We are celebrating Ostara tomorrow. This year, we are going up into the mountains to visit our friends and will break feast with them.
Our friends call themselves wiccans, though the title is flexible – just as the general title I give myself in much of my spiritual rituals is druid. Both spiritual modes stem from the same roots and have eight of the same festivals (called the Wheel of the Year).
Being a pagan is a difficult thing in the world I live. Mainstream faiths still reject paganism, though forms such as buddhism are now found more acceptable, mostly due to the promotional efforts of the Dalai Lama of Tibet.
Our friends love being pagans and have even erected a small circle of stones on their property, where they enjoy holding their rituals, or just hanging out and communing with nature in – but they get worried that their neighbors live too near and may see them through the shrubbed borders. They worry that their neighbors will find them unacceptable if they know they are pagans, so even as they do rituals on their land they are always keeping an eye out for any who might be hanging around.
In Europe or America, perhaps paganism is more ‘out there’. The traditions are more firmly rooted and, even if other faiths don’t accept paganism, they don’t bat an eyelid when they see it.
In Australia, I often get an immediate sense of withdrawal from people when I tell them I am a pagan (unless they are also a pagan). There is a sense of horror that comes from them even if they are not practicing christians, etc.
I’ve formed a very clear picture of how mainstream religious propaganda has worked its way deep into the bloodstream of even the atheists, and many people seem to instantly believe that pagans kill little babies and drink their blood. (That’s just a metaphor. Some people don’t think that way, but they do seem to think that pagans are up to no good).
It doesn’t happen like that. (I’m referring to sacrifices). I don’t know that it ever did. I do know that a couple of thousand years ago the romans were having trouble keeping the celtic people down so they spread a deep propaganda about their lifestyle.
Such things were normal in ancient times. Even the ancient egyptian pharoahs rewrote obelisks with their own version of history when they came to power and usurped previous rulers.
The romans were trying to assert their authority amongst a very widespread and varied conquered community. Having failed to manage the still unconquered celts and stop their raids on roman settlements, the best way to undermine them was to take away their ability to find shelter in the lands they traversed as they rebelled against roman rule.
Malign gossip does that. Spread malign gossip and even people who like you look at you with questions in their eyes. If that malign gossip says you make human sacrifices and especially prey on newborns, whole communities will stand against you without even discussing the matter first, just so you don’t get any opportunity to do it to them. That’s how propaganda embeds.
Once the romans became christians, they upped their ante on the celts. The romans were opportunists who had absorbed the good elements of every society they managed, and made them their own. Take a look at the columns on roman buildings and you will see the ancient designs from greek architecture. If you go to Greece, those columns are made from solid rock, carved and slotted together with superb precision. The columns you can see in ancient Pompeii, however, are pseudo greek columns. To save time and effort, the romans created a rubble filled column, veneered it with a brick shell and plastered that with concrete to make it look like carved stone.
They did a similiar thing with religion. When they decided they liked the greek gods better than what they had at the time, they usurped the whole kit and caboodle and just renamed the gods and modified some of the story-lines to suit roman taste. Soon, all the romans were visiting Jupiter and Venus, Apollo and Diana, etc., in their temples, (who used to be Zeus and Aphrodite, Helios and Athena in Greece).
When they finally did quell the celts, they did the same with the celtic spiritual faith of druidism. By that time, the romans had also become christians, so they melded two faiths into one and chucked out the old roman (used to be greek) gods.
Celtic spirituality and christianity had something in common which the romans admired. They both brought the masses together in firm obedience of spiritual law.
Since the romans were always on the alert for opportunities to benefit themselves, they realized that these faiths could control the people across their widespread conquered communities in a far better way than strong arming them with soldiers ever did. It took up a lot less resources, too.
So that’s how christianity got the festivals of Yule (or Christmas), and Easter.
There were no such festivals in the original christian faith. The original christian faith was an offshoot of judaism. If anything, they would have celebrated hannukah, passover, and similiar. It wasn’t until the romans absorbed christianity and druidism at the same time that christianity became druidic.
Druidism was the spiritual belief system of the ancient celts. While they had names for gods, goddesses, and elemental energies they also believed in reincarnation, so names in the long term of immortal life were really irrelevant.
When you have thousands of names from thousands of lifetimes, it’s really a matter of ‘pick one.’ So when the romans took over the celtic spiritual faith of druidry and renamed the same gods and goddesses and elemental forces as saints, angels, and patrons of christianity, the celts didn’t bat an eyelid. So long as the meanings were the same and the rituals were similiar, the celts were very adaptable in their spiritual modes. That’s how the celts became christians (or christian themed druids, per se).
Honestly, you could say that druidism never really died out at all. Modern christianity is today very different from judaism, and it’s all to do with its celtic roots.
Celtic festivals such as Ostara (called Easter in christianity) were also very long events in ancient times. They could go for two to three weeks at a time, because people gathered from far and wide to attend and they didn’t want to just roll up for a ritual and go straight back home again.
Feasting and dancing and getting together with friends, and also taking the opportunity to do some political groundwork and law-making, all happened in this period, and the main ritual was semi-flexible around the solstice or equinox of the season. That’s why christians were able to move the solstice ritual of Yule to the fixed point of a roman calendar day in December (Christmas day).
To understand this flexibility, you need to know that celtic rituals were not calendar oriented but season aligned.
That’s why we are celebrating Ostara this weekend. Ostara is a spring festival, the Feast of New Life. In Australia, spring is now. The spring equinox happens this week. here. In the northern hemisphere, it’s autumn (or fall, in America). They will be celebrating the ritual of Mabon at this time, which revolves around the autumnal equinox. Both are seed rituals. Ostara seeds new life in the world. Mabon seeds new life in the spirit.
You might ask why did I choose to align myself with druid modes rather than wicca, as my friends do? Because I resonated better with the modes of druidry, that’s all.
Paganism is like that, especially celtic sourced paganism (although buddhism has similiar choices). You don’t really have to follow any particular theme to be a pagan other than an honoring of all life, worldly or spiritual, and all its connections.
I can go to the rituals of our wiccan friends for Ostara because, even though they call the names of animal and bird spirits to witness their rites,(where I call archangels and mother/father god), it’s all about the intent and the energies being called upon, not really about names.
There are some other reasons why I loosely call myself a druid (at least in my rituals).
Druidry is now a recognised religion in the United Kingdom.
It used to be just a spiritual faith but it has finally got its well-deserved kudos. (All those solstice events at Stonehenge really paid off… just kidding).
That wasn’t why I aligned to it, though. I was doing that for years before druidry became official. For me, druidry was my choice because of its adaptability, and because of its acceptance and absorption of all other religions and spiritual faiths.
Druidry believes in all people being on the same path toward the divine. Actually, it believes we are all elements of the divine, and that everything and everyone that exists is connected as parts of the divine.
I’m not sure how things are done in the United Kingdom now Druidry has become a religion, but in the days when it was a simple spiritual faith you could be a buddhist, a christian, a jew or a muslim, or any other faith at all and still be a druid.
(This may help you to understand why I can also happily attend any religious or spiritual event, in temples or churches of any faith. The divinity I honor is an archetype, and archetypes cross all lines or demarcations).
You begin to see why and how the druids allowed the romans to take over their faith and even align it with christianity – because it’s all about the energies, the expression of those energies, and the connections – about all humanity, no matter from what country or language or whatever modes they use to forge life in this world, existing as one being in spirit.
Tomorrow, my closest family will celebrate Ostara. This feast is named after the celtic goddess of new life.
The words oestrogen and oestrus come from the goddess Ostara’s name, which is also spelt Oestre. These words relate to hormones that make a woman an entity who can become pregnant and give birth, and the sexuality and desire that makes her amenable to be impregnated. (If you have ever seen the statuette of the archaeological find called the ‘Goddess of Willendorf’, the goddess Ostara is expressed in this child-bearing figure).
The symbols of Ostara have long been the hare (now an Easter rabbit) and the egg (now an Easter egg). These elements are about virility (sexuality for intense breeding, as the hare or rabbit does) and new life (the egg and all its potential).
In Australia at this time, Ostara does not align with the christian period of Easter. Those events do happen around the same time in the northern hemisphere in spring but not here. We only get our store-bought chocolate eggs at Mabon, which is another type of egg (seeder) ritual. We have to cook and paint our own eggs for Ostara.
Usually, we have a brunch with friends or family on the weekend closest to the equinox, so we can all get together on a day when we don’t have to work. That brunch often has eggs in it. We love making omelettes.
It’s a day of being thankful for what we have, and of noting the new elements of life coming into being, the seeds of the future ahead of us. It’s about feeling blessed by the divine and making sure we look at all the ways divinity does that for us, so we don’t miss anything and certainly don’t take it for granted.
Yes, we will be making a sacrifice, but only of part of our delicious feast, which is spilled onto the ground to return it to the cycle of life. (The birds, animals, and insects polish this off…) In this way we give our tithe to the divine and say thank you for all we have been given.
The ritual of Easter, celebrated by the christians, has similiar themes of new life. While christ dies on the cross, his body is taken down and then reborn in a spiritual manifestation. In his resurrection, he wipes away the sins of the past and enables new beginnings.
These are the same modes used for Ostara, just with a different story. Each spring, we are given the opportunity to begin again, to seed a new life, and to honor all life in its divine manifestation.
(Well, we can actually do that any time, but since many people forget that they have the ability to do it, we can use rituals to remind us… Pagan rituals are no different to the modes of any other religion or faith attending temple or church, but our temple is the world, itself).
The rituals of paganism are always reflections on the rites of passage in life.
The elements expressed touch on birth, death, relationship, sorrow, joy, and many other subjects that people may often find difficult to express or deal with in the course of their lives.
In using ritual this way, pagans enable a learning or processing experience for these mundane events. They also transform them into simple phases of existence in the life of the divine.
Blessings to all, and may the year ahead be full of wonderful new beginnings, fresh starts and youthful exuberance!