Growing up on a farm and in a climate with very distinct seasonal changes, I was always aware of the rhythms of the earth as we progressed through the year–particularly when what often seemed like the never-ending winter finally gave way to spring and the first good-smelling days had us cracking open the windows and shedding our winter coats.
You can imagine then when I began writing the Circle of Nine series, the Wheel of the Year with its eight celebrations did not feel that foreign to me. This calendar celebrates the four solar holidays (the two solstices and the two equinoxes), which are also called quarter days and the four holidays which fall directly between them, also known as cross-quarter days. The calendar begins with Samhain on October 31, then Yule or the winter solstice, followed by Imbolc, bringing us to our current point in the year Ostara or the Spring Equinox. (I previously discussed Samhain in an October blog: “What Are Your Traditions for October 31 and November 1?”)
This year Ostara (aka the Spring Equinox) was just celebrated this past Sunday, March 20 . . . most people (in the northern hemisphere) will just see this as the beginning of spring but to those who follow this calendar of celebrations, it is so much more. Are you curious?
The name Ostara comes from the goddess of spring Oestre or Eastre. The name derives from the word for dawn—the shining light from the east. (I find it interesting that the word for estrogen comes from this name as well.) This celebration is a joyous one, embracing the springtime rebirth of the earth after the long winter. Indeed, symbols featured as part of this celebration include eggs and rabbits—traditional objects signifying fertility. (If you are thinking that this seems similar to Easter, you’d be right. Many of these pagan traditions were absorbed into the Easter celebration as Christianity spread.)
The characters in the Circle of Nine series definitely embrace the egg dyeing tradition, using natural colorants to make the shells a pastel rainbow.
“Bressa, Maureen, and Onora spent the day dyeing Ostara eggs, the pastel shells making a lovely rainbow when finished. Pretty though they were, the process made Bressa’s household positively reek as the boiled vegetables used for the coloring were particularly odorous—red cabbage for blue, onion skins for orange, spinach for green, beets for pink, and the inner bark of the apple tree for yellow.” ~from the Circle of Nine series
My characters also make hot cross buns, which is now known as a distinctly Christian tradition, but can be traced back to the pre-Christian ancient spring festival as well. You might wonder if I embrace either of these celebratory endeavors, and I can say that while I admire these efforts, it is from afar. I’ve never met a yeast dough I didn’t kill, and I’m a little too impatient to steep hardboiled eggs in beet juice for hours. The pagan version of Martha Stewart I am decidedly NOT.
But I love learning about such things, and that’s why this kind of research makes writing such fun! But it is also a serious responsibility to get the details right. As I dove into the pagan rituals and Celtic holidays my main character’s family follows, I had to be careful to discern which holiday names and practices were truly those of the ancient Celts versus more modern incarnations of pagan celebrations along with noting the way traditions differ from country to country and which are predominantly Irish or Celtic. I hope layering in these details has made for a richer reading experience.
So Happy Spring and Blessed Ostara to you all . . . I hope that by either name it is just as sweet as we welcome the new season.