• Ness Hinneberg

An Ode to Ostara

There's a tendency to romanticise spring. If you close your eyes and imagine spring, chances are there'll be images of blue skies and green grass and pink blossoms and yellow dandelions and fluttering butterflies and birdsong and baby animals and a gentle, embracing warmth. It's a season for love, for revitalisation, for the joy of fertility and the recommencement of the circle of life.

This is all as absolutely true for spring as it is for women: that femininity is defined purely by its serenity and grace and prettiness and gentleness and fertility, soft smiles and delicate caresses.

In other words, it's total bullshit.

Wattle and snow
Freshly blossomed wattle adorned with freshly fallen corn snow. In October.

Sure, there is so much beauty in flowers blooming, and birds singing, and baby animals peeking out from behind their mothers' protective stances. But the real beauty is the magic being woven by the natural forces of spring.

Spring is wild. Spring is nature waking up from the slumber of winter and realising that she needs to get shit done. She needs to spread life, so she conjures up furious winds to violently shake the sleeping into a reveille, to disseminate seeds, to fell what no longer needs to stand but whose demise will in turn provide a home for other life. She needs to ensure the seeds that are spread come to propagation, so she calls upon the rains to embed them into the earth. Once she's content that they will stay, she will settle herself and summon the sun, whose warmth allows the still dormant, or the freshly sown or laid to open up and find life.

And then she'll repeat the whole process for a few months until she's content.

She doesn't care about humanity's perceptions of spring. She will do what she needs to do, when it needs to be done, to ensure that life goes on. She doesn't care if you think it's unseasonal to have a dump of snow late in September. She doesn't care if it's suddenly warm in August, or freezing in October. She doesn't care if the sublimation of snow causes a blanket of thick fog to obscure the visibility for those who've pilgrimaged to the mountains for a springtime ski. And she definitely doesn't care if a torrential downpour halts your picnic plans.

Fog and snowgums
A dense November fog and wild, freezing conditions forced a re-route of a planned hike up an exposed ridge, but the eeriness of the mist descending into the snowgums was spectacular nonetheless

She has a name, according to Germanic pagan lore: Eostre. She dates back before this even, with her origins resting with the prehistoric, Proto-Germanic deity "Austro," which meant "dawn." Eostre was a goddess of fertility, and was the definitive embodiment of the natural female being. Whilst a picture of beauty, worshipping Eostre indicated acceptance that femininity is tempestuous, not submissive. That her beauty is not in perceived fragility like a fresh flower, but in her strength, like a river raging with runoff from the snow-covered mountains. That her behaviour is almost impossible for outsiders to predict, but she has a structured plan within herself that is faultless and has withstood the test of time. That she is not interested in being gentle and diplomatic in the pursuit of her desired outcome; rather she will do whatever needs to be done in any matter necessary.

She lives within every single female being on Earth, but we've forgotten how to celebrate her. Traditionally, Eostre's feast day is today: the vernal equinox, the astronomical first day of spring, and one of two equinoxes in a calendar year. Equinoxes are days during which night and day are equal in length. The pagan name for this day is Ostara. In the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox occurs in March or so. It was a major celebration for pagan peoples, including the ancient Celtic and Germanic peoples: a chance to honour fertility, awakening, and new life. A truly feminine festival.

And then Christianity came along and worked on converting, like, literally everyone. The date of the vernal equinox was hijacked in the year 325 by a bunch of blokes who claimed the Son of God conveniently died and rose on the Sunday after the first full moon after said equinox, known in the Jewish tradition as the Paschal moon. This is when the Passover is celebrated in Judaism, and as it's an astronomical occurrence, the date changes from year to year. For Christianity, this wasn't ecclesiastically standardised enough, so in 1583 another bunch of blokes got together and devised a lunar calendar especially for the Christian church, to make setting a date for their celebration of the Resurrection of Christ easy. Thus, Easter as we know it in our Western Christian cultures was born.

It just so happens that this Christian feast day coincides with the vernal equinox, and the pagan celebration of Ostara, in which rabbits and eggs were used prolifically as symbols of fertility. As pagans were converted to Christianity, so too were their festivals and traditions. And now linguistic cultures with Germanic origins rather conveniently call the celebration of Jesus' resurrection Easter, with others, including most Latin languages, opting for derivatives which acknowledge the Passover tradition of the Old Testament.

So rather than asking which came first between the chicken or the egg, we can ask instead whose egg hatched first: the pagan bunny's, or the Christian Messiah's? We might never really know whose celebration influenced the other. But what we can conclusively say is that rabbits have nothing to do with Jesus and his crucifixion, and eggs arguably the oldest traditional celebration of fertility and new life (not rebirth or resurrection) in history, so you make up your own mind.

I digress. Allow me to hop down off one soapbox, and up onto another.

In Australia - at least in post-Colonial White Australia - we've standardised the seasons to a whole new level, marking the turning of each respective meteorological cycle on the first of June, September, December, and March. As it happens, one of several reasons for doing this is because that was when the New South Wales Colonial Corps changed over their uniforms back in the day. Convenient, yes. Also arbitrary. Sure, there's some basis in the measuring of when the climate went from cold and dry to hot and wet, but even still. It definitely doesn't indicate a flick-of-a-switch transition from winter one day to spring the next. That's not how nature works.

Snow and water in September
Running snowmelt cascades down a creek line that snakes through a thick white blanket of snow. In September.

Don't even get me started on the complete disregard we have for the seasonal definitions upheld by the various Indigenous cultures of this continent. Cultures whose entire existences, which spanned millennia, depended on and worked alongside the happenings of the natural world. They didn't try to harness the wild forces of nature; they listened, paid attention, respected, and cooperated with them.

So that's my point, as I sit here looking out over a landscape that received quite a few centimetres of fresh snow overnight: nature doesn't play by any of the rules contrived by modern humanity. The seasons come and go according to astronomical positioning and climatic influences, and they do what they need to do in order to ensure the perpetual motion of natural life. We've strayed from worshipping and celebrating nature, which is why so many of us no longer care if she's suffering, or no longer care about the extent of our impact on the natural world. We stopped working with nature, and chose instead to work against her, or almost in spite of her. We stopped celebrating a figurehead of feminine strength, natural life and fertility, and substituted it with celebrating a story of masculine violence, death and resurrection - a phenomenon which is not only unnatural, but which has been told in tales throughout the modern era as an unholy occurrence performed by the most wicked and evil forces of darkness.

Death is the natural endpoint of life. With the coming of spring, we celebrate the natural beginning of life. And the beginning of life is often messy, unpredictable, wild, raw, undeniably real. The one consistency in new life is the beautiful power of the feminine forces of nature.

Rainbow sapling
A white gum sapling with its resplendent rainbow colouring represents the beauty and miracle of new life

So today, on the day of the Southern vernal equinox, let's celebrate nature. Let's celebrate spring. Let's celebrate femininity. Let's celebrate the start of something new, chaotic, and beautiful.

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