When there’s still snow on the ground and you literally just struggled the other day to get your car out of a parking space that’s mostly ice and snow, it’s hard to picture Ostara being right around the corner. But the days are indeed getting longer. In fact, daylight saving time starts this weekend! And it’s not quite as cold as it was not long ago. So the signs are all there, but it’s New England. We’re used to skepticism on when the actual end of winter will be. As pagans and polytheists in our area, we celebrate the spring equinox in hope.
So what exactly is Ostara, anyway?
Ostara as a holiday is inspired by a number of different pagan traditions. It’s not completely new, but it’s not exactly old, either. I’ve commented on historical precedent for pagan holidays in the past, and as always age does not matter but historical accuracy does. Different traditions have varied takes on how to celebrate this time of year and while Blue Star has our own traditions, many of our individual members do our own personal celebrations as well.
As for folks like myself, we tend to be more apt to celebrate the return of Persephone from the underworld during this time. In ancient Greece spring was the time of year during which the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries performed initiations. These initiatory rites were the prerequisite for receiving initiation in the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries. Initiates afterwards had to wait until the following year in order to receive the Greater rites in autumn. The Eleusinian Mysteries promised immortality and rebirth to all who initiated into them, and inspired many modern initiatory traditions.
As a more modern holiday, Ostara is about celebrating rebirth also as well as the return of life. We welcome back the flowers, the leaves on the trees, and the continued lengthening of the days as the world around us slowly once more becomes green.
Welcome to Autumn, or if you’re in the southern hemisphere visiting our site for whatever reason, happy Spring! The Fall Equinox goes by so many names in the pagan and witch communities: autumnal equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, Meán Fómhair, Alban Elfed, etc.
Some are less well known than others, but where did they come from? Why Mabon? And what do the others mean? Are any of them less or more valid than the others?
While some still use this term while others have abandoned it in favor of others. One of the reasons some people left the name behind is the fact that Mabon really isn’t remotely associated with the autumn and hence it doesn’t feel appropriate to them. I personally don’t see the association with Kore/Persephone at all. I’m heavily involved with the Greek gods myself. There’s a lot of academic research available into the religious ideas and practices of ancient Greece and its neighbors, none of it showing any strong resemblance between the two deities.
I feel that Kelly’s take lacked the nuances into her story and the traditions surrounding her, and tackled it from a very superficial standpoint. Since there are terrible takes on witchtok and elsewhere about Persephone’s story and her relationship to Hades, I’m not surprised. But the frustration I feel on this subject and those related to Greek religions (yes, plural) and its inherent lack of centrality and universality of their myths continues. However, that’s a whole other blog post.
Does A Name’s History Matter?
History, yes. History should be taught, and taught honestly. I’m a huge fan of teaching wherever things came from and being very transparent and open about that.
But I don’t believe in the idea that “older is better” nor do I feel that any tradition must be ancient and unbroken for it to have any value or legitimacy. Are there modern traditions that have grown around the god Mabon around this time? Most certainly. Should we stop practicing traditions because they’re not ancient or whatever? Hardly. Traditional Wicca itself is not ancient and has only really been around since the 1940s or so. The Blue Star Wiccan tradition itself came about in the 1970s. We have members of this tradition who are in fact older than the tradition itself!
What If A History Is Problematic?
One thing which people must absorb is this: all histories are problematic and have had problematic leaders. That’s the reality of human history.
Instead of abandoning everything, people should teach that history instead of shoving it under the rug and explain where we departed from things because of that history. And also people should address what they changed in their process and why in order to address that very history. It’s one of the many reasons why we put up statements on this site about past initiates as well as our codes of conduct in regards to sexuality and in general.
So What Should I Call The Holiday?
Whatever you like! Whether or not the fall equinox is Mabon, Harvest Home, or simply the Fall Equinox is entirely up to you. Your traditions may vary, too. Out of everything in traditional Wicca including its history and origins, this isn’t a hill I personally choose to die on. But others may feel differently. Just whatever you do, be honest about open about where it came from. That’s all.
Either way, have a wonderful holiday and the best of pagan/Wiccan/witch/etc. celebrations to you no matter what your background, tradition(s), or lack thereof! And enjoy (if you do) your pumpkin spice lattes.
This year Sapphire Coven and Grove celebrated Lammas with Aurora Coven and Grove. Lammas is when we honor the symbolic sacrifice of the god, usually with a special loaf of bread filled with seeds and cut during ritual. It marks the beginning of the harvest cycle culminating at Samhain. This is a festival that gets into the concept of sacrifice with participants offering something up which they do not wish to part with.
While the term “sacrifice” used been used since antiquity, much of its connotations have evolved since then to incorporate various modern concepts including Christian ones. So what does sacrifice mean to pagans, anyhow?
On the meaning of sacrifice
Sacrifice: “the act of offering something to God or a god,” from early French sacrifice (same meaning), from Latin sacrificium “sacrifice,” from sacr-, sacer “sacred” and -ficium, from facere “to do, make”
1: an act of offering something precious to God or a god; especially : the killing of a victim on an altar 2: something offered in sacrifice 3: a giving up of something especially for the sake of someone else; also : something so given up 4: loss of profit <sell goods at a sacrifice>
Why would Lammas and the start of a harvest season involve sacrifice? Simply put, it’s the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in the form of crops. We must cut down the wheat we worked so hard to grow that we may make bread, beer, etc. That food sustains us until we die and become part of the land we grow our crops from. That awareness of the cycle of life, of the fertility of the crops, and what must be done in order to reap our own harvests is essential to understanding the importance of Lammas. In order for there to be life, there must also be death. That is part of the sacrifice we must make.
Sacrifices vs offerings
So when is a sacrifice a sacrifice and an offering an offering? It can be argued that a sacrifice is a type of offering. Offerings are gifts, given freely without thought of reward. We burn incense, make libations, and bake cakes as offerings to the gods. Sacrifice implies difficulty, the giving up of something that has value and meaning for us. The idea is that without that meaning, the sacrifice would not matter.
Why give something up? For a greater purpose, a greater cause, something that means even more than what we’re giving up. To contemplate Lammas we must also reflect on our own individual sacrifices which we make in life for things that have meaning to us. To continue to have life, we must also have death. Cycles are a part of the human experience and of existence in general.
Awareness of our part in nature and what we must do in regards to our responsibility for others is all baked (if you’ll forgive the pun) into Lammas. As witches we must be mindful of our involvement in the cycles of nature and its importance to life as a whole. It’s what it means to be human.