That means that up here in the Northern Hemisphere, spring has officially sprung, and from today – where the night and day are of equal length - the days get longer and the Eostre festival begins. It’s time to start celebrating the green shoots of new growth and renewal and life after a winter that’s overstayed like a food-stealing houseguest. You know what that means!
Yes, up here it’s all eggs and rabbits and chocolate and blossoms and everything says new life! Fertility! There's romance in the air… and on the platform at Camden Town tube station, where I saw two particularly pretty young people having a big old smooch last night.
Christians, of course, are celebrating the Easter festival, and the miracle of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Iranians are celebrating the beginning of their new year, as are the Baha’i. The Chinese (and their admirers) are balancing eggs on their ends; the symbolic idea being to prove that harmony exists in the world, if the traditional symbol of fertility (the egg) can find balance on the most balanced day of the year.
And in my personally favourite ritual, in America, the employees of the Annapolis boatyards are burning their socks to mark the end of the cold weather and the warmth to come.
Down South, of course, it’s a bit more complicated. When the Christians came to the lands at the South of the world, they brought their festivals with them with no date adjustment. While Australians are certainly stocking up on chocolate for the Easter festival, the symbols of regrowth and new life are slightly out place for the greying weather and the onset of autumnal chill. Nevermind – we shall deal with that in a moment.
Pagans celebrate the change in the weather and the transformation of the natural world with a festival. The deity of the season is Eostre, a lunar goddess and one of fertility, sexuality and, sometimes, war. If the word sounds familiar, it’s because, as a fertility goddess, she's provides the basis of the word "oestrogen" as well as gives her name to the Easter festival. She’s usually depicted naked, and often in the company of the lion, horse, sphinx or dove, and with a star in a circle that represents the planet Venus.
She also goes by the names Ostara, Ostera, Estara, Eostar, Eostra, Inanna, Ishtar, Anat, Astarte or Asherah, depending which bit of the world you're in (or how good your spelling is). Some equate her with Aphrodite the Greek goddess, Venus the Roman goddess and the Syrian Atargatis. Others equate her with Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the night, and Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy.
Interestingly, the ancient Israelites worshipped the goddess as the consort of El, and the Hebrews in Judah worshipped her as the consort of Yahweh himself. Archaeological evidence for this relationship abounds, as do arguments that the Bible writers, who no one could argue were great flag-flyers for the celebration of female sexuality, sidelined her divinity. In the Old Testament, for example, the prophet Jeremiah freaks out when he discovers Jews who worship her as the Queen of Heaven. As Jeremiah rebukes them, her followers resist conversion. In Jeremiah 44:15-18 they make their case:
We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.
There’s a book on this subject, for those of you who find this stuff interesting. One suspects, on a purely sociological level, that a society that worships around aromatherapy, healthy sexuality and feasting probably has both more appeal and more time to devote to agriculture than one where religious wars and forced religious conversation take up people’s time.
But I digress. Whatever name she goes by, Eostre is about fertility and the delights of nature at springtime. To worship her, or just celebrate the season she represents, is to wander in the greening woods and vales and delight in their new shoots. It is to fill your home with fresh flowers - jonquils, lilacs, crocuses, daffoldils, irises, tulips and lilies - throw a pastel-coloured tablecloth over the dining-room table and flavour food with marjoram and thyme. Buy new plants for the home and garden. And, perhaps the best bit of all, bake cakes and drink fruit juice or wine to celebrate the return of life to the earth.
Research into the best cake with which to honour the season’s goddess throw up both unsurprising and very surprising results:
- hot cross buns, naturally
- carrot and walnut cake, as carrots are in season
- Maltese figolla – an almond-pastry dish used to serve up chocolate Easter eggs
- Cornish pasties. No, I am not joking. The crescent shape of the Cornish pastry was brought to Cornwall by the Astarte-worshipping Phoenicians, who came there to trade tin.
As it is the season of rebirth, Titania suggests a lovely ritual for beginning the “new” seasonal year. She sets out candles around her shower and showers with rose-scented products, bringing an actual rose into the shower with her and anointing her body with it in deference to the beauty of spring, stepping out clean and fresh into a new year and a new identity for it.
Celebrating the season with the fragrance of the spring a wonderful way to greet the return of warm weather. For those of you who resist the inflated prices of perfumed moisture-potions and soap-elixirs, remember that it is much more cost-effective to buy unscented home-brand products and scent them yourself. Whether it is rose or orange blossom, limes, jasmine or anything else floral that does it for your nose, try these:
- Add a couple of drops of your favourite essential oil in some frangrance-free hair conditioner to perfume your hair.
- Add some drops of oil to a tub of generic Vitamin E cream to use as moisturiser
- Put drops of essential oil on makeup-remover pads, which are then strewn throughout your drawers to perfume your clothes
- Put an oil-impregnated makeup-remover pad into a seal-tight sandwich bag with a scentless soap, and keep in a dark place for a couple of weeks to perfume the soap.
- Scent your own candles; light a candle, and when its wax is soft, blow it out. Smear the softer wax with oil, and then let it harden again. When it is relit, it will disperse the smell around you.
Alternatively, there’s another fantastic way to psychologically click into the season...
... A springtime egg ritual!
- Go out and buy the freshest dozen eggs you can find.
- Sit for a moment, staring at the eggs and consider 12 things that you want to achieve in the year ahead.
- Get a piece of paper and a pen, and let your mind doodle 12 symbols that represent your wishes.
- Now, hard-boil the 12 eggs.
- When they have cooled, use a paintbrush and some food colouring to paint each egg with one symbol.
- Display the eggs on your dining table in a decorated basket, and for the next 12 days, crack open one egg and meditate on your wish as you discard the broken shell and eat the egg. Not only a very pretty way to decorate a table, but a convenient snack that’s high in protein, too.
PS For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, the Autumnal Equinox is a time to heal and strengthen in order to survive the coming bleaker seasons. All the books recommend NOW as the time to mend broken friendships and make amends for past mistakes. So get on the phone before the weather gets old; you never know who you’ll need to survive the chilly days ahead.