History of Beltane

Hello!  Got a late start for Beltane this year!  Here’s a little history of this holiday, from wikipedia:

Beltane is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and it is associated with important events in Irish mythology. It marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around the bonfire, or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. Doors, windows, byres and the cattle themselves would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire. In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush; a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons and bright shells. Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Many of these customs were part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in other parts of Great Britain and Europe.

I personally found the “May bush” part interesting, so here’s some more information on that, same source:

Flowers and May Bushes

Yellow flowers such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn, gorse, hazel and marsh marigold were set at doorways and windows in 19th century Ireland, Scotland and Mann. Sometimes loose flowers were strewn at the doors and windows and sometimes they would be made into bouquets, garlands or crosses and fastened to them. They would also be fastened to cows and equipment for milking and butter making. It is likely that such flowers were used because they evoked fire.  Similar May Day customs are found across Europe.

The May Bush was popular in parts of Ireland until the late 19th century. This was small tree, typically a thorn tree, that would be decorated with bright flowers, ribbons, painted shells, and so forth. There were household May Bushes (which would be set outside each house) and communal May Bushes (which would be set in a public spot or paraded around the neighbourhood). In Dublin and Belfast, May Bushes were brought into town from the countryside and decorated by the whole neighbourhood. Each neighbourhood vied for the most handsome tree and, sometimes, residents of one would try to steal the May Bush of another. This led to the May Bush being outlawed in Victorian times. In some places, it was customary to dance around the May Bush, and at the end of the festivities it was burnt in the bonfire.  Thorn trees were seen as special trees and were associated with the or fairies. The custom of decorating a May Bush or May Tree was found in many parts of Europe. Frazer believes that such customs are a relic of tree worship and writes: “The intention of these customs is to bring home to the village, and to each house, the blessings which the tree-spirit has in its power to bestow.” Emyr Estyn Evans suggests that the May Bush custom may have come to Ireland from England, because it seemed to be found in areas with strong English influence and because the Irish saw it as unlucky to damage certain thorn trees.  However, “lucky” and “unlucky” trees varied by region, and it has been suggested that Beltane was the only time when cutting thorn trees was allowed.  The practice of bedecking a May Bush with flowers, ribbons, garlands and coloured shells is found among the Gaelic diaspora, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions on the East Coast of the United States.

 

Ostara/Easter Crafts

Ostara and Easter crafts seem fairly synonymous so I won’t necessarily differentiate between them. First of all, though, I wanted to show you the daisy card I made that I listed in the last post about Vernal Equinox crafts!

It really wasn’t too difficult at all.  Instead of  knotting the thread on the back, though, I just taped it down.  And you can use a thumbtack instead of an awl.

Ok, back to Ostara and Easter crafts!  Of course there are the usuals – coloring Easter eggs and making bunny masks, etc.  Here are a couple of more unusual ones:

I see a lot of posts about making an Ostara tree… basically a collection of sticks and branches that you decorate with spring-like items:  eggs, birds, etc.

(Here is the link for the tree pictured below; this page also contains a couple of other crafts:)

Or how about an Easter egg terrarium?  The flower isn’t real, but the other items are…looks very cute!

These candle holders are adorable!

Lastly, a lovely wreath – made from artificial flowers and a hangar.  That’s it.  I thought it turned out really nice!

Vernal Equinox Crafts

What would a holiday be without crafts?  I’m going to post crafts pertaining to the equinox, Easter and Ostara just to make it all well-rounded 🙂  First I’m going to focus on a couple of crafts I found pertaining to spring.

Nature Sun Catchers:

I didn’t have contact paper, just some laminating paper that didn’t need heat to set, so my daughter and I went for a walk today and gathered some nature things!  She really loved looking for items to use.

I think they turned out rather well!  I hung a few in our windows here and there and on our shelf.  She was able to apply the items to the sticky side and was only willing to cut two circles out.  But she kept me company for the rest while playing with the canning jar lids!

 

Although I have not done these, I thought they looked neat:  Hammered flower and leaf prints

Egg carton wreath (might try this one!)

Tissue paper stained glass circles

Origami butterflies

And finally (and this one looks really interesting!) a Daisy Stitched Card

 

 

History of Ostara

You can’t really get into the history of Ostara without talking about the history of Easter.

And you can’t talk about either one without going over what came first:  Vernal (Spring) Equinox.  “Equinox” is Latin for “equal night.”  This year the equinox falls on March 20th.  Click this link to find out what exact time it will occur where you are!   It’s even said that you can stand a raw egg on its end during the equinox.  This site says otherwise.

On to Wikipedia:

Germanic pagans dedicate the holiday to their fertility goddess Ostara (the eastern star). She is notably associated with the fecund symbols of the hare and egg. Her teutonic name may be etymological ancestor of the words east and Easter.

Per about.com:

Spring equinox is a time for fertility and sowing seeds, and so nature’s fertility goes a little crazy. In medieval societies in Europe, the March hare was viewed as a major fertility symbol — this is a species of rabbit that is nocturnal most of the year, but in March when mating season begins, there are bunnies everywhere all day long. The female of the species is superfecund and can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with a first. As if that wasn’t enough, the males tend to get frustrated when rebuffed by their mates, and bounce around erratically when discouraged.  Thus, “mad as a March hare.”

Other spring celebrations:

In ancient Rome, the followers of Cybele believed that their goddess had a consort who was born via a virgin birth. His name was Attis, and he died and was resurrected each year during the time of the vernal equinox on the Julian Calendar (between March 22 and March 25). Around the same time, the Germanic tribes honored a lunar goddess known as Ostara, who mated with a fertility god around this time of year, and then gave birth nine months later – at Yule.

The indigenous Mayan people in Central American have celebrated a spring equinox festival for ten centuries. As the sun sets on the day of the equinox on the great ceremonial pyramid, El Castillo, Mexico, its “western face…is bathed in the late afternoon sunlight. The lengthening shadows appear to run from the top of the pyramid’s northern staircase to the bottom, giving the illusion of a diamond-backed snake in descent.” This has been called “The Return of the Sun Serpent” since ancient times.

According to the Venerable Bede, Eostre was the Saxon version of the Germanic goddess Ostara. Her feast day was held on the full moon following the vernal equinox — almost the identical calculation as for the Christian Easter in the west. There is very little documented evidence to prove this, but one popular legend is that Eostre found a bird, wounded, on the ground late in winter. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But “the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare but retained the ability to lay eggs…the hare would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre.”

Of course, the Christian holiday of Easter occurs around the same time and carries on with the theme of rebirth and rejuvination. It represents the resurrection of Jesus and is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the equinox.  Sounds like a vaguely pagan thing, timing a festival based on the moon!

So there you have a bit of history regarding this upcoming festival!

 

Ostara

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Imbolc!!

Happy Imbolc everyone!

Imbolc is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  Historically, it was widely observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Currently, it is observed by the Irish, Scottish, Manx, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans.

Christians observe it as the feast day of Saint Brigid, especially in Ireland.

We decided to start a tradition in our family of decorating a small area of our house with items that correspond to the current festival.  I’m hoping to add more each year.

This is our shelf right now – the ewes, a piece of artwork by Amanda (her Etsy shop), and a geocoin I managed to find.  We are avid geocachers so that’s just a little piece of our own personal taste thrown in there.

The flowers I just bought at the store this morning.

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According to this site, you can also add a few other things that signify this time of year (I have paraphrased, you can find more detailed information there):

Brighid is associated with the colors of red and white. White for the color of the blanket of snow, and red symbolizes the rising sun. Brighid is also tied to the color green, both for the green mantle she wears and for the life growing beneath the earth.  So you can decorate with a white cloth, and drape a swath of red across it. Add green candles in candleholders.

Since Brighid is a goddess of the Celtic peoples, it’s always appropriate to add some sort of Celtic design. Consider adding a Brighid’s cross or any other item incorporating Celtic knotwork. If you happen to have a Celtic cross, don’t worry about the fact that it’s also a Christian symbol — if it feels right, add it.

Other Symbols of Brighid:  chalices, hammer, corn doll, cows, sheep, swans, a goddess statue, book of poetry, herbs and candles as she is in some way associated with most of these items.