Ostara, Eostre, Easter, Vernal Equinox, Spring Equinox, and First Day of Spring are all names for the same festival time. This is the day when the light and darkness are of equal length, and afterwards the days get longer. This occurs when the Sun enters Aries, which is on March 20th or 21st. This is the time when the light symbolically "triumphs over darkness", so it is no wonder that the Christian's put their Easter, wbere the God of Light triumphs over darkness and rises again, at this time of year. It has long been the time for Gods to return from the Underworld, or the darkness, as we shall see.
Agriculturally, this is the time in most of Europe and America when the seeds are sown and planted in the ground. This corresponds in Wicca also to the planting of new ideas, new goals for the coming year, new businesses or new activities to be started.
This holiday is sacred to Eostre, Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring, also known as Ostre. Sacred to Her are eggs, and white rabbits. There is a legend in which a white rabbit fell in love with her, and to prove his love he laid colored eggs for her everyday. (Eggs and white rabbits, sound familiar anyone?) The white rabbit symbolizes the transformation of innocence, and constant fertility. The eggs symbolize new life, and also rebirth. In ancient times, when hens were not domesticated, it was necessary to climb trees and hunt for these eggs, no doubt a welcome treat after the dreary winter fare. Thus we may have the origination of the egg hunt so many cultures still do today. Also, since the eggs are found in the woven nests of birds, which were the inspration for woven baskets, we can see the link between the ancient ways and our traditions today of putting the colored eggs into pretty woven baskets.
Why decorate eggs? Birds eggs are naturally decorated for camoflauge or for other reasons having to do with the preservation of the species. And that is the same reason why we decorate our eggs today and why our pagan ancestors did theirs, the presevation of the species! They used not only color to symbolize what they wanted to be "born" but also, signs, runes, and different geometric designs.
If you want to see a very old tradition still in practice today, research the Ukranian art form of making "pysanky" (from the word "pysaty" which means "to write"). These eggs have highly stylized decorations of geometric and other designs, and are also quite beautiful.
To decorate your own eggs, here are some of the ancient signs and what they mean:
more modern symbols are:
You can also use pentagrams, ankhs, and any other symbols which have meaning for you. Conincide the symbol with the color, for example, an egg for love and friendship would have a heart on it and be pink or red. One for healing might be green or blue. One for new ideas might be yellow and show an "!" on it! Be creative - use your imagination, this is how we grow and learn our traditions, and incorporate them into our lives.
Decorated eggs were found in Egyptian tombs, and were not for food, since the eggs were hollow, they were more of an amulet intended to help the soul find rebirth. It is known that the Druids dyed eggs red in honor of the sun. Today, we have choices, such as whether to use either commercial dyes, or natural ones.
If you want to experiment with natural dyes, here are some that I have seen listed in books. I must tell you that I have not personally tried these, but they have been published by several authors I respect, so I will pass them on for your benefit:
Leaving the eggs in the dye longer, will create the darker colors. Many of these must be boiled, or brought to a boil, then add the egg and vinegar, and allow both to cool. Eggs should be hard=boiled first, before dying. Mark the eggs before hand with crayon or wax, or afterwards you can use lemon juice for the darker colors, or even "magic markers". Be sure to add white vinegar to your colors so they will stick to the eggshell. With the natural dyes, the eggs do scratch more easily, so handle with care!
Before your circle you may want to take your ritual bath and add an egg, and use an "egg shampoo" by putting raw egg in your hair. It is wonderful for your hair, and also for your bath!
Getting back to the theme of returning from the Underworld, there are quite a few myths surrounding this holiday which all have the same theme, though the names and circumstances may differ slightly. All have the common thread of the Goddess's love bringing them back from the Underworld. Most were of lovers, such as Isis and Osiris, Ishtar and Tammuz, Aphrodite and Adonis, Cybele and Attis. However, Mother and daughter, Demeter and Persephone also follow this theme. As does the myth of Mother and Son Bacchus and Semele, except that it was Bacchus who loved his Mother so much even though he had never seen her, that he descended into the Underworld to bring her back to Mount Olympus with him. These myths can be read in many books, so I won't go into them here, but they are all appropriate themes for any Ostara Sabbat rite. (A note: in our tradition and living in Florida we have already experienced the return of the Goddess at Imbolc, so this is less appropriate for us, being in the warmer climate. You can adapt the seasonal celebrations to more closely follow what your seasons are.)
All pastel colors are sacred to Eostre, but her color is especially blue. (Robin's egg blue!) She is the Goddess of the East, and Spring. She is the same as Eos, the Greek Goddess of the East, and of sunrise and dawn. Is this why so many Christians celebrate Easter Sunday with a sunrise service? She is the Maiden aspect of the triple Goddess. In Hindu, she is called Ushas, and her lover and opposite is the God of the West, of death, of the sunset. This also corresponds to the Norse God, Vestri, god of the sunset and of fire, and the latin word "Vespers". The Greek Goddess Vestra, who was goddess of fire and had a perpetual flame tended by the Vestal Virgins also fits the fire in the west theme. In our tradition, we put fire in the west, and it seems at some time in the past, fire was the traditional element for the west, representing death, as most funerals were done by cremation in many cultures. Even the Norse ships which carried the dead out to sea were first set aflame, then launched. It seems a natural opposite to the water in the East where all life begins, (amniotic fluid) and where the Goddess of Spring, the Maiden, rules.
In Ireland, the Shamrock is associated with Ostara, because it is the green of new life, and the three-leafed variety was sacred to the triple Goddess. Four-leaved clovers were and still are considered lucky, they represent the four elements in balance, and also a symbol of the sun wheel.
Foods for this Sabbat include eggs (of course!), and hot cross buns, which have the solar wheel representation on them in the form of the cross. Also the traditional Easter ham comes to us from cultures which had a wild boar hunt at this time, and paraded the boar's head around on a platter.
However you celebrate this holiday, remember that the traditions which have been passed down to us are all pagan in origin, (as is the case with so many holidays!) and you can join right in with them whole-heartedly!
If you would like to read further on this or any other holiday I strongly recommend two books by Dan and Pauline Campanelli, "Wheel of the Year", and "Ancient Ways". They are a wealth of well-researched information, and also have a lot of practical "hands on" recipes for many traditional holiday endeavors.
"Ancient Ways" by Pauline and Dan Campanelli
"Wheel of the Year" by Pauline and Dan Campanelli
"A Witches Bible Compleat" by Janet and Stewart Farrar