I just finished The Philosopher and the Druids. Something is sticking in my head. It tells of the famous Greek philosopher of the Stoic tradition’s journey through the Celtic countries and he writes about a funeral tradition of the Gauls of what is now France. He said that the people believed that when someone died they waited somewhere before reincarnating but when a person was cremated that everyone who wanted to communicate with their own dead would write a letter and put it on the funeral pyre so that the person being cremated would take the people’s letters with them to their dead. A sort of cosmic mail person.
Through most of Posidonious’ writings he is pointing out how strange some of the Gaul’s customs were but what he doesn’t point out as strange struck me, were all the people literate? If everyone is writing letters to the dead and their dead can read them then that is a very large literate population for those times, (around 90 BC)
I know that the Irish had universities in 600 AD that people from all over Europe sent their sons to for education that was allegedly better than that found in the rest of Europe. And I know that Scotland has always had a huge tradition of literacy. The English liked to portray William Wallace as a barbarian and country bumpkin who somehow managed to unite Scotland but he had been to universities in France so how big a barbarian could be have been, Mel Gibson’s idiot portrayal not withstanding?
And Posidonius writes that everyone , men, women and children wrote letters. Yes, they ran naked and screaming into battle and deafened the Romans with trumpets and screaming but that was to scare the bejebus out of the Romans and sometimes it actually worked.
The inscriptions from that time period were in Gaulish so they obviously had a written language that was accessible to all. How big a barbarian could you be if you can read and write? Yes, they practiced human sacrifice but was that really any different from Romans putting people in the arena to fight to the death? I don’t think so and I bet there were fewer sacrifices by the Gauls than deaths in the arenas that every city had for contests with captured slaves. Posidonius makes a point of saying that the Gauls kept far fewer slaves than the Romans did and this is at the end of the Republic before the Empire would really raise the ante.
So I’m still pondering what a Greek had to say about the Celts of Iberia and Gaul. And really wanting to do some genetic testing to find out what gene pool I swam in versus what I was told was family history. I also wish my brother was still alive because he was the last of his line.
So for folks that follow this blog and aren’t pagan how about a primer on the holiday?
This is the holiday of the Maiden form of the Goddess. This is not a sex holiday. You have to wait for May first to do the naughty. Hence the poem:
The first of May
But enough of that, Ostara as I said is the Maiden. The old story of Persephone/Proserpina returning to the world from Hades and to her mother, Ceres/Demeter. Now the world can come alive again and stop being sad because it was winter.
Some people have associated it with Ceridwen and her cauldron and her chasing Gwion because the first thing she changes into is a rabbit. Not so sure about that one.
The Great Bede said: Original Latin:
Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.
Some say that birds often lay on the ground and rabbits tend to hide in the same areas ground birds nest in and that people then thought that bunnies laid the eggs but that makes people in ancient times sound very stupid and I’m sure they were no dumber than any Republican is so I doubt that one too.
Some say it’s Freya and her rabbit or cat drawn chariots. In point of fact we really don’t know how people celebrated and Christianity did a pretty good job of stomping it out.
What do we know for sure? It’s the holiday most associated with the return of the spring goddess . The Romans were celebrating Hilaria dedicated to Cybele according to Marcus Aurlelius but Ovid doesn’t mention it?
My coven has a tendency to be literal and parade a globe around the sun who stands shining in the middle of the room so that everyone can see where the light now falls on our rotating ball and how it travels. We know that it’s equal day and equal night and we are scientists for the most part.
It isn’t a particularly important holiday unlike Passover or Good Friday/Easter. There are no records of huge celebrations or pageants in history for Ostara. It’s a good day to welcome spring if you can and celebrate the warming of the earth and the beginnings of the planting season.
So go out and plant your seeds and water them well and get growing.
Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumblin down
Pullin weeds and pickin stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
Cause the time is close at hand
Rainful rain, sun and rain
Find my way in natures chain
Tune my body and my brain
To the music from the land
Plant your rows straight and long
Temper them with prayer and song
Mother Earth will make you strong
If you give her love and care
Old crow watchin hungrily
From his perch in yonder tree
In my garden Im as free
As that feathered thief up there
Words and music by Dave Mellett
The tree you place in the living room of your house is a prayer or at least it used to be long ago. So think of what you need as you place the items on your tree.
And because it’s sympathetic magic by their shapes they remind us. The Church banned decorated trees as pagan symbols until the 16th century.
Tinsel – is a prayer for rain.
Balls – were a prayer for the Sun’s return and to reflect the evil eye away from the house.
Nuts – are a prayer for fertility. Acorns of the druids were hung when gilded. Walnuts were hung on trees by the Romans long ago as it was the nut of the gods.
Fruit – is a prayer for abundance. And the Apple because of its star inside. Grapes for friendship.
Birds – are a prayer for good fortune, happiness and joy.
Pinecones – were to attract faeries
Lights – were once candles and celebrated the sun’s return also and lighted the dark northern European night.
Candy canes had the blood shed by women and the semen of men as it’s original fertility message in the colours of red and white. And the same colours in holly and mistletoe’s berries had the same message.
The pig for its sacrifice of food for the winter.
And the tree itself as being evergreen and bringing the promise of green in spring even in the cold dark of winter.
So whether you celebrate the tree of Yggdrasil, Yule, Jol, Winter Solstice, the Tree of Knowledge, Kikellia, Saturnallia, Mithras, Jesus, Odin, Buddha, Channukah, Christmas, Kwanza, St Lucy’s Day, Boxing Day, Bodhi Day or any other holiday, blessings on you and those you hold dear. And hold them tight for no one knows what the new year will bring.