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Ēostre (Ostara) .... and the egg-laying Hares!

A celebration of the return of the Spring Goddess.

Ēostre emerges from the depths of Winter - her entourage of hares carrying the lamp-lights of dawn and the rising sun. She brings joy and abundance - fertility and fecundity. She leads us in the dance of love and new life.

The Spring Goddess is known by many names; Ēostre, Eástre, Ôstara, Āsteron (Germanic/Saxon) - Austra, Freya or Iðunn (Norse) - Blodeuwedd, Brighid, Olwen(Celtic) - Dziewanna, Lada (E.European) - Beiwen (Finnish Saami) Persephone/Kore, Hebe, Maia (Greek) - Cybele, Flora, Libera (Roman), Vesna (Slavic), Kostroma (Russian) - Kono-Hana-Sakuya-Hime (Japanese) - Saraswati, Sita (Hindu) - Asase Yaa (Ashanti). The return of the Spring and Goddess has been celebrated around the world for millennia.

The Hare (or Rabbit) has long been revered as a symbol of fertility, due to its reputation for prolific procreation! - hence its association with Spring and new life. Hare is also a magical spirit animal, running fleet-footed beneath the Full Moon ~ the witch's familiar ~ the shape-shifter ~ Hare dances between the worlds. So it is fitting that Hare should be the one to carry the light of the Spring Goddess to guide her out of the darkness.

The Easter Egg - Theories abound with regard to the Easter tradition of gifting decorated eggs. Eggs have long been regarded as symbols of fertility, birth and renewal, being typically hatched at Springtime. In Christianised early medieval Europe eggs were a forbidden food during the period of Lent - eggs laid during Holy Week (the week before Easter) were kept and decorated, then gifted to the children at Easter time. The Victorians took this tradition to a new level, gifting decorated chocolate eggs (made popular in France and Germany). I suspect that Prince Albert (Victoria's husband) was partly responsible for this idea, bringing some German traditions to England (including the introduction of the decorated Christmas Tree).

But where does the idea of the Easter Bunny handing out decorated eggs come from?

Well, that's another story!

My favourite piece of folklore concerning this is that some folk used to believe that Hares laid eggs. They came to this conclusion because the ground-nest made by the Hare is very similar in appearance to that of the Lapwing, the two could be easily confused. Perhaps the Hare had once been a bird? Should one stumble across a Hares nest, only to find an egg in it, it would be natural to assume that Hares lay eggs, stands to reason! This made the Hare very special of course. Some traditions say that the Hare would take its newly-laid egg and decorate it in order to make it a fitting gift to present to the Goddess at Springtime.

Others believed that the Springtime baby bunnies were responsible for hiding eggs for the children to find - and that the Cuckoo was the provider of the eggs (Cuckoo being first heard at Springtime, with a penchant for laying its eggs in random nests built by other birds).

|- Birch (Beith) - Is the first tree in the Ogham (Celtic Tree Alphabet) and is associated with the Spring Goddess, renewal, rebirth, growth. It is one of the first trees to come into leaf in Spring and is considered to be a 'pioneer species', one of the first trees to grow and repopulate the woodland after fire or felling. It has many uses, both practical, medicinal and culinary - from Birch Brooms and babies cradles (symbolising new beginnings) to Birch Sap wine or beer. The leaves, sap and bark are used for a variety of medicinal ailments. Birch is a quick fire wood, burning hot and fast. I often use a little birch wood to get my cooking fire going - its bark is also traditionally used to make containers and baskets - ideal for foraging.

The Hot-Crossed Bun is a classic Easter sweet-treat, spiced and dotted with currents, traditionally eaten on Good Friday - another symbol claimed by the Christians.

However..... a much earlier Pagan symbol bears a remarkable likeness to the hot-crossed-bun - that of the Solar sign - the wheel of the year - the Sun wheel.

Might the Christians have hijacked yet another Pagan symbol? Surely not!

New life and abundance is all around us at this time of year - wild flowers and leaves begin to flourish.

The woodland is filled with the scents of Spring - bluebells, wild narcissi, delicate primroses, the white star-flowers of wood anemone, yellow celandine, purple wild violets, pink and white blossoms of cherry, plum and apple, hawthorn and blackthorn.

For me it heralds the start of the foraging season - the woodland floor is carpeted in wild garlic (Ramsoms) - together with Jack-by-the-Hedge (wild mustard), Hawthorn buds (bread and cheese) and violet flowers - all make a welcome addition to my Spring salad bowl.

The "Easter weekend" is a favourite time for gardeners, agriculturalists and home-growers - the worst of the frosts have ceased - the days grow longer, the soil grows warmer - time to plant the seeds for the new growing season.

How can we fail to celebrate the beginning of this delightful season, just as our ancestors would have done - long before Christianity began.

Although the "Easter weekend" usually falls in April, it is somewhat of a moveable feast, its timing being dependent on the phase of the Moon (how pagan is that?!)

The Christian 'Easter Sunday' falls on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox (March 21st or 22nd - when the hours of day and night are equal.) We can therefore assume that our pagan ancestors would have celebrated this festival of rebirth around the time of the Spring Full Moon (which fell on Thurs 6th April this year, 2023).

Long may these traditions continue - I urge everyone to celebrate these special times of year, regardless of your religious beliefs and culture, in which ever way you see fit. A reverence and appreciation of Nature and her abundance should be something to be encouraged. Get outside if you can, drink in the sights and scents of Spring - feel the promise of renewal and the warmth of the Sun.

May your Spring Goddess bless you with her light and abundance.

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