Despite the snow, the wild greens of Spring are starting to return. The Hawk and Hawthorne’s nettle patch has already provided a few good meals. The tiny white stars of chickweed’s flowers are dotting the ground beside the compost pile, and the purple violets are already coloring the grass between our garden beds. I feel that eating wild foods gives us the unique gift of being totally re-enchanted with our landscape each Spring.
Even though I have seen violet flowers every Spring for 10 years (before that I didn’t know what violets were or that I should care about them), I welcome them as much as they welcome me home to this bioregion each year. I relish the first mess of nettles creamed with local yoghurt and garlic, I celebrate the first dead nettle eggie fritter, (this year lovingly crafted with our own chicken’s eggs). The first wild foods of Spring in Appalachia will dress my Ostara table and each mouthful reminds me of the ones who came before, frying poke in bacon fat, cooking down creasys and adorning their Easter lamb with the new mint eagerly bursting forth from the bare garden beds.
Here’s what we’re doing with the wild plants that grace our doorstep and the fieldsides as we continue to rise to the occasion of the Spring Equinox.
March is upon us! Rabbit Rabbit! The Spring Equinox lies ahead and I’m beginning my preparations now for what will surely be a blustery or balmy evening, in equal measure. There are hundreds of Springtime practices from around the world, many of which have made their way into modern pagan practice. I’d love to tell you about a few that we do. Also, let’s talk about Ostara and where that comes from.
Many call the Spring Equinox Ostara in modern pagan practice, and while all expressions of spirituality are valid when done with care and intention, there is little historical information supporting the stories of Oestre, the Germanic goddess for whom it is claimed Easter is named for. Please see, “A Brief History of Ostara”, by D.C. Mcbride for a well reasoned account of the historical accuracy of this name.
“Perhaps the most misunderstood holiday of the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year is Ostara. Many Pagans would be surprised to learn that the popular notions of its history and imagery are based upon Nineteenth century conjecture and the scantest of historical evidence. This shouldn’t matter in terms of actual spiritual practice; just because something isn’t historical doesn’t preclude it from being the basis for meaningful spirituality. But understanding the development of the holiday should matter, if only to dispel commonly-held misconceptions about its’ history.” – D.C. McBride, “A Brief History of Ostara”
But really, check it out, it’s an awesome piece, and overall very respectfully written. I think it is always important as witches to remember that history is important, it gives us context and can imbue practices with meaning, but it is not necessary or even possible for all of our practices to stem directly in a line unbroken from the mysterious and glorified past.
Another name common amongst Traditional Witches for this days is Lady Day, which is the quarter day falling between Candlemas and Mayday. In Rome, the Spring equinox marked the beginning of the New Year and agricultural cycle. This month is sacred to Mars, as we can see in the name, who was an agricultural guardian before he came into his later associations with warfare. It is also the sign of Aries. Mars was invoked in Spring to guard crops, animals and farmers, as well as to increase the general fertility of all. This was also the day historically when tenant farmers would sign their new leases. Many practices are associated with the Feast of the Annunciation in Christianity, perhaps illuminating that this event, which the Bible gives no date for, was chosen as a way to further christianize the equinox rites.
This day has come to be associated with hares in Europe, or in our case rabbits, through the popular medieval pastime of coursing or hunting hares on Good Friday or Easter Monday. Though conversely, many rural folks were hesitant to kill one as it was seen as bad luck to those practicing the old ways. They believed it brought misfortune. This fear may be connected with the belief that witches often sent their spirits out as hares or had hares as familiars.
The Easter bunny we know today may have come from German immigrants to America, who called this magic, egg-laying hare, the Osterhase or Easter Hare. The custom was first recorded in the 17th century in Germany. This is also the time that people engaged in ‘spring cleaning’ of not only their home, farms and barns, but of unwanted or outmoded attitudes or mindsets. Out with the old, in the with the new.
There are certain foods associated with this day as well, such as ham, which may harken back to the eating of wild boar, and hot cross buns of the Celts who revered the boar. This practice carried over into the Middle Ages and spiced buns with currants and raisins bearing an equal armed cross were enjoyed around Easter. This symbol is also known as the solar cross, and may reference the Sun’s return as the year returns to warm and light once more. Un-eaten hot cross buns were even seen as magical objects and were saved and reported to cure many diseases in the Middle Ages. All in all, this was a time of year to celebrate the final holds of the forces of darkness and the beginning of the new, growing light half of the year as it sprung forth green from the earth all around humankind.
Planting in the Waxing Year
Some in East Anglia would see if the time was right for planting by removing their trousers and sitting upon the land to feel its warmth. As the sun warms the soil, if possible, get your skin in contact with the soil. Why wouldn’t you want to take off your pants outside!? It sounds like a great time to me.
Still others would walk their land and ‘feel it in their bones’ as to whether or not it was the right time to plant. The lighting of bonfires in or adjacent to planting places with much singing and leaping dances would show the crops to grow tall and strong while the roaring fire would entice the sun to lend its life giving flames. The old beliefs about planting with the waxing moon and weeding with the waning further enliven the process of seed sowing with magic as the moon’s growth stimulates that of the seeds. “As above, so below.” The practice of planting by that signs carried over strongly with German immigrants to the Appalachians, where it mixed with First Nation and African beliefs, to become the complex and rich story of living by the signs we have in the mountains today.
Planting By the Moon and Signs
Planting by the signs is an ancient practice going back thousands of years. This form of agricultural astrology is used in biodynamic and old forms of Appalachian farming techniques. The gravitational pull off the moon and planets is said to influence groundwater and its movement through plant bodies. Sometimes the lines between science and magic are blurred.
Plant root crops and transplant on a fertile sign, when the moon is waning.
Plant above ground crops on a fertile sign, when the moon is waxing.
When planting during the different phases of the moon, always plant on days in the sign of Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus, Libra, or Capricorn. It is advised not plant in Aries, Sagittarius, Aquarius, Leo, Gemini or Virgo.
Planting: (Signs in order of effectiveness).
Cancer: A fruitful, Water sign. Seeds germinate quickly. It is favorable to growth and insures an abundant yield. Most fruitful sign.
Scorpio: A fruitful , Water sign. Ranks next to cancer in fruitfulness.
Pisces: A fruitful, water sign. Produces excellent results for fruits and bulbs. Short growth, good roots.
Taurus: A fixed, Earth sign. Productive sign, especially for root crops.
Libra: A strong Movable sign. Produces vigorous pulp growth and roots with a reasonable amount of grain. Produces many flowers (for beauty and fragrance especially), small leaves, few seeds.
Capricorn: A Moist, Movable sign. Somewhat productive favoring root crops.
Barren Signs: Leo, Virgo, Gemini and Aquarius are the most barren signs but great for weeding and cultivating. Aries and Sagittarius are movable Fire signs, governed by the Sun and are best for cultivating but can be used for planting alliums.
Leo: A barren, Fire sign. Is favorable only for the destruction of noxious growth. DO not trim trees or vines when the moon is in Leo, for they will surely die.
Gemini: A barren sign. A good time to stir the soil and subdue all weeds. Cut lawn to slow its growth, pinch buds to stop unwanted growth.
Virgo: A barren sign, cut weeds.
Harvesting: The best time for harvesting is the dark of the moon (last quarter new moon). The best signs to use are Sagittarius, Aquarius, or Aries. Never gather fruit, grain or vegetables in the water signs or the new moon, as they will decay or sprout.
Fertilizing: Use fruitful signs like Cancer, Scorpio or Pisces. Organic fertilizers applied during the decreasing moon between full and new.
Pruning: To discourage growth, prune in the signs of Aries and Sagittarius during the increase of the moon between new and full. To encourage growth use signs Cancer or Scorpio during the decreasing moon.
Weaning: Wean animals in the signs of Pisces, Capricorn, Aquarius or Sagittarius.
Sources: Farmer’s Almanac Gardening Guide
Eggs are used in many traditions for charming, hexing and curing. The Anglo- Saxons and Egyptians both placed eggs in their grave goods as well as on physical grave sites. There is no other symbol of new life so universal and apparent as the egg. Lying in wait to birth whatever being, or magical intention they hold. The tradition of egg dyeing that is quite popular in Easter customs today, most likely comes from Eastern Europe where the arts of Pysanky and Krashanka (two forms of decorated eggs) were born.
A red- dyed Krashanka bound with wheat and hung in a new house soothed disturbed spirits and invited spirit protection.
The shells are dyed many colors to correspond to their uses. Red dyed eggs were thrown into rivers to alert those in the Otherworlds that Spring had come and the Season of the Sun had returned. These were also placed on the graves of loved ones and check the following day for any disturbance. If any was detected, it was made known that their restless spirit was in need of a prayer, offerings or other releasing rituals.
Eggs were also placed under beehives to keep bees from leaving and to ensure good honey crops. When rolled in green oats, the dyed eggs acted as fertility charms when buried in fields as well. You can also write upon an egg any spell or wish you have an bury it in some secret place. As it decays, so does your wish disseminate into the ether. However you incorporate eggs into your Rites of Spring, I like to eat a few just to celebrate the fecundity all around me.
D.C. McBride, “A Brief History of Ostara” .
George Ewart Evans. “The Pattern Under the Plough”.
Gemma Gary. “Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways”.
Michael Howard. “The Traditional Witch’s Gramarye”.
Pauline Campanelli. “Ancient Ways”.
The Foxfire Books.
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