Tag Archive | spring

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

Originally published March 20th, 2012, this is a practical guide to the spring equinox celebration of Ostara.

 

Honoring Ostara, Easter: Simple Ways to Honor the Goddess of Spring and the Dawn

 

Wicca is a predominately reconstructionist religion. That is, one of its aims is to redact the Old Religion practiced in pre-Christian Europe. One key way we do this is by recognizing the European cultural and religious traditions that were preserved-even if altered-through Roman Catholicism. A simple example of Old Religion traditions preserved by the Church and our culture at large include wearing costumes at Halloween, decorating with evergreens in December, and sunrise services for Resurrection Sunday (a better and more accurate name for “Easter,” the Christian version). These are all customs most people in the western world recognize; far fewer recognize their roots in pre-Christian European cultures.

No other holiday, besides Yuletide, has been preserved in regards to the old ways and the old stories as the holiday called Easter by Christians. The name Easter is a simple Anglicization of the Anglo-Saxon name “Ëostre,” the high German form being “Ostara.” As witchvox tells us (seehttp://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991), both forms of this name reference the idea of “East” in Germanic languages (modern German, Osten-note the connection with the Ostara form of the name), the direction of the dawn. Ostara is both goddess of the vernal equinox and goddess of the dawn.

But beyond simply telling the story about Ostara and her magical egg bearing hare and the gifts of flowers she bestowed on the faithful, beyond all the ideas so commercialized and so taken over by Christianity, how can we, who wish to honor the Old Religion, do so as we welcome spring this year? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Greet the morning in which the equinox arrives by getting up at sunrise and watch the sun at dawn for some quiet time with nature.
  2. Meditate and pray for balance and harmony-for yourself, those around you, and the world. This is a good day to pray for divine help in preserving endangered species and reversing global warming. The optimal time for this: the five minutes leading up to and after the exact moment of planetary equinox when the planet is in “the moment between moments and hour between hours” as I pray every year as part of this prayer. Pray outside touching a tree or plant if you can.
  3. Bring in some colored flowers to your home and place in a spot where everyone will see them regularly.
  4. Wear pastel clothing on the day of the astronomical spring equinox
  5. Make and eat at least one colored boiled egg. Skip the commercial egg kits; a few drops of kitchen food coloring in boiling water with vinegar and extracted with a spoon is all you need!
  6. Spend at least thirty minutes outdoors communing with nature.
  7. Leave food offerings of thanksgiving for Ostara; the animals near you will be thankful!
  8. Plant a tree, herb, or shrub
  9. Drink a cup of lavender or lemon balm tea. Both herbs are associated with the holiday. Be sure you brew from culinary (aka English) lavender. If your preferred herb, spice, or tea retailer does not sell it, ask for it!
  10. Integrate marjoram, lemon balm, culinary lavender, thyme, and/or sunflower seeds into a special holiday meal.

For more information on Ostara/Easter please consult: http://www.pagannews.com/cgi-bin/sabbats1.pl?Ostara , http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=holidays&id=1991, and http://earthwitchery.com/ostara.html.

Purim Celebrations for Gentiles

Originally posted February 28th, 2012

 

Hamantaschen are delicious cookies traditionally eaten at Purim.

The Jewish Holiday of Purim is a festive, often raucous holiday filled with gaiety, great food, and parties. Yet for the gentile, this holiday is often a bit of a conundrum, even though many gentiles know the essential story behind Purim from the Biblical book of Esther.

Purim is a spring holiday, typically celebrated in March, celebrating Jewish survival in the face of genocide. The word Purim means “lots” and is a reference to the lots drawn by Persian courtier Haman to decide the date of Jewish annihilation. The story itself is told in full in the Biblical book of Esther, the name of a very brave Jewish young woman who, according to the story, was chosen as the new queen of King Ahasuerus (assumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) after his previous queen refused to come to a banquet thrown by Xerxes for several nobles. Queen Vashti’s refusal was probably understandable; the summons came while Xerxes was drunk. Regardless the historical details, if any, Esther’s ascent puts her in a rare position, able to influence the king in a time of crisis. After Haman tricks Xerxes into genocidal slaughter of all the Jews in his realm, Esther skillfully uses Xerxes interest in her to amend the new law-allowing Jews to defend themselves. It is her courage and intelligence (and the ultimate victory by the Jews made in self defense) that is celebrated at Purim-one woman who stopped genocide.

Orthodox Jews celebrate Purim with readings of the entire book of Esther in temple. During the readings, it is customary to shout or make noise whenever the name of Haman is read. Children dress up in costumes (making some describe it as a sort of Jewish Halloween). Adults drink-the much debated standard is “until they can no longer distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai,'” (http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Purim/At_Home/Meal/Drinking_on_Purim.shtml).

These are the parts of Purim that are more or less the real domain of Judaism. Yet it is the other half of Purim that I believe gentiles can robustly embrace and which I keep every spring as a gentile:

  • Charitable giving: giving to those who have less than you do. This part of Purim reminds us that no matter how hard life is or how much we may lack, there is ALWAYS someone who has even greater life challenges-economically and otherwise. Purim reminds us to “count our blessings.”
  • Giving food gifts: certain Jewish foods like hamentaschen cookies are traditional, but any food gift will work. This is related in part with charitable giving; there is always someone we know struggling to have enough to eat.
  • Feasting/enjoying a special Purim meal: this is a merry holiday–of course we celebrate with food.

Purim is more than simply a celebration honoring the courage of a Jewish heroine. The holiday has evolved into a time for charity, food, and humble thankfulness for the blessings each of us receive and too often take for granted. No matter your religious or cultural heritage, each of us can celebrate this very Jewish holiday and its spirit of helping others.

For more about Purim, please see http://www.meirpanim.org/page_e.php?name=Purim andhttp://purim.123holiday.net/purim_customes.html and http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Purim/At_Home/Foods.shtml.

 

 

A nice recipe for hamantaschen is at http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/1366/jewish/Traditional-Hamantashen.htm

Medieval Beltane Music

All Wiccan holidays are based on the seasons.  That means that witches in the northern hemisphere celebrate the opposite season holidays as those in the southern hemisphere.

 

As European and American Wiccans prepare to celebrate Samhain, the last and final holiday in the Wiccan calender (the new year beginning on November 1st), let’s turn our thoughts to spring — and our southern neighbors — with this look at Beltane and Beltane music.

 

Medieval Beltane Music

It’s almost Beltane, also known as May Day, a day known for its flowers, picnics, and of course, the May Pole Dance.

Like many festivals, music is an essential part of worship, even though many, perhaps, do not process Beltane celebrations as a form of religious worship. Yet through the ages and into today, songs celebrating spring, the Beltane festival, and/or the coming of summer all bring us closer to nature and Beltane’s celebration of new life. Here are a few of my favorite period songs for celebrating this ancient festival:

“Sumer Is Icumen in”: a medieval four part round originally written in the 13th century in Middle English (see Middle English and modern lyrics athttp://www.pteratunes.org.uk/Music/Music/Lyrics/summerisicumenin.html), “Sumer Is Icumen In” is one of the oldest known songs celebrating the coming of summer (beginning May 1st in Celtic and Germanic cultures). Beautiful in both Middle and Modern English, this classic was one of the first medieval songs I ever learned to sing and remains a perennial favorite among re-enactors and neo-pagans alike. Don’t want to sing it or play it on the recorder? Two of the best recordings of it is by St. George’s Canzona from their album “Medieval Songs and Dances,” and, for a pop arrangement of this classic, check out the version by Jaiya from her album “Beltane: Songs for the Spring Time,” both available on itunes.

“Now is the Month of Maying”: written by Elizabethan Englishman Thomas Morley in the late 16th century, it remains one of the best known songs about Beltane. The King’s Singers have a lovely rendition of it on their album “Madrigal History Tour” that is true to its original madrigal/troubadour origins. For a very modern take on this classic, consider “The Month of Maying” by Jaiya, also from “Beltane: Songs for the Spring Time.”

“Tempus Adest Floridum” (the time is near for flowering): originally written in the 13thcentury, “Tempus Adest Floridum’s” tune became popularized in the 19th century when the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas ” provided new lyrics to the then 600 year old tune. Find four verses in the original Latin at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/non/la/tempusade.htm and full translation at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/f/l/flowcaro.htm. Enjoy a classical recording of the song on Jeremy Summerly’s album, “Let Voices Resound: Songs from Piae Cantiones,” available on Amazon.com.

 

For more information on Beltane and medieval/Renaissance music, please consult:http://www.pteratunes.org.uk/Music/Music/Composers.html,http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/festivals/may/beltane.html,http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/beltanemayday/p/Beltane_History.htm,http://londongirl.hubpages.com/hub/Bringing-in-the-May—the-history-and-culture-of-the-traditional-English-May-Day.