Though still in the depths of winter here in Michigan, the longer days are already noticeable. Because the daylight cycle leads our seasons, the days are already as long as they were in early October – though of course still much colder. For me, this growing daylight (reinforced by the start of Daylight Savings Time) is a reminder from our Earth itself, one of those many helpful features of our seasons, to begin thinking about, and planning for, the Spring Equinox/Ostara. Another reminder – one that is rather bizarre – is the appearance of a “warm-blooded” plant that smells like a zombie!
For those of us in Eastern North America, one of the first signs of the coming spring we see is the strange flower of the skunk cabbage (picture above), often surrounded by a snowless ring in swamps where snow remains. This is not just due to the warmth of the Sun on the upright flower – no, these are some of the few plants that generate significant amounts of heat. Wow, a warm-blooded plant! Sorry, Westerners, only the
Easter Eastern skunk cabbage does this, not the Western skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus, not Lysichiton americanus). It was cool to learn this – even though I’ve been going out to find these flowers nearly every spring for 35 years, I never knew this! It’s a lot of heat too – as much as a mouse, so the selective advantage must be large to pay for such an expensive trait. This heat not only allows earlier blooming (melting snow), but also spreads the rotten scent, attracting their main pollinator: flies (like many other plants, this plant lies to it’s pollinators). Keeping the flies in the flower for longer allows for better pollination – and even when it is freezing outside, inside it is between 60 and 90 F! This zombie flower combines the ideas of new life and rotting death – yet another reminder that these two ideas are linked. Hmmm, smells bad, Lukewarm inside even when cold outside…. a tauntaun flower?
(also, the approach of Ostara also means that Pi Day is coming up quick! This is a fun day in our family – check out that link for lots of ways to celebrate.)
“Ostara” derives from the name of a Germanic goddess of the spring, Eostar or Eostre, who is celebrated as bringing the rebirth we see around us in the coming spring. Eostar is also the same word from which Christians get “Easter”, which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Moon after the Spring Equinox. It’s no coincidence that Christians chose this time to celebrate their god’s resurrection.
In ancient pagan traditions, there are many stories of dying and rising gods and goddesses. This is the time when Neo-Pagans celebrate the triumph of the god of the sun over is dark twin and the powers of darkness and the return of the spring goddess from the underworld. Now is the time we celebrate green life surging upward from the dark earth, just as the goddess Persephone returned to the arms of her mother Demeter, from the underworld where she had been kidnapped by Hades, and just as the goddess Ishtar rose from the underworld with her lover Tammuz, whom she had rescued from her sister, the queen of death.
With kids, employment, the house, and so much more, celebrations in my family need to be thought of well in advance if they are going to happen, so this overview is being posted now, giving everyone time to build up to the sacred time coming in just two weeks. There are several things I’ll do leading up to any of our holidays, reminding me on a daily basis of the turning Wheel of the Year, and the ongoing life we enjoy. For many of them (including Ostara), changes to the house décor (usually some decorations) and to the family altar presage a coming holiday. I also change my computer background to something related to the coming holiday as well – mostly because it is something I see often in my day to day life. Music is an important part of life for many of us, and Bart Everson gives us this collection of Vernal Equinox music.
Ways to Celebrate
With the moment of the Equinox at 12:30 am EDT this year, the actual Equinox will be on March 19th for some and on the 20th for others. Whichever day you choose, here are some of the many ways Naturalistic and Humanistic Pagans will be celebrating.
Anna Walther offers five ways to play on the Spring Equinox.
John Halstead celebrates the Spring Equinox with his children by “charming the plow”, decorating their garden tools with brightly colored ribbons. Here is John Halstead’s Spring Equinox ritual script, which is especially useful for those with children.
As part of his spring equinox celebration, NaturalPantheist offers the following exposition:
“As I stand here on this celebration of Ostara, the vernal equinox, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in times before and my descendants may do in time to come, I honour the old ways. As the dark half of the year comes to a close at this time and nature shifts, the day and night are of equal length and balanced. From now on the sun triumphs over the darkness, bringing warmth and energy as we head towards summer. This is the time of Alban Eiler, the Light of the Earth, a feast to celebrate the renewal of life. The birds return from the southern lands bearing spring time beneath their wings. Nature has awoken, seeds are sprouting, tree buds are bursting, daffodils and flowers are blossoming, and birds and animals are preparing to have their young. I rejoice in the renewal of life.”
For me, with the weather still cold, the full blossoming of life fits much better at Beltaine/The Spring Equitherm, the Spring Equinox celebrates the first visible life (in Deep Time, around 1 billion to 600 million years ago), and thus corresponds to the energy and happiness of young children, when lives begin to take visible shape. On the Naturalistic Paganism discussion group, I provide a method for coloring eggs with natural dyes, and suggest making equinox cookies – half dark, half light. (See the group’s files section for details.) We also plant the seeds (in starter flats indoors) which we’ll put in the ground at Beltaine/Spring Equitherm, and the kids find Ostara baskets. For more details, here’s our full post on Ostara. While probably not new, I’ve also just learned of using shaving cream to make swirled Ostara egg patterns.
Mark Green celebrates this holiday as “High Spring” – reflecting the very different climate in California compared to other places.
The Pagaian celebration of Eostar is described in this video, though with this Mooncourt in Australia, they are preparing for the Fall Equinox now (meditations like this are available to sample, and purchase, here). For others in the Southern Hemisphere, here’s an overview of Fall Equinox celebrations.
This is an updated version of the yearly Spring Equinox post. Feel free to share your own naturalistic celebrations below. An overview of the eight holidays of the Wheel of the Year, from a naturalistic perspective, is here.