped over a bonfire — presumably without lighting your pants on fire — you were guaranteed to have good luck for the coming year.

    Bonfire

    Sunwheels were also used to celebrate Midsummer in some early Pagan cultures. A wheel — or sometimes a really big ball of straw — was lit on fire and rolled down a hill into a river. The burned remnants were taken to the local temple and put on display. In Wales, it was believed that if the fire went out before the wheel hit the water, a good crop was guaranteed for the season. Residents of some areas of Ireland say that if you have something you wish to happen, you “give it to the pebble.” Carry a stone in your hand as you circle the Litha bonfire, and whisper your request to the stone — “heal my mother” or “help me be more courageous”, for example. After your third turn around the fire, toss the stone into the flames.

    BurningWheel3in

If these suggestions are too adventurous or time consuming for you, you can always just sit outside and read a book -this is a simple but still highly appropriate way to get connected with the sun and nature.

The important thing is to mark this day in some special way. Honor and appreciate the Sun for the all the blessings it bestows on the Earth and think past the mere physical body out in space to the spiritual aspects it represents. Take time to immerse yourself in the true Light, Life and Love of the Universe.

 

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